(first posted 4/16/21) I was hitting auto salvage yards a couple months ago as I tried to sort out a few things on my car. Fortunately, winter is the best time of year for that in my part of the world. The cooler weather encourages a more leisurely time than in the hot weather when you just want to find your part and get the heck out of there. When I get the chance, it’s fun to explore just to check out doomed old cars, which of course is a favorite pastime of some since Junkyard Classics is an article category here at CC. Something I discovered doing this several years ago is that for a period, Cadillac put a little more pride and effort into what is normally a very dry medium: the owner’s manual.
If you’ve read the recent Cadillac Escalade articles here and here, think of this as a palate cleanser of sorts, regardless of how you feel about that modern SUV. This will be a feast on some of the most luscious of Cadillac’s glory-days-era dreamboats.
From roughly the late 80’s to the mid 90’s, Cadillac began their manuals with a brief history of the marque, then used two-sided color cardstock as tabbed dividers for each section of the book. The front and back of each card had an image taken from their photographic archives. I don’t have all of them, but I’ve been able to find manuals from several different years. Each year has mostly different cars, with only a few reruns that I’ve found.
*Anything that follows that’s marked with an asterisk is an empty promise.
I’ve always liked it when I buy something, especially if it’s expensive, and the manual or instructions start off with something along the lines of, “Congratulations, you’ve just made one of the smartest purchases of your life. Countless hours of careful engineering and craftsmanship have gone into making your new automatic electronic dabutractor the finest available.” It’s sort of selling the item, after you’ve already bought it. This is not exactly like that, but it does show pride in product and heritage which I can really appreciate.
The manuals start off with a reprint of the famous 1915 advertisement. It’s a philosophical essay on leadership and the difficulty of being “a standard for the whole world”, that didn’t show a picture of the car or say anything about the car or even mention automobiles. I don’t think the background crest was in the original ad.
The five pages of history were printed in color, though the rest of the manual was black and white apart from the dividers.
The history is mostly a chronicle of the technological highlights and “firsts” that Cadillac has brought out over the years, fitting with the theme of leadership established with the 1915 ad.
The history ends with their then-current slogan, “Cadillac Style”.
Most of the photos are cars from the 50’s and 60’s, but I’ve found a couple earlier ones. The 1931 V-16 is the oldest car presented and the photograph is surely a modern one. The V-16’s were one of the most iconic and exotic cars of the era, offered from 1930 to 1940. The production numbers were tiny, but the prestige value in the ultra-competitive luxury market of the Depression was likely invaluable.
The original V-16 design through 1937 is one of the most handsome looking engines of all time. Observers staring at those two valve covers canted at 22.5 degrees can hardly resist being enraptured.
I’m also fairly sure the 1949 Coupe De Ville is a newer photo, both because of the look of the photo and the tires. 1949 was a major year, as it was the brand new postwar body with a brand new OHV V8. This was also the first year for the hardtop body style and the second year for tailfins. The styling was one year only since this generation would start to have a much more heavy, massive look for 1950.
1954 was the second year for the Eldorado, which was one of three new convertible flagship models introduced by different divisions. Like the Buick Skylark and Oldsmobile Fiesta, the Eldorado had a dramatically dipping beltline and exclusive wrap around windshield. The windshield would be standard in all B and C bodies for 1954, but the car still looked oh so glamorous. The Eldorado price dropped significantly in 1954 (and sold four times as well) but it was still a true flagship: it cost at least 23% more than any other model apart from the Series 75 limousines.
The 1955 model gained unique-to-Eldorado rear styling with no fender skirts and its own tailfins and taillights. Eldorado also got a power bump over other Cadillacs and ditched wire wheels in favor of the beautiful new Sabre Spoke wheels.
I would also tag this as not an original factory photo.
The 1956 Eldorado was very similar, the main change being that it was now available also as a hardtop coupe called Seville, priced exactly the same as the Biarritz convertible.
1956 was significant for being the debut of the Sedan DeVille, Cadillac’s first hardtop sedan. You couldn’t ask for a sleeker Fifties greenhouse.
The new 1957 Eldorado Brougham kicked the flagship concept up to a whole other level. Essentially a show car enabled for production, the Brougham was mostly hand-built and the price was 136% more than the Fleetwood 60 Special sedan. It came with every possible feature contemporary technology allowed including air suspension, air conditioning, stainless steel roof, forged aluminum wheels, low-profile thin-whitewalled tires and much more.
These ladies look like trouble! Their 1958 Fleetwood 60 Special is sure extravagant, I don’t think it would be practically feasible to put more chrome trim on a car.
Cadillac went from no hardtop sedans in 1955, to one in 56, to all hardtops save limousines for 57. This body style lineup would persist through 1964.
