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Whatever happened to tail fins?

While reading a recent story about a concours car show in Rhode Island at the super luxurious Breakers, it called to mind some of the beautiful American cars of the past that once cruised the streets of Nashua. It prompted the question: What ever happened to tail fins? The iconic Chevys, Fords and Chryslers of the 50’s and 60’s sported long, exquisite, although somewhat useless triangles, known as tail fins. They may have had little to no use, but man were they sweet to look at! I can remember riding my bicycle down Main Street and seeing those big American land yachts parked diagonally with their tail fins proudly sticking out in a peacock like fashion on display for all to see, pointing at you like two big index fingers and screaming as if to say, “Hey you – check me out!”

The old Cadillacs had some of the biggest fins of the era, along with bullet like protrusions on the front bumper that were often referred to as “Dagmars.” They were sort of like front fins. Those who lived in the era will quickly call to mind what the Dagmar relationship referred to. Think Madonna’s bustiere. Such Caddies were sold locally by the former Clyde Garfield Cadillac Oldsmobile (the latter brand, sadly no longer with us).

Maybe I’m just a car fanatic, but I still long for the days when cars were not only vehicles to get us from point A to point B, but beautiful metallic fashion statements. Most of us remember the iconic ’57 Chevy, many of which today command a price of nearly a quarter million dollars at auction. That masterpiece was my sister’s first car. It was the classic version decked out in beautiful aqua paint, white trim, matching interior and chrome in just the right places. My guess is, she would be ecstatic to have it now, as it would be quite an addition to her 401K. It in fact, could even be her 401K. But hindsight is easy. Many of us unknowingly owned classic cars that we wished we had the foresight to hold onto. Mine was a ’65 Chevy Impala. No tail fins, but still a beauty. Before the technological wizardry in today’s cars, one could actually sit on the front fender and almost let your feet dangle in the engine compartment while changing the oil. Now it’s difficult to even get your hand in the engine compartment to find the dip stick.

In comparison, today’s cars seem quite mundane and cookie cutter. I just can’t imagine a Toyota Prius or Nissan Sentra commanding a premium price at auction 40 years from now. But I could be wrong. True, today we can start our cars via satellite, program our next location into the GPS, play over 2,000 tunes from our phone and open the rear hatch with the sweep of a foot. But there is just something about those old classics that made you feel special, like you were sitting in your living room enjoying the scenery, looking out the bay window while commanding that massive steering wheel to take you to your next destination. The hum of that big engine and rumble of the exhaust confirmed that you were in control of a powerful beast that would respond to your every command. And of course, those tail fins were often quite visible in the rear-view mirror.

I can also remember as a kid seeing these old classics cruising the boulevard at Hampton Beach, Manchester’s Elm Street, as well as our very own Main Street. Everyone had their favorites, with mine being the ’57 Chevy. The design was outstanding and something very special.

There are several Cruise Nights and car shows in the Nashua area throughout the year. Whenever you want to see what a real American classic car looked like, visit one of these venues to see for yourself. Hopefully, there will be some examples of those classic tail fins available for a closer inspection. Take a minute to imagine you and your buddy or partner cruising down Main Street with heads turning on both sides of the street and all eyes focused on you and that four wheeled chrome bedecked fashion statement.

Don Canney is a freelance writer and professional voice artist. He was born and raised in downtown Nashua with great interest in Nashua history circa 1950-1970. He now resides in Litchfield.