Dodge once again brings the awesome tailfins

This 1961 Dodge matador on ebay has some fairly simple fins, but some of the weirdest fin placement ever.  They appear to have been installed at least a foot further forward of where you’d expect them to be.

I wonder what was going on in the design room the day this was approved. They must have gotten desperate for new fin ideas. Car makers had already tried double fins, sideways fins, & fins on the top & bottom. I guess fins partway down the car was one of the few options left.


I can only imagine the designers pitching these to management. “They’ve got all the blind spots with half the pedestrian skewering! It’ll be a safety feature.”

Junkyard Pics

I spent a few hours at North Smithfield Auto Parts a few weeks ago looking for bits for the wagon & Box. I was able to find replacements for some broken trim piece on Box, but pretty much struck out for the wagon. They had some bumpers that could best be described as “not as bad as the ones I have”, but they wanted $150 each for them, and I would had to wrestle them off the car.

Regardless, I did at least get some cool pictures.

Awesome Fins from the Dodge brothers

This truely staggering set of fins are found on the 1956 Dodge Royal for sale on Hemmings. There are an amazing amount of things going on here, half-shrouded rocket pod tail lights, setback fin with a chromed ribbed ‘support’ underneath, and five chrome vents on the fender. There is also a huge gold-plated crest on the fender displaying the ‘500’ model designation so no plebians would fail to notice what you were driving.

Dodge was not doing anything by half-measures here. This was without a doubt the car for your weekend jaunts to the outer moons of venus. From behind this was a car that screamed its defiance of sanity and simplicity. And if it was behind you, you had a face in your rearveiw mirror like it was trying to decide which of your children to eat first.

A small flock of gullwing cars

On my way out to look at the ’64 Falcon wagon I ended up buying, I passed a shop with these two cars parked out front. Seeing either a Delorean DMC-12 or a Bricklin SV-1 is an incredible rarity, seeing both at the same time beggars belief. However the pairing makes a surprising amount of sense. Both are two door sports cars, both have gullwing doors, both are made of unusual materials, both are nowhere near as fast as they look, and both were complete failures financially.

The Delorean is by far the better known of the pair, thanks to a certain series of movies. With it’s stainless steel body and gullwing doors, it at least looks the part of a supercar. However the rear-mounted Peugeot-Volvo V6’s performance was never able to match the body’s hype.

The first prototype Delorean appeared in 1976, and was supposed to have an all-plastic chassis and Wankel rotary engine mounted amid-ship. However as the project evolved.and engineering challenges reared their ugly heads the design was changed multiple times. These delays, combined with issues with the brand new factory, strung the design process out so long that the first car didn’t roll off the assembly lines in Ireland until 1981. By that time the car had evolved in the a rear-engined V6 with a steel backbone chassis, and much of the performance & handling prowess had been lost to compromises and to meet various regulations.

It launched into one of the worst car markets in decades and struggled from the beginning. The founder John Delorean being arrested on drug charges was the killing blow, and even though he was latter acquitteded the company never recovered. All total 9,200 Deloreans made it out of the factory before the company packed it in for good.

At only 2850 produced the Bricklin SV-1 is definitely the rarer bird here. This particular Bricklin has had some rather(to my mind) unfortunate custom touches added to it’s acrylic-fiberglass body. The widened wheel arches and side pipes do nothing for the “futuristic” wedge body shape, and the wire wheels look about as out of place as whitewalls on the shuttle.

Conceived by Malcom Bricklin, the same man who later brought over the Yugo, the SV-1(or Safety Vehicle One) was supposed to be the safe, economical sports car of the future. However all of the safety gear, and that crack-prone acrylic-fiberglass body added so much weight that the car ended up neither very sporty nor very economical (13mpg city/15-18highway). In addition to it’s lack of popularity, the company was being propped up by the New Brunswick Canada government(where the car was produced) and a financial scandal exposed that while the cars cost about $16,00 to build, they were being sold to dealers for $5,000. The company collapsed shortly thereafter and production ended.

Unfortunately the shop these were parked at was closed, so I couldn’t talk to anyone there, but I’m guessing they are owned by a major weird-sports car fan(there was a second wrecked Delorean in the back). I have to say, seeing such rare cars was a heck of thrill, and really made my day. I love that instead of storing them away carefully the owner had them right out in front to amaze and confound anyone who happened to drive past.


