Mileposts in Design: Cadillac’s “Dagmars” – An Intimate Look At Their Origins, Development and Namesake

(image composite by atomicsamba.  click on images for maximum effect)

The 1950s were famous for a number of things. Some of the more memorable ones are blonde bombshells, bullet bras, and Cadillacs that with large protruding, chrome bombshells or bullets, colloquially known as “Dagmars”, in tribute to an early ’50s tv star famous for her…large protruding bombshells.

Let’s take a pointed look at their origins, development, and Dagmar too.

Dagmar, born Virginia Ruth Egnor, was a virtual unknown who catapulted to huge success after she was given a sidekick job on Jerry Lester’s 1950 tv show, as well as the new name. She soon outshone Lester, who eventually quit, and she then went on to become a big celebrity in the 50s.

Like some others of her ilk, she wasn’t half as dumb as she played, but that’s just what it took to succeed back then.

The origins of the Dagmars, as these things are wont to be, started out out almost imperceptible, on this 1941 Cadillac, although some of you might find it a bit of a stretch to see these for what they became at all. But this bumper over-rider, with its little pointy buds on the front upper leading edge, does have a direct lineage to what blossomed in subsequent years. Cadillac was just entering puberty.

If you think the ’41 is a case of too much imagination, wishful thinking, or the musings of a pedophile, by 1942, they’re clearly on display. The over-riders have lost their upper connecting bar, and they are larger, and more forward-thrusting. Dagmarettes.

Somewhat ironically, although the all-new 1948 model sported fins and was more well-developed and rounded-out in other ways, the front protrusions seem to actually have shrunk a bit. More likely they just look a bit smaller compared to all that added girth up there. The Cadillac’s growth spurt was now focusing on adding some bulk and hips before getting back to the frontal protrusions..

But by 1952, Cadillac had shed the training bra, and now the protrusions were no longer just pointy bumper over-riders, but an integrated aspect of the bumper. We can comfortably say that this was the coming out party for the Dagmars? And is it a coincidence that this happened one year after Dagmar made it big on tv? GM’s stylists were watching tv too, you know.

Here’s a little snippet of Dagmar on stage. There’s others on You Tube if you’re in the mood for more.

For 1953, the Dagmars got some serious uplift, and now found themselves in the same position where the turn signals had been in the previous year.

Speaking of uplift, that was pretty much the whole point of bullet bras; well that and lots of separation. And a healthy dose of exaggeration, for good measure.

The effect is fully on display on this model posing with a 1954 Park Avenue concept.

The 1953 Cadillac LeMans concept previewed even bigger things to come.

Sadly, the new, larger Dagmars are not properly visible on Marilyn Monroe’s ’54 Eldorado. And hers aren’t really so well either. Not the most flattering shot in that regard, but I’m still smitten by it. Can we go for a ride?   (my automotive-related tribute to MM is here)

Here’s a better shot of a ’54.

And here’s a better shot of Dagmar’s Dagmars.

The 1954 El Camino concept previewed quad headlights, but not quad Dagmars.

Without measuring them myself, I can’t be certain, but the Dagmars on this ’55 Eldorado Brougham concept look even a bit bigger to me than the ’54 Park Avenue. Maybe Cadillac was busting out for being the first corporation ever in history to show a $1 billion dollar profit ($9.1 billion adjusted).

The production ’55 and ’56 Dagmars reflect that same high point their development.

In both their size as well as in their ability to be a lethal weapon to pedestrians, never mind the delicate rear ends of cars, especially small, foreign ones. Can you imagine what these would do to the back end of a Jag XK-120? Or even a VW?  Was this GM’s answer to the great import boom of the 50s?

With all due respect to to Ms. Dagmar, but at this stage, these might have more appropriately been called “Jaynes”. Ms. Mansfield, (our expansive tribute to her is here) did have an automotive-related component named after her, but sadly, it wasn’t nearly as flattering as the Dagmars. She arrived on the scene a few year too late.

Even in that pre-Ralph Nader era, Cadillac knew it had gone too far. After lots of snide press and becoming the butt of jokes, the ’57 Dagmars were decidedly smaller, and now sported chaste black rubber tips, in a modest concession to safety. I still wouldn’t want to be gored by one. And for what it’s worth, Dagmar’s career too had peaked; her tv show ended, and she was on a gradual descent, playing Las Vegas, cabarets and summer stock theater.

In 1958, the Dagmars were even more modest, and with larger rubber tips. At this point, they were more like the early versions of the low-impact bumpers that were to be seen in 1973.

And of course, by 1959 the Dagmars were gone, replaced by quad jet intake nacelles disguised as turn signals. The end of an era.

Well, not totally. The 1959 Cadillac Cyclone XP-74, Harley Earl’s last dream car before his retirement, had the ultimate Dagmars, although I suppose some might be tempted call them something else. Rockets? Naw. We know what was really on Harley’s mind.

 

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