GM’s final peak in US market share was in 1978, before it began its long decline. For the fifty years prior, only two men oversaw the styling of GM during those golden decades. The hand off from one to the other was was hardly smooth in the end, with a painful transition for the 1959 models that were a essentially a hybrid of the two. But for the 1961 models, Bill Mitchell was now completely in control, and few cars show his love for sharply sculptured surfaces and a restrained use of chrome than the very handsome 1961 and 1962 Cadillacs.
If you’re having a hard time keeping your eyes on the Caddy because of that beguiling gray car in the background, head to the Transvertible CC to satisfy your curiosity. And when you’re done, let’s pick up the history lesson on what I consider to be one of the most attractive Caddies ever.
The 1959’s were a dramatic departure from the out-of date and excessively chromed and bloated ’58s. But they still showed Harley Earl’s influence in his love of rounded and smooth shapes punctuated by dramatic details, especially in his beloved wrap-around panoramic windshields with their resultant dog legs, as well as bold fins and strong chrome accents.
Mitchell’s love for chiseled and more European inspired design manifested itself most completely and perfectly in the 1963 Buick Riviera, but the 1961 Cadillac was a strong step in that direction. The front end became dramatically lighter and more delicate, the greenhouse was now angular and creased, and the panoramic windshield tossed out on the chrome heap of history along with the fins. The result was much more sophisticated, elegant and yet still very much encapsulated the space age theme of the times.
Cadillac did a very unusual thing in 1959 and 1960, essentially previewing their future styling with the very rare and ultra expensive Eldorado Brougham sedan. These were coach built in Italy by Pininfarina, and only a couple hundred of the almost three-times more expensive hardtops were sold.
Probably the biggest challenge for the ’61 and ’62 Cadillac was what to do with the fins. Having essentially invented the whole thing in 1948, Cadillac was deeply associated with them. Yet the whole industry was abandoning them wholesale after the big bow-out of 1959-1960, GM more than anyone. For 1961, all the GM lines save Cadillac completely rid themselves of any vestige of their former existence, quicker and more decisively than both Ford or Chrysler. But Cadillac retained them, in a way that both honored the heritage imbued in them, and yet still worked in the new and more contemporary design language.
This Series 62 six-window hardtop was the entry-level Cadillac, costing $5,080 ($36k adjusted). That didn’t include the increasingly popular air conditioning, or the GuideMatic automatic headlight dimmer, whose electric eye is sitting the on the dash looking like a radar detector. GM first introduced that in 1952, and after being withdrawn on the rest of the GM lines in the mid-sixties, Cadillac retained it until 1988.
The choice between this six window sedans versus the identically priced four window version was a trade off of more or less privacy vs. visibility. Or did they appeal to different personality types? The six window sedan was becoming an anachronism, but Cadillac retained it through 1964. But the new direction in more enclosed coupes and sedans for all of GM had begun in 1961 with the Cadillac Sixty Special Sedan, and quickly migrated across the divisions for 1962. It was to be a major styling direction that has still not found its end today.
Interior appointments in this ’62 are solid and tasteful, using high quality materials. An example of that is the front seat back and the heavy use of metal throughout. Within a few years that would all change, when a heavy-handed effort to convey “luxury” through vinyl wood and other superficial changes took precedence at the expense of actual quality materials.
Cadillacs of this vintage bowed out of the horsepower and cubic inch race: their 390 cubic inch V8 with 325 horsepower was smaller than optional engines in the cheapest Chevys, Fords and Plymouths. Eventually, Caddy stepped up again, but the emphasis was more on smooth and quiet cruising rather than impressive acceleration.