By on May 3, 2010

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The 1959’s were a dramatic departure from the out-of date and excessively chromed and bloated ’58s.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.

But the 1959 Brougham (above) and the 1960 (top) both predicted the following year’s styling remarkably well. For the right price, you could drive next year’s Caddy today. What a concept!

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.

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27 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1962 Cadillac Series 62 Sedan...”

  • avatar

    Beautiful. Neighbor had one sitting in his drive (and occasionally on the street) for YEARS when it suddenly went up for sale about two years ago. I was sure it had been in the same family for 30 or 40 years. Sold pretty quickly. If he had waited a few more years my bank account would have been in danger. :)

    It was cream white, missing one fender skirt, still had all it’s hubcaps, interior was clean and intact (pale yellow-green), had only a few small spots of rust (thank you NM weather), and the major problem was that it leaked trans-fluid like someone had shot a hole in the sucker. Somebody picked up a nice project car.

  • avatar

    Is that a convertible Trans-Sport in the background? Nice.

  • avatar

    When I was a kid, my grandfather had a white 62 4 window sedan (I believe that it was a Sedan DeVille). The 62 is maybe my favorite Caddy of all. I always thought that the 4 window sedan was much better looking than the 6 window sedan.

    Years later I owned a 1963 Fleetwood Sixty Special, which was very similar to the 1962. The Cadillac 390 was no slouch, and because it was coupled to the old 4 speed Jetaway HydraMatic, it could easily keep up with the competition which ran bigger engines through 3 speed transmissions. Mine could break the tires loose from a standstill on dry pavement, which is no small feat in a 5200 pound car.

    For my money, these 61-64 Cadillacs were the last of the really top quality Cads. Everything you touched felt like it cost a fortune, and the mechanicals were first rate. These were expensive cars and were built like it.

  • avatar

    I’ll take a 1959 Cadillac Biarritz convertible.


  • avatar

    Note the white lamp in the end of the bumper. In reverse, it lights up white, as you would expect. Wneh you put on the brakes, it lights up red. There is a complicated series of prisms and lenses to accomplish this. Changing the light bulbs is a major chore.


    • 0 avatar

      Yes! That is what you call neat! I remember seeing those lights when the cars were new and I was fascinated by it. I think maybe the ’63 and ’64 Caddys had a similar setup as well, but it’s hard to recall now. I also remember the ’64 Grand Prix had big white backups where the other full-sized ’64 Pontiacs had their taillamps; with the GP’s being hidden in the grillwork just above the bumper. I don’t positively remember if the GP lamps went red when the backups were off and the taillamps on, but I kinda think that they did. Anyways, I figured that they must’ve used both red and clear bulbs in those assy’s to get that kind of effect. Sure got my attention when I was eight!

  • avatar

    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.

    Of all the things they could have skimped on, what was GM’s fascination with poor quality car interiors?

  • avatar

    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.

    Of all the things they could have skimped on, what was GM’s fascination with poor quality car interiors?

  • avatar

    A friend’s parents had one of these cars, so in 1968 it was passed on to him. We drove around in it alot. I was all of 18 or so, even then the car was anachonistic – i wanted little Italian sprots cars. Neverthgeless, the car was supremely powerfuland comfortable, and more than that, purposeful – it always made an impression. I liked it alot.

    Fast forward to the present, I drive a new DTS for work. It has always reminded me of the old caddy. Big, tomb quiet, easy to drive. Makes a statement everywhere I go wih it – It never fails to draw positive and suprised comments from my jaded overpriced clientele. So yes, I remember the 62 sedan, every time i go to work.

  • avatar

    Funny how style and what is considered good design is so subjective… I’ve never been a big fan of the 61-62 Caddys, to me they seem an aberation from the more traditional Cadillac design language of the mid-century years…

    Specifically, the low, horizontal-themed headlight/grill seems at odds with Cadillac’s traditional imposing, upright front end design theme. Also, to my eyes, the side skegs haven’t aged all that well, seeming a bit too period “Sputnik” kitchy, not elegant at all to me…I prefer the cleaner/sleeker sides of the ’65-70 designs, with upright fronts, cleaner sides, and “just a hint” of a tailfin.

