These Are The 5 Vintage Cadillacs You Should Know About
It’s tough to not love Cadillac. After all, its roots stretch back to the very core of American motoring, way back to 1902 Detroit. Named after the French explorer who founded the city 201 years prior, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, it quickly became a bright star by doing one thing really well: building cars with unheard-of precision.
Taking what was left of the Henry Ford Company (his last failed venture before founding the Ford Motor Company), including its factory and equipment, engineers quickly hit on success by simply building cars well, consistently. After General Motors bought the company less than 10 years later, its investment and resources allowed Cadillac to quickly become “the Standard Of The World” as its slogan once confirmed.
Given its 114-year history, choosing just five of the breed is an impossible task, so think of this group as a guide to how impressively engineered its vintage cars often were—for instance, the company won the Dewar Trophy in 1908 in impressive fashion. Essentially: Cadillac sent three cars driving to Brooklands, did 30 miles there, had the cars disassembled completely and the parts scrambled (!!) by the RAC, and a single mechanic with an assistant were tasked with reassembling three ‘new’ Cadillacs from scratch.
Then those reassembled cars were driven 500 miles, with one held back for a 2000-mile R.A.C. reliability challenge a few months later…in which it won its class.
When the company combined its engineering prowess with leading styling—courtesy of hiring then-consultant and future styling maestro Harley Earl in 1926—it landed on a winning formula that even its current executives must admire.
1936 Cadillac V16 Series 90 Aerodynamic Coupe by Fleetwood
Apologies to Pre-War Cadillac fans for fast-forwarding past its first few decades, but it really was laying the foundation for the success to follow. Its sales through The Great Depression suffered greatly, so its V16 didn’t exactly fly off the shelves despite being, arguably, one of the world’s best road cars at the time.
When V16s were built, they went to individuals who could afford the technology, as well as the bodywork to pour on top. Here, Fleetwood dutifully took Harley Earl’s styling direction, replicating curve-for-curve the show car created to impress at the 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago. Four were reportedly made.
1948-51 Cadillac Series 61
About as “entry level” as Cadillacs got in the late-’40s, the Series 61 was introduced a decade before this car, with a smaller sedan body and technology that was more common with the rest of the General Motors lineup, including vehicles from Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile, and the aborted Lasalle brand.
In 1948, the 61 had its last major refresh, bringing into production a major improvement: an overhead-valve 5.4-litre (331 cu. in) V8 engine, the basic design of which would carry wreath-and-laurel Cadillacs for more than a decade before being modernized and improved over the years.
And, in true Petrolicious fashion, in 1950 a specially-prepared 61 was the first Cadillac factory entry at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with a two-car team led by Briggs Cunningham. The ‘Clumsy Pup’ finished 10th overall with an average speed that just cracked 81 mph.
1953 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible
In short, it’s a concept car for the road. Don’t take this fact for granted: General Motors was the first corporation able to mass produce its stylist’s designs. So while the 1953 Eldorado was made in fewer than 540 copies, was ridiculously expensive, and had every gadget known to (1950s) man, by producing the car, GM was quickly able to apply lessons learned to its less expensive models.
Made for a single year, the Eldorado is a perfect example of this. To a casual observer, there isn’t too much separating the looks of a 1953 and ’54 car, but that’s the point—mass production lowered the price and sped production to the tune of 2,150 sold, with more Eldorados on the road each year through to the early ’70s.
For the price of a 1953 Eldorado, you could take home two new first-year Corvettes and enough fuel for months of hard driving, a fact that didn’t bother its monied buyers one bit. But if you’re adjusting for inflation, it’d still cost about half (~$70,000) of what V16s originally sold for, about $140,000 in today’s dollars.
1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham
Two doors or four? For this car, Cadillac managed to add enough styling detail to completely distract from the pair of rear suicide doors and rear bench seat. From front to back, it’s a who’s who of Jet Age styling cues, beginning with the front bumper’s “Dagmars”, topped with a stainless steel roof, and ending with twin fins out back.
If it looks expensive, it was (and even moreso than the equivalent from Bentley or Rolls-Royce). Hand-built and loaded with cutting-edge features including air suspension, cruise control, electric everything (including power, memory seats), and air conditioning, Cadillac even sought to alter what people expected from the lowly glovebox by offering a choice of accessories for it.
Accessories in 1957 weren’t Thule racks, naturally: try perfumes, magnetized drink tumblers, a mirror, and cosmetics kit. Also standard was the first transistor-based radio.
1959-60 Cadillac Series 75 Limousine
If the Eldorado Brougham was for executives, the Series 75 was a car for diplomats, industrialists, presidents, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and Elvis. For such a huge car, its jet-inspired styling managed to hide most of its up-to-9-passenger girth.
Designed to be chauffeured, it represents one of the earliest forms of Cadillac—the limousine—albeit ‘modernized’ for its time with current design and interior fittings. Anything that a buyer wanted could be added, because it was also one of the final Cadillacs bodied by Fleetwood.
The version made for former Queen of Canada (and current Queen of the United Kingdom) Elizabeth II’s late ’50s tour of North America, for instance, had a Jetsons-style removable bubble top that manages to look completely normal on this limousine.
What’s your favorite classic Cadillac?