If you happen to be of a certain age, you will remember tail fins on the cars from your childhood.
Although most people think the trend of having tail fins on cars lasted approximately from 1955 to 1965, the first subtle appearances of tail fins began in the late ’40s. What started as a small chrome trim piece on a tail light, or a subtle fin of a few inches in length.
Growing in size each year until they (literally) peaked in 1959. American cars were not unique in this fad. By the early ’60s, the appeal began to wane. With a few exceptions, by 1965, they had disappeared from the automotive landscape.
General Motors and Chrysler deserve the credit with starting the finny “arms race.” Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell at GM and Virgil Exner at Chrysler attempted to wow the public with each new model year by introducing the most outlandish fins on their vehicles. Ford was in the mix too. Remember, the original Thunderbird also employed design elements that took their cues from jet aircraft. This trend carried through to the 1963 model year. The full-sized Ford lost its fins by 1962.
Even European automotive designers got into the act. French Italian designers have always been avant-garde, but even the British and Germans, who tend to be more conservative, slapped fins on some of their cars.
The ultimate fins of the era belonged to the 1959 Cadillac El Dorado Biarritz. The eye-popping red paint job and fins that look like they could impale someone made this car unmistakeable…Even today.
My wife, Janet Elizabeth Lynn, and I co-write the Skylar Drake Murder Mystery series, a hardboiled series that takes the reader to 1950s Los Angeles and other areas of the west. Our new book, Slick Deal, begins News Year’s Eve 1956 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, The first murder and clues lead to Avalon, Catalina.
While researching this island for our story, we discovered it exists a whole world apart from the car culture of Los Angeles which, if truth be known, does not provide a lot of incentive to bring a conventional automobile to the island when the wait is fourteen years.
Why would the wait be so long for an island just twenty-one miles long and eight miles wide? According to our unscientific research, cars and trucks were posing quite a problem for the residents and visitors to the island. Pollution, soaring fuel prices, traffic, and parking were causing the kind of environment most people came to the island to escape. So a limit of 800 “personal use” vehicles was imposed for the entire island.
Prior to this ordinance, many islanders had already switched from conventional vehicles to smaller modes of transportation, such as motor scooters, and “autoettes” which is the name for vehicles no more than ten feet long and four and a half feet wide. Most of these are electric or gasoline golf carts, and tiny Japanese commercial trucks and vans. Recently “Smart Cars” have begun to appear.
There are separate waiting lists for residential vehicles and commercial vehicles. Importing an autoette doesn’t provide any loopholes either. The vehicle waiting lists apply to both cars and autoettes.
While ferries travel from Los Angeles to Avalon daily, they accommodate passengers only. If you’re importing a vehicle, you have to arrange for private transportation
As a property owner or a potential property owner looking to import a personal vehicle to Catalina Island, all the restrictions make for a frustrating task, but it’s for the good of the island. Avalon currently (2017) has space to park fewer than 1,000 autoettes in the main downtown area. As there are already over 1,100 autoette permits issued for residents. Adding more would only create stress on the limited space. Even now, Avalon seems overrun by puttering rental golf carts, courtesy vans from hotels and local residents in their four-wheel drive pickups. But Catalina Island retains its laid-back air and restrictions like these keep the island from turning into the polluted perpetual traffic jam and parking nightmare that looms on the mainland.
In Slick Deal, you’ll see how Skylar Drake and Casey Dolan use the technology of the time to solve the mystery.
SLICK DEAL is the fourth in the series and yes…we are still married!
Website: Janet Elizabeth Lynn
Website: Will Zeilinger
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