(first posted 11/23/2012) Today’s market offers no shortage of such “aspirational” cars as BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Lexus, among others. Each brand has a fairly broad fan base and products that, while expensive, are still within ownership or lease by people who are either genuinely successful or willing to make sacrifices elsewhere. In 1962, things were different. There was only one truly aspirational car in America, and this is it. Granted, there were devotees of the new breed of Lincolns, and there had always been people for whom nothing but a Chrysler product would do. Even so, Lincoln and Imperial were mere blips on the sales radar. For the most part, and in their heart of hearts, all of America–maybe even all of the world–really, truly wanted a Cadillac.
I have taken my share of abuse lately for my not-so-lofty opinion of various General Motors products. I also make no secret of my heartfelt affection for several “lesser” auto companies, notably Chrysler and Studebaker. I’ve given a lot of thought to my opinion of the General (the automaker, not the former Indiana basketball coach, of whom I have some opinions as well.) It seems that my antipathy towards GM products falls into three categories:
The first category: GM products since the 1980s. Often, they were just plain bad, like the Cadillacs from the second half of the 1980s (CC here) with their self-destructing engines and silly-looking proportions. They were simply pathetic and vain attempts to charge lots of money for objectively substandard goods. Another category is cars like the Chevy Monza (CC here), or the original Cadillac Seville (here). Objectively speaking, these were not bad cars, but considering the resources at GM’s disposal during their development, they could (and should) have been so much better than they actually were.
But the biggest category involves cars predating those in the first two: The cars that were so maddeningly popular and held in such universal esteem. These cars seemed to have it all: Great looks, good performance and quality construction. They just seemed so perfect, at least to those of us who didn’t really get to know them personally. GM cars before, say, 1970, were like the family that sends out a holiday letter about Grant’s promotion to executive VP of the Northern Hemisphere Division of his company, and Muffy’s championship medal in a Pan-European invitational equestrian tournament. The cars certainly had their faults, but nobody seemed to care, and the public lapped them up anyway. Nevertheless, sometimes there’s a GM car of which it’s impossible to think ill–like a member of a family that has it all, but is so kind and generous and decent that you just can’t help but love them. The 1962 Cadillac is one of those cars.
Cadillac was at the top of its game in 1962. Was there really a single thing objectively wrong about this car? All cars have their weaknesses, but this one may have had as few as is possible for any mass-produced car. When one of the biggest gripes about the car is the tendency of the front bumper ends to rust after a dozen years, then you have a pretty good car. By the time this car was built, several generations had grown up with the concept that a Cadillac represented something very special. And for much of the period after the Second World War, Cadillac really was the only serious American purveyor of high-end cars–cars that truly were the Standard of the World.
It occurred to me that when it was new, this Cadillac owed virtually nothing to outside influences. There was really nothing about this car even slightly cribbed from the competition. At the heart of it was the justifiably famous Cadillac V8, arguably the best all-around V8 engine of the post-World War II era. In its day, the 1949 Cadillac V8 engine had set the industry standard for modern engines. The 390 cu in (6.4-liter) version, used from 1959 through 1963, might have been the smallest engine in any American luxury car (even smaller than the big Olds and Buick V8s), but it could power a new Cadillac up to an honest 125 mph.
Coupled to that fabulous engine was the last of the old-school Hydra-Matic transmissions. Surely, its four gears helped the smaller-engined Caddy stay in the same performance league as its competition. It was one of the last GM automatics that did not pay homage to the Chrysler Torqueflite in any way; in 1964, the smoother, but slightly less-efficient, Turbo HydraMatic would make its debut mated to a larger 429 cu in (7-liter) V8. Indeed, this tranny was the last direct descendant of the original Hydra-Matic Drive of 1940. All GM, and nothing but.
Then there was the styling. Again, Cadillac was in no way reacting to the competition, but instead was setting its own agenda. The Imperial’s styling leadership had come and was gone after 1957-58, and while the clean, elegant Continental look would soon influence Cadillac styling, that day had not yet come. This car seems to have achieved a rare balance between style and substance, one that had managed to elude Cadillac’s competitors for so long. While the Fleetwood 60 Special may have come off a bit better as one of the more important-looking 1963 models, to my eye the ’62 is the high point for the Coupe deVille. Was there ever another 5,000 lb. two-door that looked so crisply stylish, substantial and athletic, and all at the same time?
If Cadillac was the car of choice in the Mad Men era, then the Coupe deVille was the Cadillac to have. Introduced in 1949 as Cadillac’s first hardtop, the inaugural Coupe deVille combined the beauty and grace of a convertible and the practicality of a closed car. Throughout the 1950s, the Coupe deVille became the one car wanted by virtually everyone. Even the hardtop Sedan deVille that debuted in 1956 couldn’t match it for style; after all, this was a time when four-door cars were for conservative, practical people. If you were stylish, or wanted to be, then a two-door was the way to go–and what big two-door looked better than a Coupe deVille?
Perhaps my experience with this car colors my judgment. I owned a 1963 Fleetwood Sixty Special sedan (black, of course) which was mechanically identical to today’s feature car. It was a well-worn example that in its final third of life had not been the least bit cared for; despite that, it still could offer up a firm handshake and make it clear that it remained a Cadillac. Everything a driver or passenger could touch felt like it was of the highest quality. Despite its X frame, the car had a structural rigidity that the contemporary Imperial could only dream of. After 15 years (including five years of hard time standing up to beatings from the teenagers who drove it before I did), virtually everything still worked as it was designed to work, and the car ran and drove better than it had a right to.
