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ETpro's avatar

Why did we ever think tail fins belonged on automobiles?

Asked by ETpro (34436points) December 24th, 2012

Stabilizer fins serve a perfectly reasonable engineering purpose at the tail of an airplane. They aren’t just there for looks. In fact, it might be quite possible to design a better looking aircraft without any tail fins attached to it. The twin tails of some small planes certainly don’t make them look twice as good to me. So how did we, in the crazy 1950s and 60s, get the collective idea that all automobiles ought to have huge tail fins, and that the bigger the fin the better?

And please, consider the nostalgic study in automotive art linked above a Christmas present to one and all here at Fluther. Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a little more tail.

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16 Answers

bookish1's avatar

Hmm, was it because American industry had just “won” WW2, the Shah was our buddy, and we thought we were hot shit and could use as much gasoline and metal as we wanted? That’s what my historicity says, anyway.

Merry Christmas and more tail to you too ;)

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I think bookish got it. It was the look at me I can drive a huge car with all kinds of extra crap on it. The more glitz the better.

blueiiznh's avatar

Car engineers from that era had their seeds rooted or took ideas from engineers who designed planes.

Consumers decided to continue buying them until the muscle car era came in.

Engineers are a funny lot, aren’t we

bookish1's avatar

Ah brilliant @blueiiznh, I hadn’t thought of that :)

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@blueiiznh Makes sense too. You’ve got this big pool of engineers suddenly out of the airplane design game, so they move over to automotive, but you don’t change thinking over night.

zenvelo's avatar

Because they make it look streamlined and aerodynamic. And it looked cool.

RocketGuy's avatar

Jet planes were very cool bak then, so cars that had jet features would be considered cool too. Tail lights on some looked like afterburners.

Remember the talk of flying cars in the 21st century…

El_Cadejo's avatar

Cause they look fuckin awesome?

The spoiler on the other hand just looks retarded 9 times out of 10.

dabbler's avatar

Buck Rogers, man ! It was the influence of the space race as well as jet aircraft.
It’s totally the appearance of going fast while standing still.

mrentropy's avatar

Going into space, and all the talk of it, was a big thing then. After WWII people were all about looking to the future, including the names of things. Fins on cars was probably an offshoot of that since it made the car look futuristic (according to the taste of the times).

Brian1946's avatar


Tail lights on some looked like afterburners.

I think the 1961 T-bird is an example of that design.

gasman's avatar

As a kid I watched tail fins come and go. My Dad got a brand new Oldsmobile Super 88 every 2 years as part of a company fleet, going back at least to 1954. There was always a “rocket V8” engine under the hood, topped by a cool hood ornament. The space age was upon us. I remember the fins of 1956 & 1958, too. By 1960 tail fins were starting to shrink again. Thanks to the magic of Google images you can see what I saw!

The fins were strictly for styling and marketing, tying in with the aerospace themes and imagery. I don’t think for an instant it had anything to do with aerodynamic stability and I’m sure the design engineers knew that. The added weight of extra steel in those fins didn’t matter either, with such huge engines guzzling such cheap gas.

Anyhow the Olds’s tail fins weren’t as extreme as others like ‘59 Chevy, ‘59 Mercury & (the most iconic image of all) ‘59 Cadillac.

gondwanalon's avatar

They may have looked cool but they were and still are dangerous. A kid down the street were I lived when I was about 7 rode her bike into the back of a 59 Cadillac and severed an artery in her hand from the impact with the car’s tail fin. It was an ugly bloody mess. It could have been worse.

majorrich's avatar

‘59 Caddy fins were big, but Plymouth had some pretty epic fins too. Space Age styling ala Jetson.

RocketGuy's avatar

Yeah, check put the “rocket plumes” coming out of the Caddy’s tail lights.

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