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Tailfins

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On the heels of my finishing Fred Kaplan’s new book 1959: The Year Everything Changed (about which I blogged last week), the NYT had an article in this past Sunday’s automobile section on the peak of the automobile tailfin craze, yet another 1959 highlight.

Inspired by aircraft of the 1940s, tailfins inched upward through the ’50s to reach their zenith on the 1959 Cadillac. That car and many others presented a comic-book vision of travel — over the earth and through space — that was to evolve in the early ’60s into less fanciful designs more attuned to the actual spacecraft that were by then putting Americans into orbit.

“Tailfins embodied a feeling of prosperity and jet-age excitement,” said Jeffrey Leestma, president of the Automotive Hall of Fame here. Last weekend the Hall of Fame made tailfins the theme of its annual classic car show, which included 40 models.

This Sunday, another collection of fins will command attention at the Meadow Brook Concours d’Élégance in Rochester Hills, Mich. A display called “Fins and Chrome: The Convertibles of 1959” will feature 14 models, including one of each of the Big Three’s car lines.

“General Motors and Chrysler became involved in a game of one-upmanship in fins,” Mr. Leestma said. “And they grew to a huge extent by 1959. By 1963 or so they were completely gone.”

Despite my two trips to Dearborn this past winter, I didn’t make it to the Automotive Hall of Fame. Too bad. I sure would have enjoyed the show two weekends ago. As a substitute, be sure to see the slide show that accompanies the NYT article.

Categories: Automobiles, Design
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