My other experience with this generation of Caddy is wrapped up in many of the Thanksgivings of my childhood. More than once, my family would take the Pennsylvania Railroad’s overnight train from Fort Wayne, Indiana, to visit my grandparents in the suburbs of Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Main Line was a strange and exotic place, so unlike the ordinary Midwest of my everyday life. At the end of a really cool train trip we would be greeted by my grandfather at the Paoli station, and then we’d all load into his white 1962 four-window Sedan deVille.
I can still feel the cold, chromed door pull, the sound and feel of the heavy back door being opened and closed, and those black floor mats with the white Cadillac crest (the real one, with the big ‘V’ below it) that matched the white interior with the black-cloth seat inserts. It was the last new car that Granddad would buy, and he drove it well into the 1970s.
Even in the early 1970s, by which time I had gotten to experience a couple of my father’s Continental Marks, that white ’62 deVille remained a completely different experience. Even then, I recognized that it came from a bygone era, and that now even the most expensive American cars lacked many of its cost-be-damned qualities. I will never forget my disappointment when we went for another visit sometime in the late ’70s, and I learned that Granddad (ever the thrifty New England-er) had traded the elderly white ’62 on a used ’70 Electra 225 sedan. I realized that the Cadillac had become woefully out of style, and as a man in his late 80s, he’d become concerned about its reliability. Frankly, my disappointment would not have been any less had he bought another new Cadillac, so greatly had the division’s fortunes fallen (at least in my estimation) by then.
They say you can’t go home again, but as this Thanksgiving weekend approached, my thoughts wandered to this turquoise ’62 Cadillac that I spotted in a McDonalds parking lot last summer. I didn’t get a look at the car until after I’d passed the entrance, and had to travel a long route with multiple traffic lights to get back to it. But for a worn but original ’62 Caddy (that I thought was a Coupe DeVille) I had to do it. As I shot these photos, I was once again struck by the old-school grandeur of this car.
Many modern cars are virtually devoid of interesting detail, but this old Cadillac is a treasure trove of fascinating and intricate touches. I was hoping the owner would come out so that I could find out more of the car’s story. Sadly, it was not to be, and I was left to daydream of how I could fix it up and go cruising to the market for some TastyKakes (as my father would do on those trips back east). I got only pictures of the car, yet I still had the best part of the experience–a little time with memories of my Granddad.
This is one of my favorite write-ups so far. This is such a beautiful car — I could just sit and stare at the back of it. I love the clear taillights, ribbed panel connecting them, instrument panel, deep dish steering wheel and wheelcovers.
I’d have never left the keys in the ignition though — I learned that lesson the hard way once.
> I’d have never left the keys in the ignition though
…or the expensive looking electronic device sitting on the seat.
…it almost makes one wonder if the cops had it set up as a bait car.
Not so unusual to see iPhones lying about like this nowadays. Between built-in GPS locating features and the ability to make the device unusable once it’s reported as stolen, the perception is that there’s no need to keep an eagle-eye on them. Not that I agree with that attitude, but it’s rampant.
Also, I once knew a guy with an unusual car who left the keys in it quite often. He claimed it was practically theft-proof, because it was so visible…
Who were they trying to catch? Don Draper?
Maybe if there was booze and cigarettes in the front seat…..
One of the finest Cadillacs of all time I’d love to have this car. It seems that it could be a nice driver with a minimum of effort and money. A little body work, a decent paint job, and new upholstery, I’d be good to go. Cars like this are for driving to the bank, store, or golf course. Museum pieces are nice, but a scale model serves the same purpose.
The feature car must be in good running condition and cared for. The car has its 4 hubcaps in decent condition, a sign of a thoughtful owner. Doesn’t look banged up either.
If I saw it for sale, I’d buy it.
Now that’s a Curbside Classic!
Exactly; like made to order.
Great car; even better writeup. I love it that this is a survivor; I’m astonished by how together this car is for having received little bodily TLC.
These are my favorite kind of old cars to photograph – straight original old cars that have seen their share of use. I had really hoped to talk to the owner because of the unusual aging. The interior is shredded, but the chrome and dash pad and leather parts of the seats are beautiful. Not much rust, but the paint is shot. Not too much sun, not too much moisture, not too much driving. A unique car, and in one of my favorite color combos.
I am to. Most 62 cars in the UK were gone in 8 years.
Its unreal to see a 54 year old un restored car let alone a Caddy!.
That ’58 full-line GM ad makes clear just how much “platform engineering” was going on even then. Not a lot of visible difference between the Pontiac and the Chevy.
As for this car…not only did the guy leave the keys in it…but his phone too!
I look at that picture and am reminded how the Chevrolet was the only attractive car GM had in 1958. Probably Chevrolet’s height when you take it in comparison to the rest of the GM line for the year.
I don’t think I had ever realized how much alike the various ’58 GM brands look. Scanning the picture, it took a second for my brain to process that five different makes were represented, rather than five different models/body styles of the same make.
Outstanding write-up on an outstanding car. This has sure helped offset a substandard Thanksgiving.
