It’s hard to believe but the Jet Age – once the vanguard of modernity – is now considered both antiquated and quaint. At the time, back in the period from immediately post war to the tumultuous sixties, the sleek, sensuous shapes of the fast evolving aeronautical industry set the standard for everything from toasters to vacuums, to cars. Especially, it was applied to cars.
Fins, those iconic styling ingredients that became hallmarks of fifties automotive design, were homages to both contemporary airplanes and the era’s burgeoning space program. Starting small – Harley Earl’s budding fins on the ’48 Cadillac recalling the dual tails of the Lockheed P-38 – fins grew in stature, becoming ever larger, eventually dominating many a car’s design . Even the Germans got in the act, Mercedes penning the 190 with subtle fins that they dryly described as ‘sight lines.’
You know fins, you know and for the most part love the cars that carry them. But what car pulls them off the best? What be-finned car looks all the better for having those vestigial vertical stabilizers? And considering the source of that styling feature, and the era in which to arose, how ironic is it that West Side Story – set in 1950s New York – features a conflict between the jets and the sharks?