Almanac: Tail fins

Almanac: Tail fins

On February 3, 1948, 71 years ago today, Cadillac is said to have produced its very first car featuring the tail fin. It would be the most controversial automotive styling note of all time.

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The 1948 Cadillac series 61 coupe featured a tail fin inspired by a World War II fighter plane. CBS News

Inspired by the twin tails of the World War II P-38 fighter plane, those first Cadillac fins were little more than bumps with tail lights.

But come the 1950s, that all changed.

A sort of tail fin "arms race" raged, led by General Motors and Chrysler. 

Tail fins grew ever bigger and glitzier, peaking, as it were, with the 1959 Cadillac, featuring oversized space-age fins that even Flash Gordon might have thought excessive.

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By 1949 tail fins on a Cadillac had gone to the extreme. CBS News

Come the 1960s, the design wheel turned once again, as cars gradually became smaller and more rounded.

Not that those be-chromed and be-finned behemoths of the '50s are entirely forgotten. In fact, just a few years ago, Cadillac paid itself an homage of sorts in a TV ad featuring its most up-to-date model, leaving its predecessor behind.

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What's that in the Cadillac's mirror? The future! CBS News

In effect, saying to the tail fin, finis!

       
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Story produced by Julie Kracov.