During the fifties in the U.S.A., automobile design knew a radical change. This also meant the difficult years of the crisis and World War II were over and a new prosperous era of technical progress and social development opened. The cars of the time thus naturally were created to express this optimism. As America entered the Space Era, cars rears began to resemble rockets with an abundant chromium decoration.
In the eyes of the Europeans, these cars appeared heavy, too majestic and avid in gasoline. In reality, they really had extraordinary technical qualities and shapes much more elaborated than those built on the Old Continent. And we are not talking about the unique equipment, colors and magnificent engines they offered. As for the general architecture, the innovations brought on U.S. models were declined in many versions which then inspired many European car manufacturers.
Cadillac Eldorado 1959.
Everything timidly began in 1948 with the Cadillac De Ville. Rear tail fins are a particularity that was born in the U.S.A. and which spread throughout the world. They were introduced by Harley Earl, a General Motors design chief. They constituted a real trend, lasting more than 10 years. The phenomenon entailed this decoration on all American cars in 1954 and exploded with even more audacious and provocative forms the following years and started to attenuate in the ’60s. The famous car designer Virgil Exner used them extensively. In order to legitimate them, Chrysler declared they were “stabilizers” and that “they reduced by 20% the needs for steering in a cross wind”. This function is merely decorative and tail finsuseless at high speed. But who was not impressed by these beauties with prestigious names pointing their tail fins in the sky in a contrast with the boot that had become so long, wide and flat? As a general rule, tail fins harmoniously matched with the general styling of the body. Sometimes it seemed they were added and not an integral part of the car shape. This was another charm. At the end of the ’50s, this emulation created by the severe competition between the great names of U.S. automotive industry lead to the exacerbation of the phenomenon now very far from its original motivations. A mere design exercise had now to meet marketing requirements. And as all new fashion trend whose goal is commercial, the tail fins passion lasted only a few years. Cadillac, a pioneer in this revolution, continued to produce and use them for many years, with much more discreet shapes and dimensions.
Plymouth Belvedere 1957.
Chevrolet Bel Air 1957.
Chrysler 300F, 1960.
Dodge Coronet 1950.
Cadillac Eldorado Third generation 1959-1967.