When I was about six, Dad tried to explain to me that Cadillacs were held in the same regard in the USA, that we held Mercedes Benzes at home here in Australia. This was in the early 1970’s. I couldn’t get my head around that. “Um, they are made by GM aren’t they?”, I said. Then Dad told me they cost as much, if not more than a Mercedes Benz, in the US, in some instances. And then I said “You mean to tell me that in the US, people spend that much money on a car that is made by the same people who make Holdens?”. “Yes” he said. I thought to myself, man that’s weird, I’d buy a Mercedes if I was spending that sort of cash (mind you I’d never been in a Cadillac at this stage). Anyway, I eventually came to realize that they were something quite special, especially the ones made before 1980. But I would still buy a 300SEL 6.3 over a Coupe deVille 🙂
I grew up in the US, but I was born way after Cadillac’s glory days and in a part of the country that has had a hard-on for European luxury cars as long as they’ve existed… and I always felt EXACTLY the same way as you did. I never understood what the hell the big deal about a Cadillac was. In my mind they were like some grotesque rolling practice coffin for old people as a consolation prize for having lived through the Depression. I’m not even talking about wealthy old people here. The first time I ever rode in a Cadillac was in a gold-on-gold early 80’s Coupe de Ville that belonged to the mother of one of my elementary school classmates. The only thing I felt was remarkable about it at that time was the fact that it had a CB Radio integrated into the stereo… otherwise, it was just like a bigger, gaudier version of my mom’s Nova. Who friggen cares? There was no car more irrelevant in my youth than every single Cadillac on the road.
I eventually came around and now really appreciate how ridiculously beautiful and sophisticated the cars like the one in this CC were, and the once foreign concept of what “Cadillac” meant way back when… but it sure took awhile; and deep down inside, I’m still with you. Even though someone could probably make a very good argument for a ’62 CDV being an objectively better car, it still seems ludicrous to me that ANYONE would prefer one over, say, a W112 Mercedes coupe. I mean, come on… it’s a Mercedes-Benz. That’s what has been the actual “Standard of the World” car for my entire life and then some.
Well, my wife drives a 2008 ML550 (her family has a thing for Mercedes), and if that’s the Standard of the World, God help us…
I don’t think there’s currently any brand that carries quite the same prestige and reputation as Cadillac had in the early 1960’s, at least not in the US. Mercedes-Benz did have that kind of clout at one point, though – for many decades in fact, well into the 1990’s. After that, I understand that M-B made a conscious effort to dial down their level of build quality and trim cost, which really damaged their rep (a strategy that they’re no longer adhering to, supposedly) but at the same time I think the whole concept of a luxury automobile was rapidly changing as well.
Like JPC points out in the article, there are now a whole slew of “aspirational cars” at varying levels of price and prestige, SUV’s emerged as a status symbol, short-term leases made these cars available to people who would never have been able to afford them previously and all the while, the gap between “best” and “worst” in terms of quality has shrunken immensely. Cadillac and M-B in their heyday both offered products that literally had no equals. I don’t know if it’s possible to achieve that level of distinction in the current climate where every single automaker can (and does) match one another on content.
Indeed. I really like the look of this Caddy and I appreciate the status it had, but even when new there was the W100 Mercedes 600 on the horizon which, in terms of ‘standard of the world’ completely reset all standards.
But were nt MB twice the price of a Caddy?.
Wonderful writeup !
If I were to ever move from Imperial to the dark side (Cadillac) it would probably be a Cadillac of this era.
It just occurs to me, as I re-read the text of the vintage ads, how Cadillac has fallen. By 1985, Cadillac was trying to sell you on the car, and has been doing so ever since. In 1962, there was no selling. “We make Cadillacs. Here is the new one. You know you want it.” It was so effective because it was so true.
My father was having some work done on his ’67 Ambassador at his local mechanic and came home with one of these as a loaner (white, blue interior). I was a new driver; probably had my license about 6 months. Dad threw me the keys to run to the store for him. Wow!
I was pretty overwhelmed by its size, but it didn’t drive like the beast it appeared to be. Light controls, lots of power, easy for an inexperienced teenager to drive. While I had never been impressed or interested in Cadillacs, I really liked this one. I agree with the styling critique; it was quite a feat to make something so big look light and airy.
The next day the Ambassador was back. Nice car; not a Cadillac.
Mr JPC’s comment regarding Cadillac advertising prompted me to skim through several Cadillac print ads (viewable online) from this era. These ads fully support his astute observation.
I “grew-up” in a family that owned many Cadillacs before my birth and on through my young adulthood. These referenced print ads absolutely capture the feeling I recall from that time regarding the brand. Friends, family and neighbors almost universally acclaimed Cadillac. When a Cadillac motored through the neighborhood conversations became hushed, heads turned, a quiet admiration was immediately palpable.
I’m 57 years old. There hasn’t been a Cadillac I would aspire to since 1970. In fact, I’d be embarrassed to own one. That fact makes me sad.
I also get accused of GM bashing but I find that GM Slappies are the same type of people who believe in the New World Order. No amount of fact is going to sway them from their belief, not even GM’s spectacular belly-up event or the fact they still produce substandard cars compared to their competition. One that has not changed is GM advertising, which, after all these years, still shills, “Well we know our last cars were crap but the new ones are the bee’s knees!” Plus de change, there’s still a sucker born every minute.
These Pininfarina Caddies were the best cars GM ever built and the last truly great cars they ever made. They were well built, engineered and finished. They drove well for their day and had a surprisingly firm ride. Just looking at the pics of the one here, the quality of the materials is obvious. These cars commanded high prices and got them.
Fast forward to 1968: GM decided to live in their reputation and how long did that last? Even by 1980 the writing was on the wall for GM, a mere dozen years was all it took for their hard-earned reputation for quality and value to be totally destroyed.
Maybe he’s mixing it up with the 1959-60 Broughams.
Maybe he’s mixing it up with the Allante? LOL
Probably; they were built by Pininfarina, but 100% designed by Cadillac.
Maybe the show-car 1961 Cadillac Jacqueline http://www.hemmings.com/hcc/stories/2009/05/01/hmn_feature9.html
The 1959-60 Eldorado Broughams clearly preview the 1961-62 DeVille styling, expecially in the greenhouse and the ’60 in the skegs. However, although the 1959-60 Broughams were built by Pininfarina, GM Styling was primarily responsible for the design.