    Of course, the 61-62 Caddy shines in comparison to the ridiculous retro/neoclassic/toilet seat trunklid Imperial of the same time period.

    To my eyes, the breakthru ’61 Lincoln Continental was truly the design masterpiece of early 60’s luxury sedans…clean, sleek and elegant..the Continental seemingly mocked all the kitchy excess that Americans had come to associate with luxury in the 50’s, and was a return to form of restrained elegance being the hallmark of good design and good taste. (Of course, that didn’t last, as Lincoln went on to pimp-out it’s cars and fully embrace the 70’s design excesses.)

    In any case, thanks for a look at an imposing cruiser from when the “Standard of the World” tagline still had some truth behind it.

    • 0 avatar

      The Continental seemingly mocked all the kitchy excess that Americans had come to associate with luxury in the 50’s, and was a return to form of restrained elegance being the hallmark of good design and good taste. (Of course, that didn’t last, as Lincoln went on to pimp-out its cars and fully embrace the 70’s design excesses.)

      That’s mainly because Cadillac outsold Lincoln by almost seven to one during that period. The ’61-’63 Continental was acclaimed by critics, but the public was not that impressed. They sold better than the hulking ’58-’60 cars (not difficult to do), but that only meant about 25,000 units a year, when Cadillac was over 150,000. Tacky as they were, the later Continental Marks caught the zeitgeist much better.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t forget the 1963-64 Cadillacs, Chuck Jordan’s masterpiece. He got rid of the skegs, smoothed out other folds in the sheet metal, and shrank the fins a bit, and the result was an extremely elegant car. The six window sedans kept a similar airy greenhouse. I had one for a few years and the visibility was amazing. All four corners of the car were visible from the driver’s seat, making parallel parking of the big beasts surprisingly easy.

  • avatar

    Donald Draper’s car! Well, almost.

  • avatar

    I agree that the ’62 is one of the nicest. The ’59 is the chromy-blingiest.

    I saw a ’62 just last Saturday on the Mass Pike.

    • 0 avatar

      No, the ’59 is actually a remarkably clean design – extravagant fins notwithstanding. Look at one closely – its long, smooth sides are absolutely pristine. And what fussy details there are are entirely contained within the frames of the front grill and bumper and the rear grill (yes, they did that back then) and bumper.

      The chrom-y bling-y stick-a-million-doo-dads-on-it winner is the ’58.

  • avatar

    My wife has a car calendar and this month’s car is a ’62 Caddie with shaved door handles (and a laundry list of interior and drivetrain mods). Absolutely geourgeous.

  • avatar

    For the fifty years prior, only two men oversaw the styling of GM during those golden decades.

    This really does a remarkable disservice to actual stylists of the Cadillac studio — Chuck Jordan, Stan Wilen, Dave Holls, et al. While Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell set the tone as VP of Styling/Design, once they reached that level, they did not style the cars directly. After the formal establishment of Art & Colour in the late twenties, Earl didn’t draw or model anything himself. Bill Mitchell was head of the Cadillac studio in the thirties, but by the time he took over in 1958, he was at a much more senior level.

    It’s certainly true that Earl and Mitchell exerted a strong influence over styling, but they didn’t design those cars, any more than Raymond Loewy designed the ’53 Studebaker.

