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Most of the photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs, 20 to 200 megabytes in size) from the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) Many were digitized by LOC contractors using a Sinar studio back. They are adjusted by your webmaster for contrast and color in Photoshop before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here.

 
 
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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • FLY CANADIAN PACIFIC, c. 1950s

Chariot of the Gods: 1955

Chariot of the Gods: 1955

The car and the photo that started it all: my life-long vicarious love affair with gigantic cars with huge fins. By age 9 I was already a car nut; I cut out pictures from magazine ads and pasted them in a spiral notebook; I amazed family and friends by my ability to identify every car make. Then one day in November 1955 I saw it: this bronze chariot of the gods, a 1955 Cadillac Eldorado convertible, parked in, of all places, a mud lot near Boardwalk #3 in Larkspur, Calif. I made my brother take this Kodachrome, then later came back and photographed it myself in black and white - just the rear end. Immediately I stopped drawing Flash Gordon rocket ships and began designing my own cars - the Pac-Ply and the Zorch. I began pestering my father to take me to GM Motorama when it arrived to San Francisco. Strangely, when it came time to trade in the '48 Hudson in 1956, the car I pestered him to buy was a Rambler station wagon. I guess I realized these cars were not for mere mortals. View full size.

Raggare

This link explains the phenomenon of "raggare" (cruisers) fairly well. In America for a long time almost all of the interest in 50's cars stayed with 55/57 Chevys and perhaps the occasional shoebox Ford or chopped Mercury. In Sweden, every tailfinned American car was saved and thousands were imported from the U.S. after the movie "American Graffiti" started a fifties revival. This revival seems to hang on decade after decade among people in this subculture - mostly in rural areas.

Where it was shot

Anon. Tipster, you nailed the location exactly. Here's a section of a shot my brother took earlier in 1955, from the ridge above. The Caddy was parked in the dirt lot where all the trucks are and the Safeway later was. That's the old original wooden footbridge across the creek, which is lined by the arks of Boardwalks 3 & 4. If you register here at Shorpy, you can click on my name to send me a message, and I'll point you to some more photos.

Where they went

About 20 years ago my husband and I toured through Norway and Sweden. We were stunned to see these big American cars everywhere we went. Don't ask me why but they clearly were very popular.

1957 Plymouth Belvedere

I've got a 1957 Plymouth Belvedere, her name's Elizabeth, out in the garage that I'm currently restoring. Talk about fins. Yeah. Guess that makes me something more than a mere mortal!

I think I know exactly where this was shot.

Could this car be parked where there used to be a Safeway grocery store? And that wouldn't be the BonAir bridge would it? Marin General Hospital is just over the bridge. The house up on the hill in the right of the image looks familiar.

You wouldn't happen to have anymore images that show the houses that stood along that boardwalk would you? Most are long gone now.

Auto prodigy

Thanks, tterrace, I remember being something of a car identifying prodigy at about 5 or 6, which was around 1962. I also recall getting a laugh from my parents when I chirped up that a certain Pontiac was a Grand Pricks. For some reason that event stuck with me and when I grew older I understood the mirth.

I also recall the first car I drove, a 1955 Ford Victoria. Unfortunately this was in the same time period. Being unrestrained in the middle of the front seat (mom was holding my baby sister) I just grabbed the steering wheel from Dad. Dad retained control, and I'm sure I was relegated to the back seat from that moment.

Thanks for the tremendous photos and backstories.

I've got one of those old jukeboxes myself.

I happen to own one of those gigantic 50's cars myself. Its a 55' Mercury Monterey with about 150 pounds of chrome and roughly 20 feet long. Not in perfect shape, but boy do people like it. By galumping family four door with bus seats and a huge steering wheel. I love these cars. They're so easy to work on you can keep em' running forever. Mine is all-original and was never garaged.

I'd buy one today

I would pay actual Honest-to-God Money if GM would make a car with tailfins again.

Eldorado

That car was one of 3,950 1955 Eldorado convertibles built. It had different fins from the rest of the Cadillac line. 1955 was the first year for the standard dual four-barrel equipped 270 horsepower engine.

Biggest Tailfins

Check out a '57 Chrysler 300C.

Plymouth Belvedere

My father had a blue Plymouth Belvedere he got in Singapore in 1965... he went to the trouble of shipping it back to England when the RAF sent him back home in 1968... we drove it all over the place for a couple of years until the exhaust went on it... he had to get a new exhaust shipped to England for the princely sum of £300... this was in 1970... £300 was a lot of money then... the first thing after getting it back roadworthy was to find a fellow sucker/enthusiast to sell it on to...

I remember it being absolutely massive... all four of us kids could sit in the back without being squished up...

he replaced it with three Ford Populars... 1 to run and the other two for spares... parts for those were far easier to get hold of, just drive down to the nearest scrap yard...

I learned auto-mechanics from working on the Ford Pops... and I also learned how to drive while still only 13 in 1970...

 
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Shorpy.com | History in HD is a vintage photo blog featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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