Curbside Classic: 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville – Flamboyant Survivor

(first posted 9/26/2017)        The 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville has gotten its share of attention on CC and at the Cohort, and in Classic Car magazines.  In fact I have seen our featured car at local car shows in past years, so I have seen it up close before.  Those photos are at the Cohort.  You can go and take a peek – I will wait here . . .  Now that you are back, having discovered that this car and its owner live within five minutes of me, led to an opportunity to discover more history about this fine example.

This Caddy originated in Arizona, where it lived much of its life.  This included some 15 years in storage, which helps account for the excellent condition of the still original interior upholstery and carpeting.  The current owner, its second, brought it to the Great Whte North in 2013, where he takes it on regular summertime drives.  As he told me, he has this car to enjoy, and to drive.  He likes how it performs, and its uniqueness of style and colour.

The engine is the 390 cu. in. 325 horsepower Cadillac V8, which was torn down and rebuilt in 2014 to eliminate some bothersome smoky exhaust.  The car was repainted in its original colour, “Woodrose” after moving north.  Twelve inch disk brakes were retrofitted onto the front wheels in replacement of the original drums.  Other than that, the car has not been restored.  The original AM radio is present and working, and the GM Autronic system is there and working.

For those not familiar (I had never heard of it), see the little rocket shaped housing on the top center of the dash.  My understanding is that the system uses the sensor mounted there to detect oncoming lights at night, and automatically dims the high beam headlights if engaged.  It then returns the system to high beam mode when traffic is clear.  This was a one year option on the 1959 Caddy.  In 1960, the name of the system was changed to Guide-matic, but it functioned the same.  The Autronic eye was a $55 option when new.

Interesting on a large luxury liner as this, and having been originally sold in Arizona, it does not possess air conditioning.  It’s quite a contrast to today’s cars where everything comes with AC, power windows, power brakes, cruise control, etc.  Back in the late ’50s, I believe that options such as AC were available only to the most affluent of customers.  AC would have set the buyer back $474 in 1959, or just over $4,000 in today’s money.

Our featured car has accumulated just over 116,000 miles and looks absolutely great.  I had an opportunity to get a ride in it around the block to a good photo shoot location, which I enjoyed immensely.  The power of the engine is evident in the vibration and loudness of the engine when running at idle.  Even though my Chrysler 300C has more HP, the Caddy just seems to ooze of that raw power ready to be unleashed.  It has plenty of torque to get it moving.  Swinging the door to close it allowed me to feel its heft, and to hear that solid ‘clunk when closing.  Being inside reminded my of another 1959 car fave of my youth – the 1959 Chevy.  I got lots of seat time in the back of the batwing when I went for rides with my neighbours’s kid and his folks for ice creams.

I was surprised by the relative reduction in headroom in the Caddy.  I am 5’10”, and I don’t think I had more than maybe a couple of inches to spare.  The height of the ’59 had been reduced by 3 inches to 56 inches overall from the 1958 model.  The ride itself felt long and floaty, as a 225 inch car on a 130 inch wheelbase would be expected to ride.  The suspension is getting close to 60 years new, supporting over 4600 lbs.

When new, this car was priced at $5252 US.  This is in the $44K range today, probably at the low end of what it would cost to put a new Caddy on the road today.  They made just over 21,924 of this model.

I love the flamboyance, the styling (over the top as it is), the aircraft inspired fins and tail lamps, and just the overall persona of this car.  It has a presence few others could aspire to.  True, it represents the arrogance of Detroit design at the time, trying to one up the other guy with more flair than substance.  To them, more was better.  The battle between GM and Chrysler at the time pitted Bill Mitchell and Harley Earl against Virgil Exner.

I almost forgot – the flag on the front is on the diplomatic pole, for use in parades and such.  I believe this Cadillac is destined for many more years of driving and showing.