What is really amazing is that Lincoln, with a design regarded then and now as a timeless work of art, coupled with a strong emphasis on build quality and an unusually long warranty, was totally unable to crack Cadillac’s dominance even though the 1961-62 Cadillac was basically the ’59 Cadillac with revised styling that still hung onto 50’s themes like the pointy tail fin.
I would add that the 1961-63 Lincoln was fairly petite for a car of that class, and was not exactly straight-up competition for the Caddy. The Imperial was more directly competitive in dimensions.
Perhaps you are thinking of the Imperial Limo built by Ghia. They are said to be exceptional cars.
“Was there really a single thing objectively wrong about this car?”
It depends on what a car is FOR. As a fashion statement that has to provide reliable transportation for a few years with minimal mechanical needs…it had no peer, not in that earlier era.
But let us not forget how short its life was – it was built better than its contemporaries but that is to be expected with its premium price. Automobiles were only expected to hold together for six, seven years…and then be discarded and replaced. Planned obsolescence.
What’s wrong with that? Nothing, if that’s what you want and expect. It’s a costly way to display your status, but…if that’s what the buyer wants, fine.
Is that the most perfect car? For some, yes.
For others, a more durable car would be more appreciated; and led by import manufacturers, we’ve come a long way. The trouble with that is, it diminishes the automobile’s American role as a fashion statement and demonstration of discretionary wealth. Even well-kept, a 1962 Cadillac looked dowdy and dated in 1975. (Well, not necessarily; the trim proportions are timeless; but tailfins and wraparound windshields?)
There is no perfect car. The perfect car for me – the day I need to move a few yards of topsoil – would be Paul’s F100. The perfect car for a traveling salesman would depend on his mileage and his gas budget…and whether the company is replacing his car with wear. Might be a Lexus…or a Toyota. Or even a Cadillac.
Disagreements aside, good profile on this car.
I guess my point was about mechanical weaknesses. Chryslers (even Imperials) were plagued by dodgey electricals and spotty assembly quality. 61 Lincolns were known for front suspensions that were hard to keep in alignment. Cars with Roto Hydramatics had tranny issues. Studebakers and IHs had bad rusting problems. These Cadillacs, however, had so few of these kinds of weaknesses when compared to everything else made. Engine, suspension, drivetrain, body, these things were well made and extremely durable. Everything has made strides in the years since, but even today – we have to watch for cars with weak engines, weak trannys, or cars with cheap parts that fail prematurely. I think that Cadillac eventually getting a rep as a “ghetto cruiser” was that the old beasts of this era would be cast off by their affluent owners, and would work their way down to the folks on the bottom rung of the ladder. The old Caddies would keep moving under their own power when a lot of others would not.
I suppose it depended on what part of the country you were from.
Where I was at, eight- and nine-year-old Caddies would work down to blue-collar types…typically white; which is unimportant except that they’re off on another tangent from the “ghetto-cruiser” typecast. Some of those Caddies would be lovingly cared for; but it’s hard to get eternal life out of a car when there’s no garage and it’s driven to work every day, including winter.
As they collapsed they wound up in the hands of the blue-collars’ kids; or sold to people even further down the rung. I remember a few old tailfin Caddies and Oldses, their flanks flapping with huge sheets of body steel unlaminated from rust…as they worked their way to the city leaf dump and collection site, trunk-lids sprung with garbage cans overflowing with lawn trash.
The people who got out of such cars were not pictured in any issue of GQ.
The ghetto-cruiser stereotype has other roots…along about this time, GMAC started selling its wares to anyone who could meet minimal credit requirements. So a lot of new or near-new Caddies wound up “owned,” minimally, by playahs in the ‘hood.
Dick Gregory used to make a lot of jokes about that, back in the 1960s when Dick Gregory made jokes.
You’re right about the relative quality, however. I had a well-off great-aunt who married well and was childless…her toy-car was a 1962 Caddy. I don’t remember it well, since we lived 500 miles away and 500 miles was a longer distance than than now. But the car was always there; always in the garage since she didn’t travel that much; and always impeccibly clean.
She kept it about 13 years…replaced it with a 1976 which her husband died crashing, soon after. That was the end of her Cadillac experience; money became tight.
But your point is taken; and taken well.
Cadillacs were expensive relative to other cars of their era. There was certainly a premium because of their image as a “fashion statement”, but it was obvious that part of what you were paying extra for was a more durable automobile.
> The people who got out of such cars were not pictured in any issue of GQ.
But you’re talking about cars that were well over 10 years old, at a time when most cars were expected to be scrapped after 8 years, and on their third uncaring owner. How many of those beater Caddies still had doors that didn’t need to be slammed closed because the hinges were worn out or the body sagging?
It’s also somewhat unfair to say that their durability was good for their time, but they still suck relative to modern cars. For an apples-to-apples comparison, I wouldn’t expect a 1980s Cadillac to last any longer than a Chevy of the same year because they were mechanically identical. Same with an Escalade versus a same-year Suburban.
Great writeup. I’ve said it before, the ’62 was the most beautiful Cadillac ever to grace the highway. I’ve told the story, too, about my father coming within a whisker of buying this very car when I was fifteen (btw, this is a Series 62 Coupe, not a Coupe de Ville, although that doesn’t matter to the storyline). And our next door neighbor’s sister drove a ’62 Eldorado Biarritz convertible, black w/red interior. She would come swooping up our hill and park in front of our house. Never missed a chance to go out and ogle it whenever she visited. Simply the finest Cadillac ever.
