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Harley Earl authorized the Frank Hershey design for the 1948 Cadillac, which incorporated the first automotive tailfin. Many of the new 1948-49 cars such as Hudson, Nash, and Lincoln adopted fastback or "bathtub" styling. Although Earl considered this for Cadillac, he ultimately decided against it and went for a more sweeping aircraft-inspired look. This decision would prove a wise one as bathtub styling, a concept rooted in late 1930s-early 1940s design trends, quickly became dated. The styling of the 1948 Cadillac would prove far more predictive of 1950s trends and secured GM's place at the cutting edge of automotive design. Inspiration for the fins came from the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, but it extended beyond the war, during the age when space rockets captured the popular imagination in the 1950s and 1960s. The style caught on throughout Detroit and eventually led to competition between Harley Earl and his counterpart at Chrysler, Virgil Exner, over the size and complexity of tailfins, culminating with those on the 1959 Cadillac models.

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