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Hagerty Employee

Did a Cadillac boat penned by Brooks Stevens inspire the 1959 Cadillac's tail fins? | Hagerty Media

The history of tail fins is well documented. They first appeared on the 1948 Cadillac, the first all-new car from Cadillac after the end of World War II. The rear end of the '48 Cadillac tapered down, much like that of cars in the immediate prewar period.

Two questions:

  1. How the h-e-double-toothpicks did one of these not make it into an early Bond film?
  2. Is the phrase "I made a functional reason for my foppery." copywrited?  'Cause if not, I'm gonna adapt it as my new motto in life...

Wonderful article, and certainly food for thought a to the origin of the '59 Caddy's fins.

Intermediate Driver

Harley Earl turned 65 in 1958, not 1948,
Hagerty Employee

Fixed this typo, thank you.


To go back to the real beginning, Monsieur Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac (not Pierre Francois de la Brioschi) was the explorer who “founded” and named Detroit, (d’etroit — the strait.) It is his family coat-of-arms that became the Cadillac badge.

GM designer Ned Nickles’ prototype drawing is fantastic, but its grill is the Mercedes logo, and it’s got Buick fender portholes.

I owned a 1957 Sedan de Ville, and its tailfins had twin lights straddling the bottom of the fin.
The ’57 Eldorado Brougham (super rare) had V-notched fins. Both of these contributed to the ’59.

Still, it certainly appears that Brooks Stevens did indeed create the iconic fin that found its way to the 1959 Cadillacs; and then into cultural history.
Excellent article!

The grill is indeed similar to the Mercedes logo, but it is identical to the nose of the Curtis P-40 Warhawk. The noses of the front fenders resemble the fronts of the engine nacelles of the Lockheed P-38. All-in-all, the styling is completely influenced by by WW-II aircraft designs (as this article points out).
Advanced Driver

Somebody PLEASE build a one-off creation of that 1948 Caddy concept drawing!
Intermediate Driver

Intermediate Driver

This is way cool! Wretched excess in all its glory.

Note that the boat had to have been extremely heavy, being both wood and fiberglass, plus those worthless fins. And, as I remember, the Evinrude Lark 2 cylinder, 2 cycle outboard (pictured) put out only 35 HP. The top speed was likely about 25 MPH on a calm day. Add a waterskier and boat guard and I'm guessing a 180 pound skier could barely get out of the water. That's likely why we never saw these boats become reality.

The four cylinder OMC V4 engines weren't far behind, and Mercury made a straight 6, but the popular boats to put them on in the late 50s and early 60s were flat bottom Dorsetts, Glaspars and Glastrons.  They were light and trim; no wretched excess for show.

BTW,  @DUB6, the later Evinrude line of stern drive boats was featured in the Bond film Thunderball. My family had a 1965 "Playmate," which was a 4 seater powered by the first stern drive inboard mounted outboard engine, hence the moniker "inboard/outboard." It was Evinrude's 90 HP 2 cycle V4, and it could pull a slalom skier at about 32 MPH maximum. At altitude (say, Lake Tahoe) its performance was extremely diminished.

As families grew in size, so did boats. Auto engines replaced the V4 in stern drives, and Mercruiser grabbed the market lead with their effective lower units. OMC eventually dropped their line of boats in both Johnson and Evinrude livery, but their outboards still soldier on.

First Evinrude Larks (1957 IIRC) were their current 35 hp twin with a much fancier metal cowl (engine cover)--with chrome trim, per the pictures in the article. The "regular" 35 hp motor in the more standard Evinrude blue paint was also offered--the Lark just had a fancier cowl--and was more expensive. In 1959 Evinrude switched to a fiberglass cowl--and again offered the standard motor as well as the Lark trim on the cowl. I believe that in 1960 the horsepower was raised to 40 for both the standard and Lark engines. As for power, I had a 40 hp Lark motor on a 16 foot plywood Carter Craft boat that was quite heavy--the wood hull as well as upper structure was heavier than a fiberglass hull--and I could easily pull a skier with 2-3 people on board.

It's funny, though--I grew up in Ft Lauderdale--probably the boating capital of the US in the 50s--and never remember seeing even pictures of the Lark boat either at an Evinrude dealer or in boating magazines...