Any time I see the words Cadillac and “aspirational” together, I am reminded of another excellent article I read on TTAC by Johnnie Schreiber. He posits that Cadillac used to be at another level, “beyond” aspirational. Cadillac was the benchmark against which aspirational things were judged, ie:”The Cadillac of….”
Through your personal anecdotes, you’ve really identified the subjective qualities that defined a Cadillac in peoples’ minds, before its long descent from being the Standard of the World.
Ronnie’s article substantially plagiarized from an article written three days earlier: http://www.autoextremist.com/current/2010/5/11/the-autoextremist.html
I didn’t know that before, as I never really followed the Auto Extremist blog. I just skimmed it quickly now and the similarities are obvious. However, I like Schreiber’s take on the subject better. His article contains the following paragraph, which is why I remembered enough of it to find it again in a google search over 2 years after reading it:
Marketers like to use the word “aspirational” to describe desirable higher priced consumer goods. Time was, Cadillac was once the standard of the world for all things aspirational. I would say that until GM’s decline, Cadillac was even beyond aspirational. Aspirational products are desired by people who can’t yet afford them. Cadillacs were driven by those who already had arrived.
DeLorenzo’s article does not include the word “aspirational”.
When I started my career as a mechanical design engineer in the late ’70’s, I learned the use of “Cadillac” as a verb by some of the older engineers. It meant to embellish engineering drawings beyond what was needed, with fancy line work, shading, lettering etc. My employer, by the way, was Peterbilt, often referred to at the time, as the “Cadillac of trucks”. Years later, the Cadillac name seemed to get replaced as the reference standard by Lexus , though I never heard it used as a verb.
The discussion brought me to wonder: What year was Cadillac at the height of its design leadership? I suspect that it was around 1954, when its “dogleg” windshield and still-exotic tailfins had the rest of the industry on the run.
The 1959 may have been the most outrageous Cadillac, but it was a response to the 1957 Chryslers. Each year thereafter Cadillac’s excesses were toned down.
For example, not only did the tailfins gradually fall in size through 1965, but in 1961-62 Cadillac actually offered a sedan that was shortened seven inches. That was Cadillac’s response to both the rise of the compacts as well as the 1961 Continental’s smaller size.
The 1962 still hadn’t responded to the Continental’s strikingly clean look, but it did take a step away from the sci-fi detailing of the 1959-60, with a more chiseled rear deck and flat grille.
I’d argue that one aspect of the 1962 look was borrowed from another automaker — Packard. Check out the horizontal grille, with its slight uptick in the center brow and the swept-back grille corners that flowed into a crease (with side-marker lights) that was uninterrupted by the front-wheel cut outs. This harkens back to the 1955-56 Packard. Give the grille a bit more of an arch and you’d have a perfectly good 1962 Packard.
Ditto. The ’54 (and ’55 – ’56) is my favorite post-war Cadillac.
As much as I like the ’61 – ’64s, they were not as original and imposing as the ’54.
Almost all the GM cars of the ’61 -’64 era are great lookers in their own right, but as Dr. Lemming points out, they really didn’t originate from a truly new and creative vision. The first GM car in the Mitchell era to do that was the ’63 Riviera.
But we’re talking about design; functionally and build-quality wise, the ’61 -’64s certainly were still at the top of their game.
And that’s not say they aren’t highly attractive or desirable either.
I have to say, the GM roofs on the 1962’s were so much cleaner then the 1961’s, and though its design was a throw back to the last 50s unlike Mopar it looked fresh and currant too.
Buyers who wanted luxury and image in an American car had some nice choices in 62 – Cadillac, Lincoln Continental, Imperial (looking much more handsome without the fins and with the gunsight taillights), and, let’s not forget – Thunderbird, more luxurious and distinct from other Fords since 1961 and now available with more glamour in Landau and Sports Roadster editions. In terms of styling, I think the Lincoln Continental wins hands down; it was both cutting edge and timeless, and the perfect image for the new Kennedy administration. The Cadillac is more cautious, conservative and corporation man in looks. I like all four – a good year, I think, then and now.
I think that if you went back to 1962, a luxury car buyer could be forgiven for wondering what Lincoln was going to be in the next styling cycle. Lincoln had bounced back and forth between so many styles and identities over the previous fifteen years, who could expect that they would stay with variations on the 1962 look for the next, say, forty years.
Although Lincoln-Mercury did take pains to establish more styling continuity throughout the sixties. There were variations, of course, and some of the stylists felt the design was “ruined” by the deletion of the curved side glass for ’64, but Lincoln established a Cadillac level of styling continuity.
The styling WAS ruined by the deletion of the curved side glass.
So often an automobile’s successful design is compromised by stylists and/or management trying to justify their pay checks.
The removal of curved side glass from the Continental and T-Bird was one of the strangest American auto industry decisions of the 1960s. I understand that at least part of the perceived problem was technical — how to stop water leaks. But you’d think that was solvable given that Imperial had used curved side glass since 1957 and by 1966 — within two years! — virtually every American mass-produced car would offer this feature.
It could be that the switch back to flat glass was part of a larger reaction to the less-than-stellar sales of the 1961-63 T-Birds and Continentals. For 1964 the T-Bird received a more conservative design and the Lincoln’s wheelbase was stretched to a “normal” full size.
Meanwhile, the Mustang — which was introduced mid-year in 1964 – received curved side glass plus a much tighter tuck under (which apparently required expensive tooling changes). So Ford management’s conservatism was situational.
