Cadillac Brings Back Tail Fins

 Tail fins on the 2012 Cadillac SRX

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While there is some dispute, most automotive historians say that the 1948 Cadillac was the first car with tail fins. According to GM lore, the GM styling team was influenced by the work they did during WWII illustrating flight manuals and doing other graphic work for the war effort. Besides evoking the speed and grace of airplanes, stylists loved fins because they lifted the rear end visually. The postwar Studebakers and Fords introduced the three box concept with a distinct rear deck lid to automotive styling, in contrast to the fastback body shapes of most cars of the late 1930s. Still, the decklids on even the most modern late 1940s and early 1950s cars sloped down. Tail fins raised the visual center of the back end of the car, particularly in profile.  The ’48 Caddy inspired a styling trend/fad that would last into the 1960s. When Chrysler introduced the Forward Look ’57s, designed under Virgil Exner Sr., fins were taken literally to new heights, sparking a bit of a fin war. The wild fins on Chevys, Buicks and Oldsmobiles in the late ’50s were a response by Harley Earl’s team, which staged a palace revolt when Earl was in Europe, as an attempt to keep GM ahead of Chrysler’s styling. Fins reached their (again literally) peak in the ’59 Cadillac.

Early Cadillac fins. I think it’s a ’49 or ’50.

Click on the anaglyph stereo 3D image to launch a Flash player and view the entire gallery of photos in 2D or your choice of S3D formats.

So fins are a big part of Cadillac’s styling heritage, though they undoubtedly went out of style in the 1960s and 1970s. Recently, however, under Ed Welburn, GM styling has brought back the tail fin.

Believe it or not, the fins on this 1960 Caddy are actually shorter than the ones on the ’59s

They’ve done so subtly and with little fanfare, but once again Caddy’s have fins. Cadillac introduced their current “Art & Science” design themes about a decade ago with the Evoq concept. One motif from the Evoq that has shown up on many Cadillacs since then is the strong slightly rising crease that defines the rear fender line of the cars. Looking from the rear of the car, on the back deck lid that crease slopes down towards center line of the car. The Evoq also introduced a styling element now found on almost all Cadillacs, including the stunning Ciel concept introduced at the Pebble Beach concours this year. The vertical taillamps extend to the top of the fender and forward into the fender line. The visual effect of the fender, deck lid and taillight shapes is a subtle tail fin.

The way the fender line, deck lid and taillight are shaped on the Cadillac CTS results in a subtle tail fin.

That’s not just my speculation. Since the introduction of Art & Science Cadillac designers have mentioned that the vertical taillamps in current Caddys are evocative of tail fins. More to the point, when the current Cadillac SRX crossover utility vehicle was introduced, while Cadillac did not shout, “Hey, tail fins are back”, Welburn and other GM stylists openly talked about the SRX’s taillights being tail fins. Again, they aren’t hit-you-over-the-head obvious, but looking at photos of the SRX it’s impossible to say that they are not tail fins.

It’s subtle, but the top edge of the taillight of the CTS coupe is above the rear deck lid, in other words, a tail fin.

That motif can be seen in the about to be produced Cadillac “flagship” XTS and the Ciel concept. Since it’s a basic part of the Art & Science theme I don’t expect these fins to disappear from Cadillac styling any time soon.

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