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.”

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.


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


A 24 hour rollercoaster of car ownership.

I found this 1950 Dodge Coronet on ebay. My girlfriend and I almost instantly fell in love with it. It ended up being a short abusive relationship.

We drove up to look at it in the dark, and spent about an hour looking the car over & taking it for a test drive each, all the time rationalizing at top speed. The seller made a big deal of the rebuilt engine, all new brakes and repaired & rust-free floors. So we told ourselves since those were all good we’d have a car we could drive while we dealt with the “minor” issues of the unpainted hood, tattered interior, shoddy wiring, rust on the trunk panel… you get the picture.

After looking it over we headed home to wait for the auction to end. In the end I was the high bidder at $1830, but it didn’t hit reserve. He sent me a second chance offer for $2300 which after some hemming & hawing I accepted. We drove down after work the next day and brought the car home. Taking another closer look when we got home the car looked rougher than I’d remembered, but I was still enthusiastic about it.

The next morning I decided I was going to take it to work, I headed out a bit early started her up and chugged off to work as usual. My commute is mostly back roads with a brief 3-mile highway section in the middle. On that highway section the Dodge felt a bit down on power, but I didn’t think much of it .However as I came off the exit ramp the car’s brakes seemed a bid spongy, and it stalled when I came to a stop. I started it back up, but it was running very roughly. The gas tank was nearly empty so thinking maybe it was getting crud from the tank, I pulled into a gas station and fueled up. It took a few tries to start it again, and still wasn’t running well. Trying to pull out of the lot, I hit the gas and the engine died. I frantically hit the brakes before rolling into traffic, only to have the pedal go to the floor. A short but exciting trip into a flowerbed and the car was stopped.

After getting car started enough to move it out of the way, I called work to say I wouldn’t be in that day, & called AAA. While waiting two hours for a truck I poked around under the hood but found nothing obviously wrong with the motor. However after borrowing a wrench from a Desoto mechanic who happened to be passing by, I discovered the brake reservoir was completely dry. While making that unpleasant discovery I made another, most of the driver’s side floorboard was rotted out(something he’d specifically said he’d fixed). I left a series of increasingly upset messages on the seller’s phone.

Too keep from making a long story any longer, I was able to convince him that the car he had advertised bore no resemblance to the car he had sold me and he agreed to take it back and refund me my money. In the end I ended up out about $100 in various small expenses and a day of work.

However it was a a bit of a wake up call. I’m very prone to buying with my heart and not my head when it comes to cars. I’ve got a long string of terrible cars as a testament to that. So the one good thing to come out of this car is that it made me much more aware of that tendancy in me, and so I’ve been a lot more careful about the cars I look at. Whatever car I do end up buying, I’m still going to be deciding with my heart. After all classic cars are an inherently irrational choice, why buy something decades old and hopelessly outdated & unreliable when compared against a newer car? However now my head is going to also be involved a bit more heavily in the decision.