It may well be BS, but I remember reading somewhere that a reason given for the Lincoln’s reversion to flat glass was to make the interior feel more spacious. It did have lots of tumblehome, and the ’61-’63 Lincoln was rather cozy inside, given its T-Bird origins; more like a four-door coupe, really.
Nice work, JPC. I would love to find and buy a 1965 or 1966 Sixty Special or Fleetwood Brougham finished in that rare and beautiful Black Cherry/Aubergine GM color (unsure of the proper name). I’ve seen shots of your ’63, and it’s just so damn elegant.
Even then, GM cars were seriously looking alike. At least Lincolns and Imperials had more distinctive styling to separate themselves from the proletariat stablemates from Ford and Dodge, respectively.
I wish GM could figure out a way to incorporate that beautiful A-pillar into a modern design again!
Much as I love Cadillacs from that era, I have to admit I’ve never been too wild about the front end of the 61-62’s. It’s a front end more apt for a Chevrolet, IMHO.
Fine write up. My favorite part was about the black floor mats with the white Cadillac logos, I remember those vividly.
My Grandpa was a Cadillac guy too. His first was a silver 1965 SDV. That thing was off-the-charts elegant and you are so right about the intricate details back then. The seat inserts were embossed with a perforated pattern. I used to love playing with the power door locks which was great fun until the vacuum assist ran out. I believe the gear shift lever was also vacuum assisted.
When he bought a 1970 SDV he gave the ’65 to my Mom. She hated it and it was soon replaced by a Mercedes 280SE. The ’70 was a nice car but I remember the upholstery being more basic and it lost nice touches like the huge brushed metal lid over the front ashtray and the vacuum PDLs.
Grandpa used to use Lemon Pledge on the leather of his ’70. My sister and I loved sliding around in the back seat when he took turns. I cherish those memories.
His last car was a gorgeous 1978 SDV which he ordered from the factory. He gave the ’70 SDV to me and it was my first car.
While the ’70 seemed like a downgrade over the ’65, the ’78 felt like an upgrade. It was a much more solid car and it looked better. A week ago I purchased a pristine 1986 Fleetwood Brougham from an older gentleman in Phoenix. What a joy this car is to drive. Every time I get in it the smells, sounds and feelings remind me of Grandpa.
You can say what you like, but up tp the mid-sixties a Cadillac made a statement few other cars made, even here in faraway South Africa. I have never driven in one in my life, but always admired those advertisements in the National Geographic magazine!
I cannot believe the the owner of the car posted, does not at least give it a chrome strip down and a good paint job as well as fix the upholstery. I know that all missing parts can be bought from catalogues. But better to keep it running like this than sitting in someone’s backyard dying off slowly….
We may have hit on something that at least helped undo Cafillac’s place as a wider status symbol, one whose effects we still see today.
Was GMAC’s willingness to issue car loans to African Americans, combined with Cadillac’s willingness to market to same, an unspoken part of their image change? I remember an episode of Mad Men where they found Admiral TVs had become very popular in the black community, but Pete’s proposal to market directly to this group drew the ire of Admiral executives, who basically said “you can sell a white man’s TV to blacks, but you can’t sell a black man’s TV to whites.”
Would upper crust whites in the 60s start to turn their noses up at Cadillac for similar unspoken reasons? Surely the later push for volume and even later, Cadillac’s quality woes had more of an impact, but I can’t help but think that at least a little of the turn away from Cadillac was the racial beliefs (which wouldn’t be discussed so bluntly, even then) of upper crust whites, who would have turned to the likes of Mercedes-Benz, instead.
I see echoes of this in comments about the Escalade and (to a lesser extent, the Chrysler 300) on sites like TTAC, where the comments about these cars are racial to the point that you’d think the otherwise over zealous ban hammers would come out.
I recall reading somewhere that Cadillac’s efforts to reach out to the black community began in the 1930s. Loans weren’t the key leverage point, but rather the basic willingness to sell to affluent blacks. Given the intensity of racial relations back then, you can imagine how Cadillac could have built strong brand loyalty within the black community.
Reading this reminded me of one of my favourite films,The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.Back to Caddies,very rare in Tasmania,expensive to import and convert to right hand drive and here in Tasmania we only had two lane bitumen roads,no freeways,that were narrow and followed the winding path of our colonial convict made roads.Vast cars would be difficult to manage,even a Buick Special or Skylark was challenging.I really like the 1962/3 American cars and remember as a 6 year old boy a farmer on the outskirts of the small town bought a new Ford Fairlane,black with a white roof and very stylish.That was a compact by U.S. standards of the time but to me it was a large car.People here kept cars for much longer times than seems the case in the USA and with no rust problems and being a small island and less distances to cover, they still looked good after several decades.Most people had a garage so the cars kept their shine.
Fantastic write up! Thanks for pointing me in the right direction.
I must say with regards to this car I fell in love with it almost as soon as I caught a glimpse of it, it needed a fair bit of work but had luckily always been a high desert car resulting in most of the material and rubber/plastic items being rotted but the metal working other than suffering many grazes and dents was in remarkable condition.
The best part about this vehicle and cars of it’s period is the fact that virtually everything is rebuildable not just disposable a’ la todays vehicles.
The water pump bearing was destroyed but a fairly cheap rebuild kit was easily available (although overseas!) Job done, A genuine workshop manual was purchased and I found to my delight I could even rebuild the electric aerial.
I love this car even with it’s thirst, it’s fun to drive especially on our super tiny roads where I live out in the country. I don’t have to worry about it’s size as everyone just gets out of the way!!
This car is not a Coupe deVille — it’s the less expensive Series 62 Coupe. The cheapo armrests are the main clue.
