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When Cars Could Fly...


That's what my old friend Val Warke used to call the Fifties and early Sixties. The 1961 Imperial Crown pictured here certainly looks up to the task with those huge tail fins. That streamlined body and its chrome side trim certainly add to the feeling. What fun it would have been to live in those days. Oh wait, I DID live in those days. Funny I don't remember the flying cars. Maybe I missed them. I wonder if they will ever come back.


In 2013, BMW introduced the i3. A striking feature of this car is the black side panel at the back, between the side window and the rear glass. it had the feeling of an odd connector between the side and rear, but it mostly worked. The flow from front to back was elegant, but the connection to the back was awkward and abrupt.

As new models of other electric cars began to arrive on the market, I noticed that this "connector" was beginning to become a feature. Many new electric and hybrid cars employed this kind of a black connector, mostly in plastic, not glass like the i3.

Black connectors as implemented by Chevrolet, Hyunda, Mitsubishi, and Nissan. Not all, but mostly, electric or hybrid.


Initially, I was fascinated by these black plastic connectors, and the various shapes and forms that they took. It seemed like almost everyone was getting in on the action. Some were elegant, but many were awkward. My problem was that I was paying too much attention to the black plastic, not what it was doing.

When various manufacturers began to tout the 'floating roof' characteristics of these new designs, I started to look at these black strips differently - as separators rather than connectors. Indeed, although the black strip on the BMW iX is particularly ungainly, it does serve to separate the roof from the lower body, causing it to appear to 'float', as they have claimed. Visually only, of course, because the entire rear pillar is quite solid, I am sure.


But once I had done this mental figure-ground reversal, focusing on the white parts of the image above instead of the black, something else emerged that I hadn't heard anyone mention - a tail fin. Could it be? I decide to pay closer attention.

This is a Lexus LC. There's a clear design lineage between the rear 1/3 of this car and this Volvo P1800:

It's not just the color. That's a tail fin on both cars. If you need more convincing, check these out. From top to bottom, the Nissan Murano, the Chevy Bolt, and the Nissan Kicks, all with tail fins.

It's even more obvious when the top is black, as on this new Nissan Leaf:

I mean, check out the tail fins on this Volvo XC40. There's no denying it.

Never to be outdone, especially lately, the ever-changing KIA Soul has taken it even further, giving those 50's and 60's cars a run for their money. These things look like they came off of a Boeing airliner!

So here we are. Tail fins are back with a vengeance. I wonder how long it will be before cars start to fly again? I hope I live long enough. I don't want to miss it a second time.



UPDATE 1:

Another one just hit my inbox, so I figured I may as well keep posting them as I get them. I present the all-new, but still pretty much the same as the rest, 2023 Genesis GV60. With tail fins. Is that roof spring loaded or something?

Just saw this one as well. The Acura RDX. With tail fins.

Would you believe a new Chevy Blazer with tail fins? Who knew?

The KIA Sportage is a bit more subtle than its stablemate the Soul, but it still has, you know, tail fins.

This is a brand new 2023 Peugeot 2008. Wait, what? Whatever. It's got tail fins. That's what I'm talking about.

The just-announced Lotus Eletre Elektra has tail fins. Of course it does.

UPDATE 2:

Since I posted this in my blog, I have started to get a lot more car ads in my Facebook feed. Mostly with tail fins of course. Here's the new Volvo C40 Zuckerberg wants to sell me:

Thanks again, Facebook. The electric Nissan Ariya. With cute little tail fins.

I almost forgot about these late-model Nissan Jukes until one of those fake Facebook ads came up. Hey Facebook! They aren't making these any more! Still, nice tail fins.

Update 3:

After reading this, my daughter Laura noted that most of these tail fins were more or less "embedded" into the car body, rather than being expressed more three dimensionally. And asked if I knew of any examples where they were actually "peeling away".


On further review, it turns out that there is one right here on the page. If you follow the body line that goes from the front of the door to the tail light on the Juke above, you can see what she is talking about. Apart from the raised portion that I previously noted, there is indeed a projecting tail fin that finishes in a tail light.


I recently had need to drive from Seattle to Portland and back, and I kept my eyes peeled for this phenomenon. The 2023 Hyundai Palisade, while still not quite a traditional tail fin, probably came the closest to what I was looking for:

Again, there is a body line that goes through the metal from front to back, and ends in plastic. It's pretty pronounced, and even appears to project a bit past the rear of the car. These tail fins are a little harder to see because they combine the tail light into the overall shape, but it's definitely an indication that tail fins are on their way back!

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