February 15, 2006
Horse 495 - Fin
Snoopy called 15th of Feb "Gloat Day" but the reason that I mention this date in history because it was 60 years ago today, that one of the most influential automobile prototypes rolled out of the designer's mind and onto the factory floor.
Before WW2 the automobile had made great advances. Unitary body construction meant that the wheel wings fused into the bodywork. Cars became more streamlined and headlamps melded back into the wings rather than being on stalks, they actually became the eyes of the vehicle. The radiator grille instead of being this massive grate out the front, sunk back into the front of the vehicle and acted more like the car's mouth.
By 1940 most cars were swept off at the back and looked like they were pushed forwards towards the A-Pillar, but something magical was being cooked up in the halls of GM, something that would spark a fire that would last 10 years and possibly the greatest era of car design.
In 1946 all over the world, car design had stagnated. The great Automotive companies were called up for wartime duty and were churning out war machines. Ford and GM were both making Sherman tanks, BMW was built jets for the Luftwaffe, Mercedes-Benz were also building Aero engines as were Mitsubishi, Rolls-Royce and even Packard. So in 1946 when servicemen were returning home, they found that the cars they could buy were virtually identical in styling to the cars of 1938.
Because Europe and Japan had been bombed, buying cars wasn't a first priority. The jump on new trends and styling came from the USA. In fact Bertone and Pininfarina had already setup design studios in California. Having said this, in America there were really only 3 camps: GM, Ford & Chrysler. Which car you bought depended on how rich you were and which camp you belonged to (I am a Ford person). Over at GM, the 1948 Cadillac had something which had never been seen before - the fin.
Look at it. Doesn't it look familiar? Well if it doesn't may I again remind you of that little incident called WW2? During that time, although the Spitfire saved Britain, it was the P-51 that earnt the moniker of "Cadillac of the Skies", but Cadillac took its inspiration from the P-38 Lightning with its twin booms and twin tails. These translated nicely to the back of their cars and soon aircraft influences were everywhere - Ford had single spinners and dual spinners in 1951 as did Studebaker.
The twin fins on the back of the '48 Eldorado seemed to almost shout out the fact that America had won the war. From a practical point of view, it allowed light clusters to be pushed out to the corners and still retain that swoopy tail end.
Fins would settle on all cars becoming more and more garish as they went. One only has to think of the '57 Chev Bel Air or the '59 Cadillac Eldorado to see where it all went. Ushered in with the sounds of Rock & Roll, the fin defined an era. By about 1960 it dawned on people that fins were condusive to rust easily, and so the boots of cars were up lifted and the fins were hinted at when cars squared up.
My request to modern car stylists is please give us cars that look like bits of automotive art again. Nobody waxes lyrical about the 1997 Camry do they? I've not seen people go doe-eyed for a 2005 Honda Accord and do you know why? After it's all said and done, people have to live with their cars. It's as much about making a statement as it is about getting from A to B via all points C. Let the stylists loose again, give us something to dream about.
Posted by Rollo at 10:01