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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

Three 1960 drop-tops mark the fin-tastic last days of an American obsession

Today's pop-culture, flash-montage mythology of the 1950s reduces the decade down to poodle skirts, hula hoops, doo-wop, and pastel-hued, postwar tranquility. American ideals of democracy and free enterprise seemed to trump all, and the standard of living was never higher as the new suburbs of our economic colossus brimmed with affluence and home appliances.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/automotive-history/three-1960-drop-tops-mark-the-fin-tastic-last-days-...
62 REPLIES 62
Snailish
Engineer

It was a daring styling era and there are hits and misses depending on your tastes.

Today it undaring blandness towards whatever fad trend (EV Futuro, Japan Toy Racer angle bits added on, etc.) but still very forgettable.*

*with the little outliers like Nissan Cube
RickN
Intermediate Driver

"It may be, for some, an age of material prosperity, but it is also an age of spiritual poverty."
I can't imagine such a time, can you?"
Snailish
Engineer

Remember, those are the "good old days"...

MrBill-1943
Advanced Driver

Grew up during those times and can assure you when every new year car that came out it was a "spiritual" experience as we biked down to the dealerships watching them unload and place into the show rooms these new examples of American greatness and ingenuity and creativity...now those were the days. Also remember going into the dealerships asking for the catalogs saying "our parents are looking to buy", sure wish I kept all that stuff. Today what kid bikes down to see the new cars or even cares? Now that's "spiritual poverty."
IndyRacerBoy33
New Driver

My Brother-n-Law does collect all the new car brochures and has for decades going back to the 1950s. He's got them in filing cabinets by Year, Make and Model. It's unbelievable the stuff he has.
TingeofGinge
Detailer

Well, on the other hand, when manufacturers pump out models left and right throughout the years and The Youth have things like Instagram, Tik Tok, etc. you can kind of start to see the reason behind the shift.

When I was in undergrad, I worked at a Chevy dealer around the time the new Camaros came out (08-09). My dad told me about just the reality you described, so I pitched it to my sales manager as a fun thing to do: Have all the new Camaros on the showroom under wraps and have an unveiling. I was met with a combination of "they're all spoken for and none of the owners would want to do that" and "how are we going to pay for it?" or something to that effect.
Gary_Bechtold
Specialist

We definitely have the age of spiritual poverty part down today.
janedon
Advanced Driver

What??   spiritual poverty ?   Way more folks went to church than then Now--& besides, these cars were only for Rich folks- No way could Most people afford them--

Rider79
Technician

I am not certain, but I don't think "spiritual poverty" is necessarily used in reference to religious spirituality.
audiobycarmine
Technician

What a great and well-written article!
Thanks!

Of these three, the Lincoln is the dowdiest.
I always thought that the '60 Cadillac was more attractive than its '59 predecessor. Totally lithe and sleek.

The Chrysler, however, is in a class of its own — so futuristically "out there" and yet so stylish.
The Chrysler is the one I'd choose today.
OCULUSNY
Detailer

Indeed.  The 300 was ALL business; the others all puffery.

 

Nelson Rockefeller had a 300 C; I guess that was his speed side and the predecessor to his gold Avanti which was more toward his modernist artistic tastes.

Truthworldwide
Detailer

Fantastic read and my oh my - those images! Thank you for this, Mr. Lipman!
Tsaxman
Advanced Driver

Fins to the left! Fins to the right!

They always seemed silly to me, especially when I was a kid. While it may be true that, "they were 'illusory symbols of sex, speed, wealth, and power for day-dreaming nitwits to buy' ” I think they remain somewhat iconic representations of American optimistic frivolity.

And, that said, I liked the more subtle versions, such as the 1958-60 T-birds or 1959 Impala.
Orict0015668
Intermediate Driver

Yes, they, as you say, somewhat iconic representations of American optimistic frivolity, I believe they will live long, providing a reminder of what once was, and could be, compared to contemporary automobiles, which many can be described as depressing examples of American pessimism and and negativity!
Tinkerah
Engineer

And you're the only (Jimmy Buffett connection) in town!
Smilodon
Instructor

No one in their right mind would deem a 1959 Impala "subtle".
Put the pipe down and step away.
TingeofGinge
Detailer

1960 Starliner... Now there's some subtle fins.
dd1
Detailer

"Still, a world that is perfectly safe would be unbearably boring." The author just summed up the world we live in today--unbearably boring.
It was the big fins that made it so much fun. It was the throaty engines that got 10 gallons to a mile; it was the copious amounts of chrome that forced you to squint because the reflection of sunlight was too overwhelming; it was the wacky Corvair; it was the British invasion of the Beatles, the bad boy Rolling Stones and the cheap but fun MGBs and Sprites that put a smile on your face and gave you a belly laugh of delight! It was all about FUN!
These were wonderfully nostalgic times of youth and hope. True, there were many problems and challenges but hearts seemed to be lighter. We're too serious today. We need to loosen up. We've become too safe, too antiseptic, too structured, too rules-driven, too regulated and too obsessed with high-tech. No where is this more reflected than these "things" we drive today that we call cars. They're no longer machines; they're circuit boards and software mounted to four wheels. It's like we've given ourselves over to artificial intelligence; we've turned in our humanity and replaced it with Alexa. I'm not against technology but we need to reintroduce the words "moderation" and "prudence" into our collective vocabulary. Alexa is draining the life out of everything. Alexa's no fun!:)
Anyway, it will be interesting to see what the world is like 300 years from now, assuming humanity survives.
Solosolo
Detailer

That's one great description of the past and present current motor cars that we are now inflicted with.
OCULUSNY
Detailer

I loved the dropped-in aside that Ralph Nader thought fins dangerous.  Must have been before he latched onto the Corvair.