On of the interesting things about shopping for old cars is the odd technology you encounter. Lots of cars in the early pre-war period were full of various technological or design ideas advancements that instead of taking off ended up being dead ends.

One of my favorites is the one I first encountered on the 1950 Dodge Coronet I very briefly owned. It was the “Gyromatic” M6 semi-automatic transmission. Sold variously as the by Chrysler as the “Prestomatic,” by Desoto as “Tip-Toe Shift” and by Dodge as “Fluid-matic,” “Fluidtorque,” “Gyrotorque” and the previously mentioned “Gyromatic.” For simplicity I’m going to keep calling it a Gyromatic.

The Gyromatic is a 2-speed manual transmission with a electrically-operated overdrive and a fluid coupling. If that sounds excessively complicated, that’s because it is. The car has a gear shift with reverse, low range & high range. You use the clutch pedal to shift between those three gears but due to the fluid coupling you can just put the clutch in, shift and take the clutch out without touching the gas regardless of is the car is moving or not. Once you’ve chosen high or low range you can ignore the clutch and drive around like an automatic as long as you don’t shift ranges.

When you accelerate from a stop in either low or high range you start in either low-low or high-low, then at a certain mph you lift your foot off the gas and the overdrive automatically shifts up into low-high or high-high and you continue on. As you decelerate it automatically downshifts out of overdrive. It all seems really complicated and did involve solenoids, hydraulic solenoids switches, an ignition interrupt and several other components. However apparently they were relatively reliable.

I do love that it was a complicated way to accomplish something that seems very simple now. A system that is not only unlike anything we have today, but would be utterly baffling to most drivers. I can’t help but delight in stuff like this. And looking at all these old cars causes me to run across things I would have never known existed.

Extra links:
The M6 “four-speed electro-hydraulic semi-automatic” transmission


Another set of awesome fins.

Today’s awesome fins are on this 1960 Chrysler Imperial found on ebay(and yes, I know it is technically not a Chrysler). One again we have the quite excellent pod, this time with a bullet shaped lens surrounded by a free-standing chromed ring. The ’57-’63 imperial were fairly consistently the most insane cars in of their period, while also being some of the best engineered & built cars. It was almost like they gathered a group of engineers together and had them design the underpinnings, engines, and all the other boring but vital stuff. Then afterwords they would drop acid and get to work on the bodies. It does help explain things like the oblong steering wheels and the ’61-’63 freestanding headlight pods. They seem to have stopped this practice in 1964, maybe because management feared they’d end up with some Picasso-esq monstrosity with seventeen headlights down one side and nine wheels.

Getting back to the fins themselves though. I also love that there is, for no good reason, an extra smalllense at the back of the chrome trim on the fin. The late 50’s/early 60’s was definitely a period with no lack ofexuberancee and a complete lack of shame.

One in what is likely to be an ongoing series

Todays awesome tail fin is on this 1958 Mercury Park Lane found on ebay. Not only does the fin itself have a cove that runs all the way to the front of the rear door, but there is a freestanding chromed laser-pod looking thing suspended in it.

This just further cements that 1958 is my favorite year for gratuitous finmobiles. 1959 cars may have been bigger and gaudier, but most of them had some cohesiveness to them. The 1958 cars look like the just stuck every bit of chrome trim, bumpers, wings, fins, spears, etc. they could find onto to their prototypes and whatever didn’t fall off on the test drive was put into production.  

Also the ’58 mercury above has the least intuitive transmission ever created.


Some fins, a big chrome grille, teal green. Looks right to me…

I was once again obsessively searching perusing craigslist for classic cars and came across an ad for a 1956 Chrysler Windsor that had no pictures. Not knowing what one looked like I did some googling and came across this example at Country Classic Cars.

Maybe it is just that I play far to many video games but this car looks, for all the world, like a game designers idea of a generic “1950s” car. Mind you, it isn’t unattractive but the styling just confused & bland enough to look more like a pastiche of mid-fifties design than like a real car. This car looks distinctly like what it is, the gawky ackward evolutionary stage between the much curvier earlier models and the finarrirfic “forward look” 1957 models.

The car was only $1500 and supposedly in good shape, but looking at the pictures of ’56 chryslers I just wouldn’t know what to do with the car. It is lost between two design worlds, and while I love orphans I think this is one someone else will have to adopt.