Beginning of the Tail Fin

1948 Cadillac

Tail fin – The P-38 Lightning aircraft was probably the single greatest design influence of the chrome and fin era of the 1950s and 1960s. It directly inspired the styling of the 1948 Cadillac, and ultimately the 1950s fin craze as a whole. Harley Earl and Harlow Curtice convinced General Motors president Alfred P. Sloan that design would be the key to the company’s financial sucess. To maximize profits, GM put an emphasis on styling. Earl was fascinated with the long range P-38 Lightning fighter plane, the North American F-86 Sabre Jet and sharks. Typically, Earl’s designs were based on militry aircraft of the era. His basic design after World War II was to lower and lengthen the American Automobile.

1948 Cadillac Tail Fin

Kaiser-Frazer Corporation (1945-1953) was the first auto company to offer a postwar car. The Kaiser was a really advanced front wheel drive automobile and the Frazer was an deluxe rear wheel drive car. However, after several years of manufacturing the World War II M3 Stuart Light Tank, Cadillac produced a beautiful American automobile.

The 1948 Series 61 Cadillacs had new postwar styling with the first tail fin. At first Cadillac tail fins were just small bumps on the rear fenders. However, they would grow to great heights by the end of the 1950s. Cadillac advertising called the new tail fins “Rudder Type Styling”. Tail Fins not only became a long standing Cadillac feature but was copied through out the American automobile market in the 1950s and 1960s.

1952 Ford Tail Fin

The 1952 Ford was the first to receive anything that resembled a tail fin. Ford automobiles got their second full restyle in three years. When Ford redesigned its line, it’s rear quarter panel had a definite vertial tail fin styling that ended in a round tail light. Round tailights, one piece windshield and discreet rear fender bulges were visual features of their new design.

The model lineup was also revamped to include the Mainline, Customline and Crestline trim levels. 1952 was also the first year for Ford’s first true hardtop, the Victoria. Ford’s tail fin treatment remained the same until 1955 when the rounded tail lights would give way to a more vertical small tail fin.

1955 Chrysler Tail Fin

As late as 1954 Chrysler automobiles were bare of a tailfin. The 1955 Chrysler New Yorker, Windsor and C300 were the first of the Chrysler Corporation automobiles to display a tailfin. But then by 1956 and 1957 Chrysler had a very sleek design with large tailfins that would set the pace for others to follow.

The 1955 Chrysler cost $100 million dollars to develop, hence the “Hundred Million Dollar Look” advertising.

The tailfins were not the talk of the town in 1955. Instead it was Chrysler’s new 331 cubic inch 300 horsepower V8 Hemi. Followed in 1956 by the 354 cubic inch V-8 engine rated at 355 horsepower and in 1957 by a 392 cubic inch V-8 that developed 390 horsepower.

1955 Chevrolet Tail Fin

When Chevrolet postwar auto production resumed for 1946 they issued touched up versions of their 1942 models. Little by little, though fresh designs started coming out. The 1949, 1950 and 1952 Chevrolet’s had lowered hoods and rounded fender lines. Then they went a bit “Uptown” with the 1953 and 1954 Chevrolet, but still no tail fins.

“The Hot One Arrives” – In 1955 Chevrolet provided a new over head valve V-8 and fresh styling. The new styling included a new simple tail fin and was greeted favorably by the general public. These new Chevy’s were called “The Hot Ones” with Motoramic styling. These tail fins were just the start of more to come. In fact Chevrolet was about to produce the most famous tail fin in all of the 1950s and 1960s, the 1957 Chevrolet.


1957 Dodge Pickup Tail Fins
1957 Dodge Pickup Tail Fins
Even Pickup Trucks had Tail Fins in the 1950s.