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The Evolution of the Fin
by Nancee Lee - 1958 Cadillac Owners Association
Photo by Michael Dubos


Rarely does a television commercial make me look up and take notice, yet he current ad for the 1999 Eldorado makes me more than take notice; it makes me lust and long for the 1957 Cadillac that I helped to restore a few years ago.

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In case you are unfamiliar with the ad, it features a couple embracing in front of a movie theatre in 1958, just as a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado (you know, the Caddy with the killer fins) drives by. Their embrace loosens as the young man stares at the car. Then cut to 1998, the 1999 Eldorado passes, this time the young lady stares. I LOVE THAT COMMERCIAL- HECK, I LOVE CADILLACS.

To me, there is nothing more sleek or sexy than a pair of Cadillac tailfins. The tailfin represents all that was America after World War II. Tailfins go with martinis, beautiful dresses, big bands and swing dancing. They represent an America that was hopeful about its future and the security of future generations. There weren't presidential scandals; there were just thankful people glad that the war was over and proud to have saved allied Europe. The 1948 Cadillac still represents American pride and optimism.

The 1948 Cadillac was the first Cadillac to truly celebrate the end of the war. During the war, Cadillac was dedicated to the war effort, producing tank engines and M-8 howitzer carriages. General MacArthur's staff car was a Cadillac Series 75.

The 1948 had a sleek, new look after '"the secret" Lightning P-38 fighter plane. Harley Earl, head of General Motors' Art and Color Department, was privy to U.S. top secret projects, of which the P-38 was one. He was so impressed with the design of the plane that he added a bomber nose as the Cadillac's front bumpers and tailfins to the rear. These tailfins became the signature for Cadillac, getting larger each year until 1959, when they couldn't get much larger without being comical. The bomber nose bumpers became affectionately called "Dagmars," after the well-endowed actress by the same name.

In 1953, Cadillac introduced the Eldorado, the first postwar custom luxury automobile. Its features included leather interior, chrome wire wheels and a signal-seeking radio. This masterpiece sold for $7,750. In 1953, this was very pricey and only the rich could afford the comfort and luxury of an Eldorado. Currently, the 1953 Eldorado is the most collectible of postwar autos.

In 1958, the new Caddys proved to be the worst selling Cadillac of the postwar era. Today, there are many car enthusiasts who see the 1958 Cadillac as the epitome of style and engineering. As a member of the 1958 Cadillac Owners Association, I can attest that there are hundreds of men and women who cherish this beautiful automobile. Current prices for the various models range from $1,000 for a Sedan deVille that needs work, to $49,000 for a mint convertible. For information on these cars and on the 1958 Owners Association, go to http://members.aol.com/coa1958/cadillac.html.

The most famous of the finned vehicles is the 1959 Cadillac. The 1959 model was designed by the young Dave Hollis, though Harley Earl is often credited. The convertible Eldorado Biarritz was also introduced in 1959. This is the car that many of us see as the car that defines the 1950s. The fins hit their all-time high in this year and the taillights were set into the fins, making this one of the most beautiful cars ever built (at least in my humble opinion). I like to think of the fins on car as angels wings; they are so beautiful that they are almost feminine. Though this car still has its critics, the car sold well and still does - that is, if you are lucky to find one for sale!

The fins only lasted four more years, getting less flashy each year. The last finned model was built in 1964 and featured a new automatic heat and air conditioning system that maintained a set temperature.

After 1964, Cadillac stopped designing its automobiles with the sleek aerodynamics that made their vehicles look like they were flying even when standing still. Cadillacs remained a luxury car, even during the gas short-ages of the 1970s, but never quite regained their status as sex symbols of the road. Don't get me wrong-I wouldn't turn down that 1999 Eldorado if it were offered to me. I'd just rather cuddle my honey in a 1961.

Reprinted with permission of Modern Lounge magazine. 


Date Last Updated: March 25, 2020
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