Why 1959 Was Such a Great Year for Cadillac
Remember that gorgeous pink Cadillac from 1959? The one with those jaw-dropping tailfins and heavenly sweeping lines? The one, in fact, that Elvis himself drove? You do? Then prepare to be shocked. That car never existed. Elvis’s version was actually the result of a very convincing paintjob: when it came of the production line, it was still a very standard, very normal blue ’55. According to drivetribe.com, the idea of the pink 1959 Cadillac being one of the quintessential cars of the 1950s is, if not a lie, then a common misunderstanding. The only flash of pink in the Cadillac collection (at least of the type of candy floss pink we’re thinking of here) was in 1956. And while the humpback Caddy’s of that year were little marvel’s in their own right, they’re certainly not what most of us imagine when we think of the ‘Pink Cadillac’. So, if the pink Cadillac of 1959 is little more than an urban legend, why do so many people harp on about 1959 being the greatest year in Cadillac’s history? If they weren’t actually spicing up our lives with sugar pink creations, what exactly where they doing that made the year one of the brand’s most memorable? Quite a lot actually…
Chrysler and The Forward Look
1959 may have been one of the best years for Cadillac, but for competitor Chrysler, 1957 was the pinnacle. That was the year the brand unveiled their golden goose – the Forward Look. Created by designer Virgil Max “Ex” Exner Sr (a man whose affinity for aesthetics and aerodynamics had already won him quite the reputation), the Forward Look took car manufacturing out of the dark ages, dusted it off, and gave it a brand-new look. All of a sudden, cars went from tall, boxy, dinosaurs to sleek, smooth, Modern Millie’s. In 1957, the Forward Look hit its stride with the Plymouth, a dazzling creation that made everything being done over at General Motors look about as relevant as yesterday’s newspapers. General Motors, as you’d expect, was having none of it. Determined not to be outdone, Cadillac, Ford, and Chevrolet signed up for a crash course in the new look. The efforts paid off. The difference between the cars of 1958 and those of 1959 was little short of extraordinary, not least at Cadillac, who’d clearly been paying attention more than most in class…
Welcome to the Atomic Age
2 years after Chrysler unveiled the Plymouth, Cadilac bought us the Cadilac ’59. Cue collective jaw-drop. The ’59 didn’t exactly abandon the Caddy legacy, but by combing it with Atomic Age styling, it achieved something extraordinary. The record-breaking shark fins (sure, Cadillac had ‘done’ fins before, but never quite like these), the almost aggressively sleek lines… even the length (a mighty 225 inches long) was enough to impress. Add on some giant curved-top windshields, thin-section rooflines, slim roof pillars, and high-riding bullet taillamps, and one thing was clear – the ’59 Cadillac was unlike any other Cadillac that had come before. But as auto.howstuffworks.com points out, there was, in fact, more than just one legendary ’59 Cadillac. The death of the 50s marked the birth of the 6th generation Cadillac Series 62, the De Ville ’59 and the Eldorado Brougham ’59 – each mighty fine, and all singularly unique.
The Cadillac Series 62
The Cadillac Series 62 first went into production in 1940. By 1959, it was time for a major shakeup. And that’s exactly what it got. The tailfins, which had already been a feature on Cadillacs for quite some time, suddenly got more extravagant. Other changes, as Wiki notes, included the introduction of two distinctive rooflines, roof pillar configurations and new jewel-like grille patterns and matching deck lid beauty panels.
The Cadillac De Ville
In 1959, the Cadillac De Ville broke off from the rest of the pack to form its own distinct series. In common with both the Cadillac Series and the Eldorado Brougham, the De Ville shared the same 130 in (3,302 mm) wheelbase, not to mention the huge sharp tailfins, the dual bullet tail lights, the distinct roof lines, the jewel-like grille patterns and the matching deck lid beauty panels. Available in in either four-window or six-window hardtop configurations, the De Ville proved a hit from the get-go, constituting almost 37% of all Cadillac sales for 1959.
The Eldorado Brougham
The De Ville wasn’t the only model to get a pre 60’s shake up. After just two years in production, 1959 was the year the Eldorado Brougham spun off from the Series 62 to become a classic in its own right. It was also the year its aesthetic went in an all new direction. Following the example set by the Forward Look, the series became lower, wider, longer, and altogether more modern. Assembly was put in the hands of Pininfarina in Italy, which may or may not have resulted in an Eldorado that was unlike any other Eldorado that had come before. Narrow tailgates accompanied low tailfins; a rounded roof line contrasted with the angular rear roof line; the dual rocket-like taillights/tall fins compared favorably with those on Cadillac’s other ’59 models… all in all, this was one very special car. A pity, then, that it never quite found a place for itself in the market. Only 99 models were ever built in the end, although as with all things rare (especially all things rare AND Cadillac), it’s since become a coveted collector’s item.
A Classic Year
Regardless of whether you’re a fan of the Eldorado, the De Ville or the Series 62, you have to admit that 1959 was something of a classic year for Cadillac. The brand didn’t only shake up its own line-up that year, it became one of the front-runners in revolutionizing the automotive industry, turning traditional aesthetics on their head and heralding in the age of the modern car. Sure, they might never have made a Pink Cadillac after all, but what they actually did do was far more extraordinary. Cars would never quite look the same way again from the late 50s, and while most of the credit has to go Virgil Exner’s Forward Look, at least a little can be sent the way of Cadillac… and those massive tail fins.