Wonder what he thinks of battery-powered cars these days?

Smilodon
Instructor

"In the year 2525...". I quit the tech climb with my 2004 Tahoe and 2004 Holden/Pontiac GTO (6spd stick, of course). They have the ECU diagnostics that make maintenance and mods easier, but they don't spy on me nor make home maintenance and mods impossible. I'm 62, will keep these til death. Don't want/need a car to "drive", "brake", or "watch out" for me, I'm pretty good at these things with decades of experience and successful attendance at several racing schools. The Tahoe has a built 6.2 Escalade engine, is correctly lifted and tows what I need towed. Plows snow like a demon on those 20"s with the Boss, too. The GTO, 7 litre aftermarket LS, McLeod clutch, 930 based CV joints in the rear suspension and a custom ECU to complement the Jet Engineering 1st-4th shifter patch. Both do everything I need, all I want, nothing I don't.
janedon
Advanced Driver

Yea----I make deliveries with my own car--Up until about 10yrs ago paper maps were my go to--Now it's my GPS & sometimes my phone--- I'm forgetting where some streets that I've delivered to for yrs are now-- My brain has become Lazy-

Thunderone2
New Driver

Outstanding article. I have a 1958 Mk III Lincoln Continental Convertible that is being restored. I was satisfied with it's looks, especially the fins. This vehicle stood out where ever I traveled.
TingeofGinge
Detailer

Lost me with "Meaning today’s newest five-door, all-wheel-drive, multi-activity, active-safety hybrid crossover is barely distinguishable from last year’s."

Look at a 58, 59, or 60 Lincoln and tell me they don't look 90% the same. Equal for a 59-60 Cadillac, or even a lowly 58-60 Thunderbird (like I have.) Or a Tri-Five Chevy, or a pre-67 Mustang. Or, or, or.

We're fooling ourselves if we think we lost something "unique" about year-to-year automotive design. Car designs may have been striking, beautiful even, but they do share that aspect of design continuity with their more recent brethren.
leduced
Intermediate Driver

Tai-five Chevy's were about as different as oatmeal and baked beans, guess you don't know much about cars....
Snailish
Engineer

Take a non-car person:

 

It would be interesting if you took photos with the logos/names blurred out of a bunch of different 55-57 cars. Gave the person a hot wheels of a 55 Chev as their model and said "sort this pile into the Chev and not" 

 

I think the 55 Kaiser Manhattan easily lands in the "not" pile. 56 Olds 88 or Pontiacs on the other hand...

TingeofGinge
Detailer

Right, because the same silhouette, 90% same dimensions, and (let's be honest) more ostentatiously styled trim make such a world of difference. Compare a 55 to a 54 or a 57 to a 58 and we have a conversation. But please, enlighten me....

But maybe tri-fives are an exception. To that extent, how about the 61-64 Galaxies, 61-63 Thunderbirds, 62-64 Impalas... 

My point is: saying that new cars have lost something over old cars because new cars look the same from one year to another and old cars somehow don't is being more than a little generous...

Snailish
Engineer

It's regional (i.e., North American market) and segment based:

 

42-48 are a similar style school for pretty much all domestic sedans. Sure things like the Packards are different but they all somewhat conform to their era.

 

49-52 breaks it a bit as you have GM holding onto rear fender bulges, Ford going "shoebox" slab sides and everyone else kind of looking like the GM stuff.

 

1953 you have the Studebaker Starlight Coupe design pointing future.

 

1955-57 full size American cars you have a lot of the same cakes decorated a bit differently. But man... what great (and huge in some cases) decorations. Quite a few of them I think would look better with the 55 chev headlight treatment, but that is my taste. Chrysler did get ahead with their 57 designs though... more like what was typical 59-61 from everyone else.

 

The style eras were similar, but you look at 62-64 full size cars they are kind of the same looking. Doesn't matter if you do 1975, 85 or 2005 family cars this is generally true.

 

It's most obvious when you have things like fins, quad headlights, bulging hoods, etc. to see the trendy resemblance. Or just plain simple boxes I suppose like when comparing 89 Caprice Classics with Ford Ltd/Crown Vics (whatever they were at that point).

