Home » We Need To Talk About The ‘Saddle Fins’ On Australia’s Chrysler Royal

We Need To Talk About The ‘Saddle Fins’ On Australia’s Chrysler Royal

Saddlefins Top Oz

Covered in grease from head to toe, and unbelievably tired from wrenching on a hopeless 1969 Chrysler Valiant ute, my Australian host Laurence and I stumble into his house every night, eat a great meal prepared by his girlfriend, and then — before essentially dying in our beds — sit down on the couch for an hour as my Chrysler-loving friend talks my ears off about Australian car culture. The other night he introduced me to the “AP2”-generation Chrysler Royal and its zany rear “saddle fins.” Let’s talk about them.

The 1950s and 1960s were a golden era in automotive history. Motors were big and powerful, but not nearly as powerful as the styling departments at car companies, which ran the whole damn industry. Chrome abounded, colors went wild, and metal stampings of high-volume cars began taking more complex shapes than ever. The big defining feature of the era were tailfins, which may have had their origins at General Motors, but that were unquestionably pioneered by Chrysler’s Virgil Exner, whose “Forward Look” styling initiative — which hinged heavily on tailfins — changed automotive styling forever.

Chrysler was putting fins on damn near everything in the late 1950s, and Australian-model cars would be no exception. But don’t think Australia’s Chryslers were the same as the U.S.’s. No, due in large part to Australian regulations that promote cars being built locally, based on what I’ve read online, Chrysler Australia was in many ways a separate entity from its Detroit “mothership,” getting off the ground by building a number of 1954 Plymouth Belvedere-based cars in Adelaide.

These cars, built on the same bones as the U.S.-spec 1951 Plymouth Cranbrook [Editor’s Note: I think those are what you’re supposed to drive if you have a UTI – JT] (which became the Belvedere in 1954), would eventually be turned into a single Australian model, the AP1 Royal (“AP” for “Australian Plymouth”) for the 1957 model-year.

Chrysler Australia seemed to always be tight for money, and the result was that its cars were always a mishmash of various American cars. Just look at the Chrysler Royal in the picture above. As Curbside Classic points out, it just took the 1955 Plymouth Belvedere’s front end and added 1957 grille bars. Here’s the ’55 Belvedere:


And here’s a 1957:


In the back, the Royal looked like a 1956 Belvedere, but with a different C-pillar. Here’ the Royal:


And here’s the ’56 Belvedere:


Then 1958 came around, and AP1 became AP2, with new styling becoming part of the change (which lasted until AP3 debuted in 1960). The AP2 Chrysler Royal was special because of these:

N 1958 Chrysler Ap2 Royal 02 03

Per the National Motor Museum in Birdwood, Australia, these fins-on-top-of-fins were called “saddle fins,” and they were bolt-on options. If that sounds absurd to you, then just read the museum’s little blurb:

The fins were the most radical change, one set of tailfins was considered fashionable, but the AP2 featured saddle fins, which is literally fins on top of fins. The fins were optional, but most cars left the factory with them. Although the top fin looks apart of the body, it was actually bolted on.


Look at those things. They’re glorious, though based on this ad, I might suspect that Chrysler Australia was a bit self-conscious about them. Here’s what the ad reads at the top right:

Fine, clean looks confirm the promise of deep-down quality. Chrysler Royal styling is based on the use of simple, clean-cut lines. The result is a happy medium between the stolid, ultra-conservative and the grotesquely modernistic. The car is well-dressed in good taste….not overdressed.

Again, that seems a bit defensive. You’d think that company that bolts wings onto wings would have no shame.

N 1958 Chrysler Ap2 Royal 06 07

I have yet to find a brochure that states that the saddle fins were actually optional, but in any case, bolt-on fins mounted atop fins is just amazing, and a reminder of how wild things got in the 1950s.

Here’s a look at the Royal AP2’s standard features; the brochure says the fins act like airplane stabilizers to help the vehicle track straight down the road:

N 1958 Chrysler Ap2 Royal 08 09

“Airfoil rear fenders – a Forward Look styling note with practical application. Slender and high, like stabilizers on aircraft, they help keep you steady.”

There was a 117 horsepower 250 cubic-inch inline-six as the standard motor, or a customer could opt for a 313 cubic-inch V8. Hooked to those motors was either a three-speed manual or a three-speed pushbutton automatic.

It was a cool car that I’m sad I didn’t know about sooner.


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28 Responses

  1. Reminds me a bit of Studebaker’s tactics at the time – bolting fiberglass fins onto their old, pre-tailfin craze, bodies to update then without actually springing for new sheet metal

  2. Those bolt-on fins go all the way to the middle of the back door! I assume they need to be bolted on there as well? How/where do they bolt? Did they offer something to cover the holes if you didn’t get them?

    Also, DT, shouldn’t you be wrenching on something and writing about that?

  3. These need another lens & light in them. With cheap leds available, it would be fun to do a parabolic sequential turn signal indicator in there.
    The possibilities are endless.

  4. Give me a break. We’re these sold by Manny, Moe, and Jack? Looks like crap. Maybe if the tailends matched and lights in them it would not totally suck but this looks like a poor aftermarket addon.

  5. Sure it might be a gruelling, whole day drive from Dubbo but you should make your way down here to Adelaide, and make a pilgrimage to the National Motor Museum in Birdwood. More obscure Australian automotive concoctions than you can handle!

  6. Bonus points if you can somehow incorporate saddle fins on your ute. I have it on no authority whatsoever you’ve got plenty of time to fabricate period and asthetically incorrect cosmetic mods so get cracking!

    Seriously though, I’ve been catching up on your and the Autopians Instagram, if that black ute is a solid shell and with a little luck you can get this project across the finish line. A-body mopars are fairly simple machines, in my younger days my friends and I managed near complete suspension and drive train swaps on darts and dusters over a couple of days, it can be done, good luck!

  7. How on earth are Stick On Fins NOT a thing today?!!
    Can you imagine a Finned out Miata?
    Not enough folds on your Aventador or Elise?
    Hell, just add some wings!

  8. Sweet! If you’ve ever seen an early 50’s Chevrolet that had odd fish tail like stubby finlettes … those were sold by people like J.C. Whitney as custom bolt on accessories that you’d then mold into the body and paint.

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