History of.. Car Fashion Choices : Tail-Fins, Chroma Flair (Harlequin) Paint, Wire Spoke Wheels – Enthusiast Motor Insurance

June 14th, 2022

Fads, trends, phenomena. Whatever  term you choose, the desire of humans to follow fashions and try to fit in has existed for centuries. If you wore a perfumed wig in the days of Shakespeare or danced the Charleston during the 1920s, you were under the influence of a trend or fad that would in time make way for something else.

Within the automotive world, adoption of change is generally more logical and enduring than faddish. To constitute a fad in the arena of automotive design, change has to occur for largely cosmetic and illogical reasons. 

Car owners lock onto fads in the belief that they can make vehicles appear faster, more luxurious or expensive. In common with cults and pyramid selling schemes, fads survive only for as long as they can attract increasing numbers of devotees. People might see a photo in a magazine or attend a display where basic production models are buried beneath masses of aero-effect bodywork or extreme paint effects and think, “I want mine to look like that.”


They have to be the most obvious automotive fad of all, influencing the shape of cars built during the course of three decades, leaping across continents and adopted by virtually all of the world’s vehicle manufacturers. The first fin appeared on a 1940s Cadillac; inspired by World War 2 fighter aircraft. By the 1960s, millions of cars across the USA, Europe, Japan and  Australia were wearing fins which were generally regarded as a stylistic device with no practical value. However, that wasn’t always true The Jaguar’s Le Mans-winning D Type is very likely the most famous finned racer of them all, and there have been others. Even in today’s 400km/h world of Endurance racing, ‘shark fins’ add stability on high-speed tracks like Daytona and Le Mans.

Woodies and the Panel Van

The Beach Boys drove their ’34 model to Surf City and television’s Brady Bunch had a timber-framed Ford wagon continually sitting in their driveway, however vehicles with wooden body panelling never did much business outside of the USA.  Timber bodies were fitted by Ford to its early station wagons; a cost-saving ploy from canny Henry Ford who just happened to own huge forests close to his Michigan assembly plants. Australia showed little interest in the concept though, with Ford’s plasti-wood Falcon Squire a commercial failure. What didn’t fail in our market though was the panel van. It emerged as a delivery vehicle during the 1930s and by the 1970s had transformed into a combination performance car and bed-on-wheels. Holden with its Sandman did best and there were also ‘youth market’ versions of the Ford Falcon and Escort vans, a Valiant Drifter and Gypsy version of the Holden Gemini.

 Wire Spoke Wheels

No sports car from the 1930s-60s was complete without a set of gleaming – usually chromed – wire-spoked wheels. Plenty of these cars survive and spoke-wheel classics from back then still entertain owners every few months with a ritual known as ‘cleaning the *#^@ wires’. Little wonder that alloy rims would during the 1970s diminish demand for wire wheels, but they remained in production to keep cars that needed them on the road. Thanks to US suppliers like Dayton and Tru-Spoke, the wire wheel has made a 21st Century comeback, with styles in keeping today’s low-slung, ‘blinged’ vehicles and rim diameters that reach a massive 24 inches.

ChromaFlair (Harlequin) Paint

If you’ve ever admired the swirls and colours that occur when oil encounters a damp road you will have witnessed just some of the visual tricks performed when microscopic aluminium flakes coated with magnesium fluoride and chromium come into contact with automotive paint. As light hits the painted surface from different angles, the colours swirl and shift, turning from blue or purple to greens and shades of gold. The coating was devised in the USA and for all its intrinsic fascination and beauty has come to be regarded as more trouble than it’s worth. Downsides include the cost – upwards of $1000 per litre for the paint alone – and the difficulty of repairing small areas of damage without stripping and repainting the entire vehicle.

Vinyl Roof Covering

Using leather to weatherproof the timber roof of a coach was a trick of the carriage-building game and replicated by another famous old innovator, Henry Ford, when trying to add some class to his Model A coupe. Riley in the UK used leather as well but to cut costs and make the feature available in various colours, roof coverings after the 1950s were made in vinyl. By the 1970s there was barely a mainstream brand that wasn’t offering vinyl roof coverings across its model range, saving on paint and body sealant in the process.  Problem was, the vinyl had seams which leaked, and because the metal below hadn’t been properly finished the turret would rust faster than a sardine can on a salt pan.

Coloured Sidewalls

Those in the business of selling cars know that every square centimetre of a vehicle plays a part in attracting buyers and that includes the tyres . That more correctly should read ‘tires’ because America was the place where colour (if white rates as a colour) replaced black and boring. White rubber tyres were available on early vehicles but they didn’t stay white for long, so during the 1920s broad ‘whitewalls’ that covered almost the entire tyre wall became available. They were also difficult to keep clean and easily damaged when rubbed against kerbs, so by the 1960s they were being replaced by ‘banded’ walls. These were a thin strip embedded into the tyre structure in colours to match the car’s exterior. The first Australian model to feature red-walled tyres was the HK GTS Holden Monaro.  

Wings, Spoilers and Body Kits

Campaigns to rid the planet of plastic waste should perhaps expand to include the range of useless items that have been attached to motor vehicles during the past 50 years. Since the 1970s there has existed an industry devoted to producing chunks of polypropylene, fibreglass or perhaps fabricated metals that masquerade as aerodynamic aids.  While it is true that such items do have a place in the automotive world, that place is on motor racing circuits keeping  cars stable at very high speeds. When fitted to road-going vehicles, most do nothing except add weight, create drag and increase fuel consumption.

Need to insure a car from the Age of Fins or one with a weird assortment of embellishments? Talk to Enthusiast. Our experienced staff on 1800 10 44 44 understand the needs of the special-interest vehicle owner and can tailor insurance to your needs.

If your vehicle isn’t scarce or modified but doesn’t travel very far either, a visit to  www.enthusiast.com.au can be worthwhile as well. Just select Quick Quote and spend a couple of minutes discovering how much you could save with Enthusiast’s ‘Drive Less….Spend Less’ insurance cover.