    The transition from Earl to Mitchell, and the origins of the wild ’59 styling, was fascinating, and fraught with drama. This is the story:

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Aaron, I generally appreciate your added details and perspective to my stories, but your comment does a remarkable disservice to what I said. Did I not specifically say only two men oversaw the styling of GM during those golden decades? That’s a perfectly correct statement. They “oversaw”. Is there someone else who oversaw the styling of all of GM during their watch? Yes, many folks tend to think that Earl and Mitchell drew the cars they’re credited with. I understand all too well that’s not the case. But they were the overseers, responsible for the yeas and nays that guided the many studios and all the terrific designers who worked in them. But this article wasn’t about the studios and their heads. It was about one car and how it reflected the change in styling direction overseen by Bill Mitchell.
      How should I have stated Earl and Mitchell’s role more correctly without doing a remarkable disservice to them?

    • 0 avatar

      It’s really more a matter of emphasis. Earl and Mitchell were supreme autocrats, and it’s absolutely true that their aesthetics dominated GM styling. I’m just leery of implying that either was a one-man show; Chuck Jordan, for instance, had as big an influence on the design of these cars as Mitchell did, as chief stylist of the Cadillac studio, even though Mitchell obviously had the final authority.

    • 0 avatar

      Harly Earl and Bill Mitchell may have done very little actual drawing or clay modeling, but what they liked is what made it to the executives for review. If they approved a series of clunkers, their careers would be on the line.

      Harley Earl didn’t draw any of GM’s 1957 or 1958 cars. But when Chrysler stole the show with its 1957 line, it was Earl who bore the brunt of the blame, as GM’s cars were styled to his tastes. Nobody blamed the underlings who did the actual sketches and clay modeling.

  • avatar

    In the fall of 1961, when these cars were new in the dealer’s showrooms, I had just started 2nd grade and I was smitten with a girl named Olivia, who was a friend of another girl that I knew well. I could not get her attention for any reason, so I used to tell her that I would buy her a 1962 Coupe DeVille in either white or light metallic blue if she would be my girlfriend and marry me when we grew up. I just assumed that there would still be new 1962 Caddys available for purchase when we grew up, and that of course she would be beautiful and gracious and marry me. Crap! It never happened, and of course new ’62 Caddys in white or blue had no effect on her whatsoever, but I still have a very special place for the ’62 Cadillac in my heirarchy of automobiles. About three years ago March in St. Robert, Missouri, I stopped for gas of I-44 on my way back to Oklahoma. There was a guy that had an absolutely pristine ’62 Eldorado at the next pump. It was a metallic aqua color with white interior, and I think it was a convertible because it had a white top. It was beautiful. I talked to the guy, and told him my 2nd grade story in exchange for a short guided tour of his ride. I didn’t know there was such a thing as a ’62 Cadillac Eldorado nor that it had a 390 cu in engine. He was very informative and gracious and he tolerated me quite well. I was very glad to have had the chance to see one of these beautiful automobiles in original and operational condition some 45 years after it was assembled. You cannot stand next to one of these machines and call the atrocities coming out of Detroit today Cadillacs.

  • avatar

    This looks like something Marilyn Monroe would be driven in to hook up with the Kennedy boys.

  • avatar

    Ya know…

    That CLUB really isnt helping the value of the car much.. NTM its stolen appeal.

    For a few bux.. ya could get the unit that attaches to the brake pedal.. and affixes itself to the firewall.. guarenteeing being unable to depress the brake.. to get the car out of gear.

    If this car doesnt have the shift interlock that most cars padt about ’85 do… then the CLUB really is pointless.

    Especially on a plastic wheel…

  • avatar

    this car reminds me of the movie Tin Men – about alumnum siding salesmen who drive Caddys back in the early 60s in Baltimore (director Barry Levinson’s hometown).

    I’m more a fan of the 1963 model, where they eliminate the last vestige of the late 50s era wraparound windshield (except for some models such as the limousine or hearse).

  • avatar

    I understand that it was the 1962 Caddy that was “Unsafe at any Speed”, not the Corvair as is widely assumed, because a child was impaled and died after driving her bike into a parked 62 Caddy

  • avatar

    I have thought long and hard about buying a 1972 Coupe Deville.

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