 

But then this is entirely not true for other segments: Barracuda, Mustang, Camaro and such don't really look like each other at any point in time. Sure Celicas looked "shrunken Mustang" at one point but they evolved.

janedon
Advanced Driver

Car makers have always copied each other somewhat, but  one "Used" to be able to distinguish a Ford from a Chevy from a Chrysler from a Caddy to a Lincoln from a block away-- today it's hard to tell a Japanese or Korean car from a North American car unless you see the emblem--

buellerdan
Instructor

Being of more modest means forces me to prefer the 1960 Impala.
MrBill-1943
Advanced Driver

If I could go back in time it would be the 50's into the middle 60's. Each and everyone of these cars shown are and were a true head turner and remind me of the need for a large garage. I have always felt that cars leading up to 1957, which was the pinacol of style, and ending in 1964 to 65 as aero and fuel conservation became more important that style. Great article and really really enjoyed.
TingeofGinge
Detailer

1972 Riviera would like a word with you.
Rider79
Technician

Now 50 years on...
Solosolo
Detailer

The Caddy dashboard is the most subdude of the three. Gorgeous motor cars.
OCULUSNY
Detailer

You need to see that Chrysler globe lit at night; it was iridescent with the gauges appearing though they were radium coated or black-light lit, and just floating on different planes.

danhise
Advanced Driver

No mention of the '58 Chevy? Modest fins on the '57, and monstrous fins on the '59, but no fins on the '58. It may result from the fact that 1958 was my first year to be driving, and we had a new Chevy (duh), but it has always been the perfect car in my mind. My mother indulged me while I de-chromed it and added J.C.Whitney skirts. I mean, it was the only car we owned, but I think she got a kick out of the mods. If I knew as much about working on cars as you and the other writers gathered here, I would already own a '58 Bel Air. "But it's too late, baby."
Gary_Bechtold
Specialist

Lots of excess that defined the styling of the day. I love it for their distinctive looks. They all have an individual look versus todays bland vehicle pods riding around today.
HighwayStarr
Intermediate Driver

In retrospect, I don't have a problem with "... sex, speed, wealth, and power ..." and if folks think I'm a ".... day-dreaming nitwits ...”, then so be it. But, cars in the 50s and 60s had such style, color, and power. Ok, so maybe current cars DRIVE better and are more powerful, in general .... but which cars excite your senses, put a big smile on your face, and make you FEEL better?
My Mercedes' run perfect .... maybe too perfect. My Corvette, I sweat gallons over for hours in the garage getting it tuned/running just right. That car *needs* me and vice versa. That makes all the difference.
MustangJim
Technician

Very good article. We tend to be so focused on muscle cars that it is nice to see something on the 50's and early 60's. The styling was so important, you could tell one brand from another, each model was different. I had a neighbor with a 60 Lincoln and I thought that car was perfect. I could not understand why my parents did'nt get one also, as I got older I realized that the 57 Plymouth Savoy was the best that they could do and thats fine with me. I had a good friend who was playing ball in the street the way we did back then.. he was ran into a parked 59 Cadillac and needed many stitches in his chest, those fins cut him up bad. They always had a negative conotation to me after that but that 60 Cadi is gourgouse. Chysler also and the Lincold is different but great also. Thanks for this article
27340
Intermediate Driver

Images of "Crime Story" came to mind with the photos of these cars in the desert. Michael Mann would be directing a scene with Ray Luca (Anthony Denison) in the Caddy being tailed by Mike Torello (Dennis Farina) in the 300.
LoudV8
Intermediate Driver

The only fin on my car is a shark antenna on the roof (yawn)

MrKnowItAll
Advanced Driver

Nice overly florid word salad, Aaron. Guess you couldn't find a '60 Imperial.
The zenith of fins was '61.... with the Imperial.
Ya had to be there to understand.
OCULUSNY
Detailer

And that iridescent globe dashboard was first in the 57 Imperial...must have had some left over for the 300.

twa2471
Intermediate Driver

When it come to fins ,,it's pretty hard to beat a 60 Plymouth or a 59 El Camino !!!

OMG,,fins galore Or What ? LOL
OCULUSNY
Detailer

My father was a DeSoto-Plymouth dealer and in 1960 he drove a red Plymouth Fury 4-dr Hardtop, but it had the "continental wheel" on the trunk to help visually balance off the sharp fins.

 

Oh, and its sticker price set a record for a demonstrator that year--$3000 for a Plymouth!

RG440
Instructor

The pictures are pure artwork, yet the artwork are the automobiles….design artwork that has been lost today. That golden touch radio just begs to be touched…
Rugby
New Driver

They couldn't find a 1960 Plymouth convertible? Those had fins!
Casey
Intermediate Driver

Nice article and photography. Beautiful cars. Thank you.
Tomwas
Intermediate Driver

My Dad had a 60 robins egg blue Chrysler Windsor sedan with a 383 Golden lion V8... I can remember him getting it tuned at a local shop that had a dynomometer with rollers in the floor. He was a mopar man for a long time, always buying a two year old used one.. Had a lot of great cars that still stick in my head... I was about 13 at the time. Loved those fins..!!!