Current Exhibits

Flash & Flair: The Atomic 50s and 60s

February 14 through June 7, 2015Flash & Flair Atomic 50s & 60s Fins California Automobile Museum Exhibit

Flash & Flair: The Atomic 50s & 60s will show visitor some of the extreme styling and colorful excess of post-war America through automobiles. Combine the early days of NASA exploration with the height of “planned obsolesce” in industrial design, and you get a feast of spectacular fins, chrome, and colors. Adults and kids will enjoy the display of these fin-tastic automobiles.

Exhibit sponsored by John and Nancy Tennyson.

For A Love Of Fins
by Ron Vogel

In the latter part of the 1940s until the early part of the 1960s, the fin became a fixture in automotive styling, but flying high and skimming through the waters was not on the automobile designers’ minds. There is an old adage that states, “an automobile that appears to be in motion while standing still will be a beautifully styled automobile.” For the most part, this adage holds true. In the case of fins there is a certain feeling of thrust and stability, and of course flight, that gives the feeling of motion to these cars. Beyond that, the fin adds elegance and worth, which helps sell the product.

Cadillac under General Motors seems to get the credit for the earliest fin in its 1948 model. Originally, they were referred to as “fishtails,” and remained in the same basic configuration for some models through 1956. Cadillac also had what was considered to be the tallest fin in 1959 at 40 inches tall!

It is always debatable, but Chrysler Corporation probably wins the overall prize for the tallest, stylish, and most exaggerated fins. Exemplified by the 1957 Chrysler, DeSoto and Plymouth models, these were from the brilliance of one Virgil M. Exner. Exner was hired by Chrysler in 1949 to bring the company out of the shadows by producing some unforgettable designs, and that he did.

Upright fins at the Ford Motor Company were a bit more subdued with the likes of the ‘57 and ‘58 Fords and the ‘57 Thunderbird; although, the Lincolns displayed upright fins.Cadillac_fin_California Automobile Museum Exhibits 50s

Any great designer will find a way to modify a popular trend to use to his or her advantage. In the case of a fin, what would be the ways to modify to make it still appear to be a fin, but no longer upright? Well, it appears that there were a million or so ways. How about the flowing French curve of the 1958 Chevrolet, or the batwing curve of the 1959 Chevrolet and the sharper curve of the 1960 Chevrolet horizontal fin? Then there is the 1960 Ford horizontal fin with the swish at the bottom, or the 1959 Pontiac “V” shape, and of course, the 1959 Buick massive 45 degree canted fin.

I could go on and on concerning the fin styles that were designed, but I won’t. What is really important is that era, and what it meant then and even now. It was a time of prosperity, when our world was fresh and new after the war. The Jet Age was upon us, and we were looking well beyond what our eyes could see into space and the future.




California Automobile Museum Make A Move Technology Exhibit

Make A Move: Innovations that Created the Automobile

The automobile is an invention that has changed the course of human life throughout the globe. But where did the ideas to create it come from? And how exactly do all those parts work? This hands-on exhibit will help explain to visitors of all ages the technologies that all help the automobile “Make a Move.”

Included in this exhibit will be three very different car chassis that visitors can touch to feel the differences and similarities, cut-aways of engines to see what the big deal about cylinders really is, and more!

This exhibit features a cork-board wall for visitors to put their ideas of what could make cars better. Below are some of the responses, visit to submit some of your own!



Cars of the Stars

StarCars The California Automobile Museum has several famous vehicles throughout the museum that were on television and cars owned by notable individuals. Vehicles include:

  • 1932 Ford Hardtop (AJ Foyt)
  • 1933 Lincoln KB (A.P. Giannini)
  • 1940 Lincoln-Zephyr Town Car by Brunn (Clara Ford)
  • 1974 Plymouth Satellite (Gov. Jerry Brown)
  • 1978 Kawasaki KZ1000 from the filming of CHiPS (Erik Estrada)
  • 1982 Porsche 911SC (Linda Ronstadt)
  • 1984 Ford Mustang LX convertible (Ricky Nelson)
  • 1985 March Indy Car (Michael Andretti)
  • 1987 Lamborghini Countach 5000SQV (Malcolm Forbes)


Going Green

Going GreenThe California Automobile Museum presents an exhibit which explores cars built on energy efficiency. In recent years, the term “Going Green” has become a household expression among political leaders, the automotive industry, and scholars.  This exhibit explores alternative energy vehicles from the early 1900’s to current day. Ask one of our friendly docent staff for a free guided tour of the museum and information about this project.





All of our vehicles on display are properly taken care of by California Automobile Museum vehicle care experts using products from Surf City Garage.