Hmmm – I think you may have me here. My hat is off to you, sir. It was comment no. 60 before someone caught this. I have made changes to the piece that should fix any inaccuracies.
Pity that a beautiful car like this can’t just have a new lick of paint!And some work on the seats…
Beautiful Caddie nostalgia story! Many Thanks. Keep on cruising…
Somebody needs to change the link to this story on the “Curbside Classic Central: American Brands” page. It goes to http://http//www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-american/curbside-classic-1962-cadillac-coupe-deville-coupe-de-la-creme/
Yup. “http://” twice.
Great writeup. As JPC put it, designed at a time before outside influences. And bought by people who were not just pouring over spreadsheets. That time is gone, but we can still admire the relics of the age.
Fans of Cadillacs like this should be aware that in late September, a few New Jersey Cadillac owners have a show in Eatontown at a Cadillac dealer on Sunday. Since auto dealers are prohibited from selling cars in NJ on Sundays ,the lot is full with at least 65-80 vintage Cadillacs, most of them from the 50s to the early 80s. There are plenty of`62s, mostly coupes and convertibles and they are beauties. I intend to go again this year, and I`ll post plenty of pictures and do an article on it, if I can figure out how to upload cellphone pictures to this site. As you can probably guess, I`m not too tech savvy,but I`ll give it a shot.
I would think twice before stealing from this guy. It’s as if he’s daring you. Not like that car will blend in with traffic anyways. Like the Simpson’s episode with Mr Burns getaway car. “Be on the lookout for a maroon 1936 Stutz Bearcat.” Upon spotting the car, Chief wiggum replies, “Uh, that was really more of a burgundy”.
Thanks,what a hearty laugh.Ahh the Simpsons.
I’ve perused the archives of CC several times, I’m surprised that I’ve missed this gem of a car and write-up until now. I enjoy the republished articles as they come along.
I’m not a big fan of the similar 1961 Cadillac. The rear bumper, taillights, rooflines, etc., just didn’t work terribly well for me. The ’62 refresh was one of those cases where the massaging of the design worked out fantastically.
Whatever year might be peak Cadillac, the ’62 has to be a contender, taken in the context of its competition and it position in the United States, as well as internationally.
I had some exposure to a ’62 Sedan Deville four window hardtop. Cream color with a red interior – possibly leather, it certainly wasn’t cloth. Quite loaded up. This was around 1971, and the up and coming lawyer led family behind our house had the Caddy, and a ’68 or later GTO. Both were traded off in ’73 for an Olds Ninety-Eight, and a loaded Olds Cutlass Salon. They also built a huge new modern style house on a large lots several blocks away. I guess he made partner or something!
The Mrs. took my mom and several neighborhood kids for a ride to an ice skating rink in the Caddy. I didn’t really realize what a Cadillac was, but It was obviously waaayyyy more fancy than the ’68 Impala that graced our family garage. The car made a huge impression.
Fast forward about 13 years, and I recall buying a classic car magazine with a cream color ’62 Cadillac convertible on the cover. I was smitten. I even wrote an insipid paper for a Psychology 101 class around that car. I still pulled an A, hey, it was Psych 101.
Since that time, I’ve still maintained a strong respect for the ’62 Cadillac, and would definitely consider putting one in my garage if I ever pursue a classic car again.
Google searching ’62 Cadillacs, a cream color convertible turns up over and again. It would not surprise me if this were the same car I read about in the mid 1980s…….
>>Despite its X frame, the car had a structural rigidity that the contemporary Imperial could only dream of. <<
Not true at all. A contemporary Imperial would do a Christine job on a comparatively weak X frame Cadillac – the Imperial was so legendary in that regard that in demolition derby action it was often banned because it always won.
Oh, and btw, most people would probably regard the Imperial engines also to be superior to Cadillac's – along w/ the Torqueflite transmissions. Contemporary Tom McCahill always thought and wrote that the Imperials were better cars than the Cadillacs.
One of my favorite McCahill-isms about a 60’s Cadillac.
“rolled like a Dixie cup in a typhoon” – they handled that badly – maybe due to all the flex in that weak X frame..
I have owned one of both. I never crashed either of them, and in a collision, you may be right. But in the real world of potholes, railroad tracks and other bad road conditions, the Cadillac was a structurally “tighter” car, despite being in worse condition. You could feel the imperial quiver or flex a little bit on uneven surfaces. The Cadillac did not. Even beaten half to death by the prior drivers, and at 15 years old, the structure did not rattle or squeak.
A great article, jp, and it inspired a terrific conversation amongst the readers, making it even more enjoyable. My dad, who was a Chevy-Olds dealer for many years, had a penchant for driving recently traded-in cars (his way of checking them out) and the best one he ever brought home was a dark red 1964 Cadillac convertible. It was over the lunch hour on Valentine’s Day, which was still the dead of winter where I grew up, so the site of that huge, glamourous red car in our snowy driveway made a big impression on me. It was 1970 and I was 11 years old at the time. Sadly, I never to got ride in it but I did sit in the enormous red leather front seat and take in its full Cadillac ambience, before having to go back to school that afternoon. Thanks for rekindling a great memory of a car that I still aspire to own ‘some day’.
WOW! The flagship of GM when GM was the flagship of automotive excellence. Generations younger than myself cannot comprehend what the name Cadillac meant in 1962. This was an aspirational car. Synonymous with taste, luxury and excellence. A signal one had arrived. Lincoln and Imperial tried hard at times, but nothing came close to the prestige of a Cadillac. Owning one instantly conferred a special status to its owner. Nothing close to this phenomenon today. Not even S class Mercedes and 7 series BMW’s. And not without cause either. ’60’s Cadillacs had the fit and finish, quality of materials and other chops to back it up. Expensive yes, but what a value.
