I was first entranced by the 8:40-something sunset over western San Leandro as I dropped a friend at home, but sparkling in the soft hues of Pink, Orange and blue sat a face I normally only see in the dark. As we’ve finally made it to the longest day of the year, I decided to spend a few moments with this Cadillac as the season changed, before changing direction to head back to my apartment in Oakland.
Cadillac was at the top of its game in the American Luxury Market with the 1963 models, in my opinion. Just as the days begin to grow shorter over the next six months, Cadillac’s influence as the top motoring choice for affluent buyers similarly began to wane year after year from the mid 1960s onwards.
There’s a part of me that wonders how much it had to do with the design. I’d never thought of the 1961-62 models as lacking continuity, but in a few remarkable ways they do. The Skeg fins and deep creasing were a far cry from the way the 1958-60 models were adorned.
The more time I spend looking at the 1958 and 1959 Cadillacs, the more I see some shared elements, including the headlamps which float above the grille, and the twin pod taillamps (minus the Eldorado two-doors on 1958 models). Thematically, the 1959 Cadillac is perhaps the most bulbous of the GM Crash-redesign program cars as well. The sharp features live at the edges of the ’59 Cadillac, giving it more of a creased definition than the previous year’s offering, but they still carry quite a bit of visual bulk. They are definitely not as razor sharp as the 1959 Buicks, and they still have a bit of a zaftig quality I find lacking in the Chevy, Pontiac and Olds offerings that year.
The short deck Park Avenue Sedans exaggerate the emphasis on the cleaner shape (and size, as all 1961-62 GM cars were clipped a little bit around the edges in an effort to emphasize restraint) that Cadillac tried out with their early sixties offerings. Some complain that the 1961-62 cars didn’t (or still don’t) “look” like a Cadillac: the front grille is too plain and every product with a Skeg fin (except the apparently perfect 1959 Pontiac) inspires a sizable contingent to proclaim them the most laughable frivolity in automotive styling.
For reasons I’ll never know, the 1963 Cadillac models started morphing back to the more chiseled interpretation of visual heft represented by the 1958-60 models.
Once you take a good look at a 1960 and 1963 Coupe DeVille side by side, it’s almost as if 1961 and 1962 didn’t happen. Most of the same elements have returned with more refined detailing. Out is the intricate detail that was attempted for two years; back in is the substantial bulk that more resolutely yelled “Cadillac.”
One can think of many reasons why Cadillac went relatively retrograde with regard to their cars’ looks during this period. For better or worse, the 1959 and slightly more restrained 1960 models were pretty iconic early on. Perhaps they were even considered definitive within the Cadillac design studios: something that sincerely over the top, attempting to be the absolute “most” is admirable in a few ways. I’d agree that no car better expresses zealous American societal confidence (whether based in reality or not) that we assign the 1950s in rose-tinted nostalgia than the 1959 Cadillac.
I’ve come to think the 1961-62 cars were “recession” Cadillacs. They were in a few ways more modestly flamboyant, far less so than their predecessors. Advertisements all of a sudden highlighted their value, either new or in resale (which is about the most practical concern ever bestowed on a Cadillac). However, as consumer confidence rebounded, so would Cadillac cars. The truly leviathan 1965-68 models were still in the planning stages as these went on sale; those models point to the future of bulk-sized luxury for no other reason than dollar-per-pound value.
Right now, as Summer gets into full swing, we aren’t really concerned with the consequences of consumption. The days are long, and there are plenty of hours to flit away. Perhaps Cadillac thought the same thing in the Early Sixties. Winter seems especially distant, and Cadillac likely couldn’t see the multiple storms and winds of change under all that light. There’s a fable in here to remember to harvest what’s really of value come fall, so you make it through the winter. It took many years of repeating seasons for Cadillac to understand that.