Vintage Motor Life Road Test: 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood 60 – The Fastest And All-Round Best Car Of Its Time

There were some very compelling reasons why Cadillac was creaming Lincoln and the Chrysler Imperial in the 1950s, and no they weren’t just its styling and fins. Aside from that and its image, the Cadillac was simply the best American car, and for that matter arguably the best in the world. Its performance, build quality, handling, brakes, ride, comfort, convenience features, amenities and even economy were simply superior. Well yes, certain European luxury imports were superior in some regards, but none had the combination of qualities and features of a Cadillac at the time.

Of course this would all change before long, but it’s instructive to remember—or learn via a road test like this—that Cadillac was still earning its reputation, instead of just coasting (downhill) on it.

Motor Life notes that Cadillac’s reputation was of course largely derived from the social status it conveyed to its owners. They set out to determine “if such extraordinary opinions are supported by the quality of construction, performance and design“.

ML points out that the Cadillac does not have a monopoly on any single important feature, but that it’s the only one that has the maximum number of them. It has the best of everything that was available on a modern car at the time; state of the art.

Performance testing, including high speed runs in the Mojave Desert showed that the Cadillac was the fastest volume American car at the time, with a top speed of a solid 116 mph (the Chrysler 300 was not a “volume” car). Cadillac’s 331 cubic inch ohv V8 was rated at 250 hp. Combined with the four-speed Dual-Range Hydramatic, it also offered brisk acceleration (0-60 in 11.2 sec.), and yet yielded exceptional fuel economy for such a large and heavy (4540 lbs) car.

“Roadability” was given high marks; it felt very solid, and was eminently quiet inside. Despite its size, handling was “easy”. The brakes were very good for the times.

Heating and ventilation were “highly functional”. Quality abounded in various ways, inside and out.

Although the Cadillac was of course more expensive, its exceptional resale value and good fuel economy gave it “certain qualities of economy“. This was a significant factor in the success of Cadillac in the ’50s and ’60s: it simply made sense to keep buying them, year in, year out, as their qualities and features were inevitably top-notch and the financial risk was very limited.

This is the foundation of Cadillac’s dominance of its market for several decades.