Skirting the issue

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I’ll just come out and say it – I hate fender skirts. I don’t mind ruffling a few feathers among the skirt-loving crowd, because I have cars that sport them. In fact, the factory required them on some of my cars.

For a guy who doesn’t like these superfluous accessories, I keep finding cars that come standard with them. On both of my 1955 Cadillac coupes and my ’62 Cadillac Coupe deVille, the fender skirts are part of the design, and if they are left off, a huge gaping hole the size of Texas remains. Also, all of the skirt’s attachment bits and pieces are exposed, leaving the car looking like a half-dressed mannequin in a department store window. It’s not a pretty sight.

On Cadillacs, and many other cars sporting skirts from the designer’s pen, fender skirts are integrated as part of the design; they are not an afterthought. In the case of a 1950s Cadillac, it’s easy to see that the designers had a body shape in mind that involved keeping the wheel shielded as part of the body design, and the skirts were required to access the wheel.

What really drives me nuts is when people throw skirts on to their cars when their car shouldn’t have fender skirts. Cars that shouldn’t have fenders skirts make the car look heavier, out of proportion, and detract from the lines stamped into the sheet metal. It’s pretty easy to see when a car doesn’t need fender skirts. Here’s a simple test:

Did the car originally come with skirts? If the answer is no, then proceed.

Is there a lip to the fender opening? If the answer is yes, then the car should not have fender skirts.

Still not on board? Then picture this: a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe. The car features some of the best lines of the 1950s, from the close-couple hardtop roof and wrap-around front and rear glass to the downright sexy dip in the top of the fender behind the door. There’s that Ferrari-inspired grille and those handsome triangular taillights that are only slightly highlighted by the shape of the metal below them. And let’s not forget the half-open rear wheel openings that show just enough of the wheel cover, but harmonize with the side trim and front wheel opening. It’s a true triumph of design. Now, add fender skirts – it changes the car, and the effect of the body’s design gets muddied. Worse yet, add rocker trim, a continental kit, accessory bumper guards, spotlights, visor… well, you get the picture.

Like all accessories, fender skirts were tools dealers and the factory used to make money, as the profit margin was large in relation to the cost of the car.

Designers used fender lips like a signature – it showed a sign of completion to the edge of the fender. To add skirts to car with a fender lip, the owner is saying that they know more about design than the car’s designer.
If the car receiving the skirts is being customized and the whole point is to change the car’s shape, then fender skirts are an obvious choice, and it’s a whole different story. But on a restored car, I still say steer clear of fender skirts.

It’s easy to get trapped into the accessory mode, but if you get carried away, your Chevrolet will look as gaudy as Paris Hilton’s diamond-collared, sweater-wearing Chihuahua. And nobody wants to see that.

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