A *very* pretty car , I’d love to drive one again some day .
I still like the early 1950’s Caddies more though .
The ’62 Cadillac is a favorite of mine. Pictured is my Series 62 convertible project. Maize yellow with maize yellow leather bucket seats and a white top originally. Runs and drives but needs everything. Anyone have a parts car they want to get rid of?
Always thought those were the most boring, bland Cadillacs ever produced.
Cavanaugh, Not only is this fine writing, but you saved the best for last… in remembering your Granddad. You did well; I salute you.
I had one exactly like the one featured here when I was in my 20s..(early 1980s). Same color, same hubcaps. Even today’s cars can’t compete with the quiet cabin and smooth ride of a 1960s Caddy. You could hardly hear your own horn blow with the windows up. The 390cid powerplant coupled with the 4 speed tranny made it a real mover on the highway. I would love to have another just like it. I also had a ’58 Caddy at the same time but it was no comparison. Overweight and underpowered.
A very nice car you had! It looks nicer than the 63 Fleetwood sedan I owned for about 6 months in 1979. But I agree with everything you way about the way those drove. I never got to drive one of the older ones.
Forgot to post a pic of mine from ‘back in the day’…
Just for kicks…here is the ’58. I traded it plus $100 for my first ’68 GTO. The ’58 just didn’t do it for me at 21 years of age….lol
You can see that the pics were taken at the same location
This “particular year” version is one I’ve seen rarely in my life. Being born in 1960, wonder why?
1958 was one of their worst post-war sales years because of a sharp recession.
Always found the front window and especially the a-pillars to look awkward on this era of Cadillac. Seems to have been designed with the convertibles in mind and doesn’t really work on the hardtops.
I like this Cadillac a lot. I had a 1962 Cadillc —- Corgi toy that is, it was one of the best looking cars in this kid’s fleet When shopping with my Mom, we’d stop at the comic book store, and I’d ask – no beg her if I could get a little car. Often the answer was to wait until my birthday, but sometimes she caved and bought me a Dinky or Corgi.
Those were great times.
This Caddy looks consistent all around. The tail nicely finishes the side lines. The grille is consistent with the look of the instrument panel. It has a really nice flow to it, perhaps understated may apply. One of these has not been seen by me in the wild in decades.
I’ve never been in an early-’60s Cadillac, so I’ll just have to take everyone’s word that there was a substantial, high-quality look and feel to everything surrounding you that exceeded that of a Chevrolet or even the mid-range GM marques. By the early ’70s, this was no longer true; many of the surroundings were identical to those of an Olds or Buick and not that much different than a Pontiac or Chevy. The shapes of the dashboard and sew patterns of the upholstery was different, but not really any nicer. There was lots of plastic, chrome-plated plastic replaced metal on things like the air vents, and the woodgrain was obviously fake. Cadillacs were still an aspirational car for many people I knew, but they were clearly riding on a reputation made years earlier. By the end of the decade, despite the well-received smaller ’77s and the ’79 Eldorado, it seemed BMWs, Mercedes, Jags, and higher-end Japanese cars were filling driveways in my neighborhood, not Cadillacs.
There seems to be a current trend of putting turn signals way down low in the bottom of the rear bumper (hello Hyundai Kia). This would be a great time for Cadillac to embrace their heritage and mount them high where they can be seen. What a luxury to have your turn signals high enough to be seen. In snow country, those Hyundai turn signal are invisible when the back of the car is caked in snow. Get them off of the ground and put them up where they belong. DUH?
They may be doing just that…. though I can’t tell from still photos where the turn signals are.
Last night I was watching a Youtube video that caught my eye because the mechanic said he will no longer work on old cars. They are too much trouble, with too few parts now, and he spends dozens of hours on the computer looking for parts. Hours that cost money and if a lawyer you would get billed for each one. The car that finally did him in was a customers 67 Lincoln which needed some basic things fixed on a list. A list that got bigger every time he took the car out for a test drive on a repair just finished. I have heard this in my general region concerning shops nowadays. No old cars so take it to a place that does only old cars. Good luck! I can do most all things on my cars even basic alignments now since no one will touch them anymore, for an alignment, just like with my trucks king pins.
Our neighbors, up the hill, got a “60, or “61” Caddy around 1971ish. Was , to us kids, miles long.lol I remember it really sounded loud , going up the hill.
Thinking, now, it may have been a “touch” out of tune.
I appreciate the design of these from most angles. The front end leaves me cold, though; I don’t see any classy style there. Could just as easily be a Chevrolet or any other generic car from around that time.
“… you can sell a white man’s TV to blacks, but you can’t sell a black man’s TV to whites.” Buick (the preferred ride of African Americans back in the day- not Cadillac) would seem to have disproved that decades ago. But the spirit of the Admiral TV exec lives on in a somewhat different vein. Justin Bieber is “not qualified ” to own a Ferrari after modifying his luxury car, but not in a good way, i.e., from an authorized Ferrari specialist.
I can’t agree with you on Buicks being preferred to Cadillac by Blacks “back in the day”. I’m Black, have ridden in and/or owned quite a few Buicks and Caddy’s and while an Electra 225 or Wildcat was a very fine car, no one l knew ever thought that it was better than a Cadillac. Everyone knew that it was just one step down from the Cadillac.
GM went from top to bottom like this- Cadillac, Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Chevrolet.
Thanx Gregory .
That’s what I saw /felt back in the day too .