This 1957 Cadillac El Dorado convertible epitomizes the large cars of the “American Dream” era. Tail fins are an example of a trend in car design. Although the feature did little for the performance of the vehicle, consumers loved the look, and demanded fins of increasing size until the 1960s.
Passenger car production resumed after World War II with 1946 models. U.S. automakers had trouble meeting the pent-up demand. Suburbs sprouted up and a nationwide system of interstate highways was planned. In 1949 new-car sales of more than 4.8 million in the United States finally topped the old record set in precrash 1929 by almost 1 million units. By 1955 sales approached 7.2 million.
While large companies enjoyed success, smaller automobile companies and newcomers found it increasingly difficult to compete against the expensive annual model changeovers offered by existing manufacturers. In 1947 and 1948 American automobile pioneer Preston Tucker began production of his Tucker Torpedo, which featured a Cyclops-like, centered headlamp that turned with the front wheels. The design was good, but as a low-volume manufacturer, Tucker ran into production problems, and his company collapsed after managing to make only about 50 cars.
In the 1950s American automobiles increased in size and sported decorative features such as tail fins. GM built a strong sales lead during the 1950s when its cars included tail fins, automatic transmissions, and high-compression V-8 engines. However, by the end of the decade consumers began desiring smaller cars, and average sizes began to decrease.