Whether it was the ’57 or the ’59, the record seems pretty clear that the fashion of tail fins on cars reached its peak on a Cadillac. When we talk to young people today about life being different back then, it is impossible for them to imagine how different it was.
There were no seat belts and it wasn’t uncommon to see a car drive by with a kid lying across the seatback, playing in the rear window. Gas cost pennies a gallon and when you pulled into the gas station, a guy in a uniform with a tie rushed out to pump your gas, wash your windows, and “Check the oil for you today, sir?” Once you were filled up, the guy would hurry back with your change (credit cards didn’t exist yet and no one used checks) and a free glass or plate to add to your collection.
Back on the road, traffic was light. Speed limits where high and if you did get stopped for speeding, the cop would walk up to the car and inquire what was the hurry? Then there would be some back and forth banter about your accuse and the officer’s concern you should slow it down. If you got a warning, that would be upsetting. If you got a ticket, the policeman would brace himself for an argument.
Driving may have been a privilege according to the law, but it was a right according to society. No, it was more than a right; it was a rite-of-passage. I got my learner’s permit on the day I turned 15 ½. On my 16th birthday, I passed my driver’s test, took the family car out that night, and loaded it up with my buddies for a cruise around town.
There were basically only two types of guys: those who owned a car and those who didn’t get dates. The goal of every teenager was to own a car and the car you owned was a mark of status. My first was a ’59 Bel Air Chevy with the horizontal fins. It was automatic, which was not cool, but had a back seat the size of a living room couch. That implied I could be a serious dude, but I wasn’t. It turned out there was actually a third kind of guy. He drove an Army green, automatic Chevy and still didn’t get dates, but it didn’t matter. I could drive, and drive, and drive.
No air conditioning, crank down windows, doors that weighted a ton, bench seats that fit 4 abreast and a dial AM radio with only a dozen or so stations to listen to. If you wanted rock ’n roll there were, only a couple of choices.
Nothing about my Prius even resembles what I grew up thinking was a car. Yes, I enjoy the drive, it is very safe and the gas mileage is great, but it has no fins. There is no extravagance about it. It lacks the superfluous and it was the superfluous that used to make cars what they were.
Aging in Place, it’s no accident, so drive safely