1959 is well represented in Cadillac’s owners manuals, which is not surprising as it’s one of their most memorable cars, for better or worse. This color combination is not often seen. Cadillac made a slight error in their manual here: the convertible was not yet called a De Ville (and wouldn’t be until 1964 according to my research).
Many folks take issue with the absurd size of the 59’s tailfins, and for good reason, as this angle on the Eldorado emphasizes. One objective criticism of the 59’s is that the Eldorado lost any sheetmetal distinction from less expensive models.
It would surprise no one that knows me that I’m a fan of the 1959 models, in part expressly because of its extravagant exuberance. I do concede, though, that the 1960 is a more handsome, better-balanced design with its relatively restrained tailfins.
1960 would be the last year for an Eldorado hardtop coupe until the switch to front wheel drive.
Beautiful day, happy couple, red convertible Caddy. Things couldn’t get much better for this fictional romance!
The 1961 and 62 Cadillacs were very similar, as this pair of front and rear views show. Beautiful cars, of course, but not really my favorite years. One thing I do really like is the color-coordinated hubcaps!
1962 saw the industry-wide adoption of thin whitewalls. Question for readers: which tires look better on these otherwise similar convertible Caddys?
1963 and the similar 64 are some of my favorite years. I’ve pointed out before that I see the 63-64 as a toned-down update to the 59-60 styling.
1965 saw a completely new body. Peak Cadillac!
Change for 1966 was minimal. Also minimal were external differences between the Eldorado and De Ville convertibles, which you can see if you compare with the 65 above. Rocker panel moldings vs. side spears is the main distinction. The hardtop era for the Fleetwood sedan ended in 1965, which gained B pillars even though door glass would remain frameless for quite a while.
The big news for 1967, of course, was the debut of the front wheel drive Eldorado. Chrysler was probably quite flattered by GM’s decision to go with torsion bars in front and leaf springs in back. A very nice black car was profiled on CC here and Paul aptly pointed out in another article that the early FWD Eldo had one very important engineering weakness.
Rear wheel drive models got new sheet metal, a bit less clean but I think the added character lines work well.
1970 was the last year for the ’65 generation. I can only ever see this car in white with horns on the hood!
Eldorado got a new generation for 1971, whereupon Cadillac doubled down on the bladed fender styling theme and got distinctly broughamy, especially in coupe form.
There was still something about a red convertible Caddy, even if in 1974 it was not quite as easily lovable as some of the red convertibles above. I think the changes they did for 75/76, while not major, made for a much better looking car.
The 1974-76 Fleetwood Brougham was 233.7 inches long, making it the longest factory Cadillac ever (not counting the series 75 limos).
On the other hand, the 1976 Seville was far from the longest Cadillac ever. Only Cadillac could take a compact Chevy, make it look like a Cadillac, charge more for it than any other car in their showroom and have it be a hit.
Talk about finishing strong, the first generation Seville’s last year was 1979, when it had its second highest sales year, close behind 1978’s 56k. The Elegante was really dressed for the ball in real wire wheels and two tone.
Eldorado saw a new, much smaller, generation for 1979, which I think was really the right size for this car. Apparently it had the right everything else, too, because it was a big hit for its entire run, even as the engines got weaker. The 1979 had an Olds 350 with Cadillac-only fuel injection (same engine as Seville), by far the most powerful of this generation.
The bustleback Seville was not so much of a hit, though it actually didn’t sell as badly as one might tend to think. It sold about 30-40k every year (except 1982 at 19k), which was about 75% of what the popular first generation averaged. The Eldorado always sold about twice as much, though.
This was the last all-new car released to have a major Bill Mitchell influence. What a statement to go out on! In contemporary terms, I think of it as a styling mic drop.
Things were looking up in the auto industry and the country generally by 1984. Times were sunny enough that manufacturers began releasing some convertibles again. This was great news for Caddy lovers, unless they happened to be one of the “investors” who bought a 1976 Eldorado drop top billed as the final convertibles ever and presumed to be serious collectors’ items. Well, that investment turned out to be more long term than planned, since primo 76’s are finally bringing pretty good prices and the existence of 84-85 Eldorado convertibles surely don’t have any effect on their appeal now.
Junkyard bonus: as I was leaving the yard, I ran across this literal pile of junk. I realized I didn’t know what it was. It was sitting by itself, not in a car section and almost all the usual identifiers one relies on are missing, such as the grille, hood, roofline, taillights, etc. There are still a couple of things left though. I’m sure some of you will know immediately. Leave an answer in the comments. I will give the answer later tonight and the reader with the first correct answer wins this car!*