Difficult Choice

Over at Timewaster’s place, he puts up this poignant statement:

I have to tell you that quite frankly, the whole 50s-era obsession with large fins on cars left me cold.  Not really being infected with sci-fi/space obsession (which was what drove the styling motif of the era), I thought that the large finned American cars of the time were gaudy, ostentatious monstrosities.

However, of late, I’m starting to revise my opinion.  Loyal Readers will recall how I often gripe about the wind-tunnel-driven shape of modern cars which renders modern cars pretty much indistinguishable from one another.  So much do I detest this homogeneity that I find myself drifting towards a scenario whereby if someone were to offer me a choice between, say, an old Chevy Bel-Air:

…or a modern Chevy Malibu:

…I would most likely go for the ’57 Bel-Air despite  all the modern comforts afforded by the 2018 Mali-Boo-Boo.  The first has character, the second looks like a Toyota Camry.

Am I alone in this?


  1. I prefer the “Jet fighter” look over the “scrubbing bubble” I have two trucks ’37 Chevy and ’55 Chevy pickups that get more admiring comments than my daily driver, last of the two door, three pedal Cadillac fast movers, a 2017 ATS-V. More aggressive looking than most modern rides and the street version of their successful racer. Motor Trend called it the best car nobody was buying. I love driving the Caddy but I love driving the loud, fast and dangerous trucks more.

  2. In any measurable way, today’s cars are superior to those of the 50s. Performance, fuel milage, comfort, handling, reliability. However in most cases, they have no character. My Jaguar XK 120 is heavy, has poor brakes, only 180 horsepower, a clunky gearbox, skinny tires, it dribbles oil from almost every part of its drivetrain, a leaky top and a heater that functions almost like an air conditioner and gets but 19 mpg.
    My Nissan Maxima would outrun it, out stop it, and do so in great comfort without continual maintenance.
    But the Jag has what the Nissan (and it’s peers) will never have.
    Park ’em side to side & see which one the folks marvel over, that’s the difference.

  3. I likes me sum finz. Always have. Born in 55, I remember my dad rounding us kids up and hitting the dealers each fall when the new cars came out, just to see what was new and diff. I’d like to have a cherry red left rear fender off a 2 dr 59 Cadillac, all 18 feet of it, mounted above the mantle on the fireplace right above my grand pappy’s 1917 Winchester model 12 shotgun. My wife would prolly blow a circuit but after 35 years I’m confident she’d get over it in short order. Or not.

  4. Took my driving test June of 1961 in my mom’s 1960, 4 door, hard-top, 348 cu. in. Chevy Impala. Those old cars were fast and fun and they had very large back seats in case a person wanted to take a nap, or something.

  5. The ’57 Chevy has style, no doubt. But the modern Chevy has built-in air-conditioning. And having grown up in the back seat of various un-air-conditioned Chevrolet products, I need my relief from the Texas summers. Air-conditioned modernity for me.

  6. A brand new ’64 Mustang threw out a steel beer can as they passed us, in my Dad’s ’60 Fury. The can bounced off and Dad gave chase with Mom squawking hysterically beside him. The speedometer rolled up past 120. The Mustang ran until it gave a puff of blue smoke and pulled off the road. Dad slowed back down to highway speed and just kept driving. He was so happy, he’d gone off the speedometer and still had more gas to give. It must’ve been the big fins.

  7. I would not mind cars that had some style and it would be nice to have something that didn’t look like the Camry/Focus/KIA/Honda/Malibu/Huyndai. However, I’ve driven cars for a long time. If you were going on a long road trip, the new car wins every time. Comfort, driving ease, features, fuel economy.

      1. I won’t ever buy a GM product ever again, but that’s a story for another time.

        If you compare the new Chevys:


        with the old:


        You find out the new ones have more acceleration, better cornering, better braking, etc. They look a lot alike but they aren’t soul sucking to drive.

        If you get away from Chevrolet, you can still get some sport sedans with 0-60 / quarter-mile times that rival the fastest Detroit iron of the 1960s.

        For example, the Nissan GT-R is a lozenge shaped sedan that goes 0-60 in 2.7 seconds, does the quarter in 11.0, and has impressive braking and cornering capability. What’s not to like?

        1. My ’71 Mustang fastback with the 429/SCJ (automatic!- special order, the original buyer only had one arm) would run a flat 11 second quarter mile, but it required slicks to do that. With street tires, it would only run 14’s at ~110mph. It would spin the tires (at Fremont Dragstrip -long gone) on the primaries almost to the lights before hooking up, and was spinning them thru the lights when I opened the secondaries. I was launching at an idle, not jacking it up. Factory 4.11 Detroit Locker rear end, so both tires turn together. Running L-60/15’s on the rear, wider and taller than the stock 14″ tires.

          The brakes were good for one hard stop, and worthless in the mountains going downhill. Ford rated it at 370 hp. NHRA said +100 hp. U-tube dyno runs of stock engines show 500+ hp.
          Mustangs had lousy weight distribution, especially with those big, heavy engines and transmissions. IIRC, that engine and trans package was the heaviest put in a production car.

