Museum Classic: 1962 Cadillac Convertible – Living In A World Made Of Papier Mache

I once had a dream that I was sitting in heaven’s waiting room.  It was a dingy old doctor’s office with sunlight cascading through some windows that hadn’t been washed in years.  The walls were an out-of-date pastel, as if they were last painted during the Kennedy administration.  On a scratchy speaker in the background, Dionne Warwick’s “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” was playing just loudly enough that I could hear it.  Then I woke up.  That might have nothing to do with ’62 Cadillacs and everything to do with my being eccentric, but I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Dionne Warwick lately, mainly her sixties and early seventies stuff written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach.  I’ve also been falling in love with museum Cadillacs again.

Last week, I had a Friday off from work, so my lovely bride and I took our annualish trip to Gilmore Car Museum, a place where last year I fell hard for this ’55 Coupe DeVille.  This year, that beautiful car was still parked where everyone could gawk at it, but immediately next to it in an increasingly crowded space was this year’s model, so to speak.

Although there is still a ’55 Coupe DeVille-sized space in my heart, this ’62 Cadillac absorbed an unfair amount of my reverence during this trip.  First, this shade of blue (Newport Blue Metallic?) is my favorite color on a car; it’s the main reason I bought my ’63 Thunderbird and an important factor in my hanging onto my ’65 Corvair all these years.  I’m still looking for a ’63 Riviera in this color.  Second, it’s a ’62 Cadillac, and whether one appreciates conspicuous consumption or not, it’s hard to disagree that this is an imposing piece of transportation that is showroom new and has all the marks of being recently donated to the museum.

What does any of this have to do with Ms Warwick?  A song I’ve been popping on repeat during my Dionne phase is “Paper (sic) Mache,” which is fundamentally akin to the Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” but with the added cachet of having one of the classiest ladies in the world singing it.  In other words, we live in a disposable society where one-upsmanship and transience and waste, awkwardly juxtaposed with a need to assimilate, fill that empty space where our happiness should be.  Nothing new.  Keeping up with the Joneses.  Who cares?  Well, there is likely no better way to fill someone’s existential void than a ’62 Cadillac Convertible.

After all, if one is going to play armchair psychologist, one should probably do so from an armchair like this one, looking out over the expansive blue hood of a flawless early-’60s Caddy, perhaps playing something like “Don’t Make Me Over.”

Even the wheelcovers are blue, carefully painted, designed, and executed; every piece of a Cadillac in 1962 was built to remind you that it was worth the extra money.  Almost nothing looked like a rolling stack of hundred-dollar bills better than a Cadillac did.

With all this being said, I’d posit that few would name 1962 as the most tasteful year in Cadillac’s expansive design oeuvre.  The “skegs” and busy creases do their best to numb the elegance so naturally designed into Cadillac’s essence and reputation, but they fail.  It still looks like a million bucks.

Cadillac’s advertising and resale value also contributed to its sterling (dang it, I promised myself not to make any Mad Men references…I must have done it subconsciously) reputation in the 1960s.  This ad from my collection is one of my favorites; although it doesn’t ascend to the dizzying artistic heights of Fitz/Van’s Pontiac ads, it is effective in its dissociation of Cadillac from the suburban masses.  A simple image of an upscale black tie party and sparse text with an appropriate abstract noun were good enough to get the point across.

Cadillacs of this era were not, however, without their perceived faults.  Some felt that the front end treatment of the similar 1961 model was too “Chevy-like.”  The ’62 model flattened the peaked grille, reducing the similarity almost completely, although the shape of the windshield could summon some unflattering comparisons.

It’s also possible that Cadillac, having invented the tailfin on the automobile in 1948, hung onto them too long as their styling trademark.  Even though the magazine road tests touted the ’65 models as being the first in a long time without fins, their shadow extended all the way into the ’90s with Cadillac’s upright taillights.

The Cadillac was also not as modern as its competitor, the Lincoln Continental, an opinion that has been pointed out many times.  Also apparent is the fact that none of this hurt Cadillac’s sales in any way.  The Lincoln might have looked a generation or two more advanced, but the Cadillac sold many times more cars.

With that being said, I wrote last year about seeing the ’55 Coupe DeVille during the “Summer of Townes (Van Zandt).”  This year, it’s the “Autumn of Dionne,” and I’ve again found an appropriately stylish Cadillac to accompany my musical inclinations.  I’ll end with a similar sentiment: How have I never owned a Cadillac when there’s so much about them to like?  Although the ’55 is still my favorite, this ’62 was too beautiful for me to “Walk on By.”