          Driving that around the streets was an interesting process, especially with the auto trans. I gather not many of this model/engine package have survived, and I can understand that. Very very few had the auto option, which added it’s own handling quirks on top of the power. The next owner totaled it when it spun the tires shifting into 3rd gear and he hit a guardrail (on the Bay Bridge) before he could gather it back up. He had added custom headers and a much bigger carb, up-rating the hp at least 100+, from what I’ve read about the engine package.

          1. Will,

            The Bay Bridge on the Baltimore Beltway? If so, I know this road and used to hammer around it in the 70s.

  8. Convergent evolution under environmental pressures – safety, fuel economy, emissions.
    The IIHS head-on crashed one of the ’57s against its modern Chevy equivalent. Despite looking stout, the ’57 folded up, including the roof collapsing, while it looked like the modern car’s doors could still open.

  9. “Despite looking stout, the ’57 folded up, including the roof collapsing, while it looked like the modern car’s doors could still open.”

    I don’t believe that for 1 second. I dented a fender on a rented Camry one time just by leaning on it. Those old cars in the 50’s had fenders you could drill and tap. Hell, the bumpers alone on a 57 Chevy weighed more than the whole car now a days. Plus, watch how much a new car is worth 50 years later, if it still exists at all. 57 Chevy’s in good shape today routinely sell for about 20 times their new cost back then.

    1. See Jim below for the crash link. Actually pretty appalling. Modern cars are designed for the front and back to fold up while the passenger cage resists impact. The A pillars especially are so strong you can’t compare them at all to ’50s steel. Probably a factor of 4X-6X in material strength. I agree you can probably forget about replacement electronic parts in current parts – you can’t even get them for something as simple as a refrigerator after 8-10 years. OTOH, if the price is right, somebody will make a work-around.

  10. Sorry Ghost, but ChuckR is telling gospel troof. I read the same article, and watched the same video.

    Fortunately, I didn’t fail at search today, so here it is for you:


    That old heavy steel? It’s also a very mild, ductile steel. That made it easy to form, easy (for certain values of “easy”) for the body n’ fender guys to work it with torch, hammer n’ dolly, etc.

    The newer cars, with all that High Strength Steel? Cheaper to torch out the damaged section, weld-in new, and finish the seams. Cause you’re not gonna work that stuff *at all* with a torch, hammer n’ dolly.

    Point is, today we’re driving cars made of a very light, thin and strong version of armor, which actually serves to protect. For certain values of “protect”.

    The old beasts were kind of like TSA Security Theater in this regard.

    Remember all the “Tell Laura I Loved Her” tragedy songs of the 50s & 60s? Wasn’t all because seat belts were a rare thing, then.

    One of the worst offenders ever? Any car built on the GM “X” frame platform. Damn near zero chassis strength, NO side impact strength and this without the benefit of a UniBody’s built in structure and extra rigidity.

    And though the interiors of those old cars leaned towards works of art, the un-padded dash, close-by windshield, protruding knobs, non-collapsing steering column… we were driving a Cadillac Cuisinart, and didn’t even know it as such, back then.

    But I’d love to own one, and I’d drive it every chance I got.

    ‘Cause they’re beautiful in a way that none of the modern iron is, truly. The new stuff is basically all identical, utilitarian and instantly… forgettable. They have no soul.

    Long live the mobile mayhem of old!

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

    1. “The newer cars, with all that High Strength Steel? Cheaper to torch out the damaged section, weld-in new, and finish the seams. Cause you’re not gonna work that stuff *at all* with a torch, hammer n’ dolly.”

      Starting back in about the mid 70’s or maybe 80’s, if a shop did any welding work on a car, when the insurance adjuster showed up with a check he had better have found an electric welder on site. If not, you didn’t get paid. Oxy/acetylene torch work was forbidden on the new steels, as it embrittled the metal. Embarrassing, and often dangerous, metal failures resulted from this.

      My father was still doing leaded body work into the mid-70’s, on request, @2x normal cost. He started in the business following ww2, and I recall when Bondo arrived in ’59, while we were in FL.
      Interestingly, I had a ’65 Fastback V8/4spd Mustang, and discovered that the factory was using both lead and Bondo on the same car. Car had original paint, and there was Bondo on the doors to make them smooth, and lead on the top of the quarterpanels to fill in the joints near the windows. Dad confirmed it was factory work. I was doing a full paint job, as that blueish gray color that Ford used so widely was bad, and peeled on every car I’ve ever seen.

  11. I appreciate the utility of modern automobiles. I really do. However, a 67 Mustang hardtop was a thing of beauty and the fourth generation Impalas had style.

  12. Fins…..
    It is said that the genesis of the tail-fins of the ’50’s was Harley Earl falling in love with the vertical stabilizers of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, and putting a stylized version of them on the ’48 Caddie.

Comments are closed.