Rare Rides Icons: The Cadillac Eldorado, Distinctly Luxurious (Part XX)

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

For our 20th installment in the Cadillac Eldorado series, we turn the page to 1959 and a new generation of Cadillacs. After the great success and model expansion of the second generation Eldorado (1954-1956), sales of the third-gen receded considerably. Change was in the air at GM, and it was overdue.

The 1957 sales slump was credited to refreshed styling at GM (Cadillac and Buick in particular) that looked dated next to Exner’s 1957 Forward Look on Chrysler and Imperial models. In response, GM performed additional fiddling and more chrome appeared in 1958. The new looks coincided with a US recession that sent sales tumbling across the board, and hit the bedazzled Cadillac and doomed Buick Limited models hard.

After managing just 815 Biarritz, 855 Seville, and 304 Eldorado Brougham sales in 1958, the model and indeed the entire Cadillac line had a rework. First up was a change in styling leadership: Harley Earl (1893-1969) who designed GM vehicles from 1927 when he penned the LaSalle, was the first director of GM’s styling division, the “Art and Color Section.” The department was created for Earl to manage by GM president Alfred Sloan, who was incredibly impressed with the LaSalle design.

Over 30 years later, Earl reached the mandatory retirement age of 65. He was succeeded by Bill Mitchell (1912-1988), another veteran at GM design. Mitchell was appointed as Chief Designer in the Cadillac design studio within Art and Color in 1936. 

Thereafter in 1937, Art and Color was renamed to the less fanciful “Styling Section.” In 1954 Michell became general Director of Styling and reported directly to Earl. And when Earl retired in December 1958, Mitchell reached the culmination of his design career as Vice President of the Styling Section.

Mitchell wanted an immediate break with the barges his boss created. He didn’t like chunky fins, excesses in design, and the abundance of chrome. Perhaps presented with the realization that a full design break would be bad for business, he told the design team to go “as far out as you can go” in 1959. Mitchell ordered up bigger fins than the Chrysler Forward Look cars.

And designers at Cadillac delivered the outlandish 1959 models with the largest fins ever. In addition grilles grew larger, bodies grew larger, weight increased, and wheelbases were extended. But the shapes were smoother, lines cleaner, and side profiles more aerodynamic and less rounded. The 1959 designs moved distinctly away from the post-WWII look. Space age design knocked at the door.

That year also included a shakeup in internal model nomenclature and the lineup. The base model Cadillac and basis for the Eldorados was renamed from Series 62 to Series 6200. That name applied to two- and four-door models, as well as the convertible. 6200 was available as a two-door hardtop and convertible, as well as two new four-door configurations. 

The more daring of the two was the four-door six-window hardtop, which had a faster roofline that angled down to a standard rear windshield and a rear-side window that did not open. The more traditional offering was the four-window hardtop with its more formal upright roofline, a wrap-around rear windscreen, and only four total side windows.

Above 6200 was the newly available DeVille series. Though DeVille existed as an upmarket trim level from 1949 on the Series 62, it became its own model line in 1959. The DeVille line was limited to the four-door four-window and six-window, and the two-door hardtop coupe. There was not enough space between the 6200 convertible and Eldorado to offer a DeVille soft top.

Though a DeVille was technically a Series 6200 in all ways except branding, the DeVille offerings were known as Series 6300 to impose their superiority. Likewise, Eldorados (with two doors) became another superlative: Series 6400.

Above any 6200 or DeVille 6300 was the mainstay Sixty Special. In its seventh generation for 1959 the four-door six-window hardtop was the only body style on offer. In order to distinguish Sixty Special from a more common Cadillac, it was the only standard size Cadillac permitted to wear a Fleetwood badge on its flanks, and one of two Cadillacs bodied by Fleetwood in 1959. There were some additional styling details (a faux vent) to aid in further differentiation. 

The enormous Series Seventy-Five remained the largest car Cadillac built, though its internal series name changed to Series 6700 that year. Its Fleetwood body spanned 244.8 inches, available as four-door six-window sedan, or limousine. Standard seating was for nine, or 11 if the limousine was selected with its partition and additional jump seats. This model would reach international fame in 1984 when an ambulance version built by Miller-Meteor debuted as the Ecto-1 in Ghostbusters.

The Series 6400 Eldorados returned in 1959 (the model’s fourth generation) with the two-door hardtop Seville and convertible Biarritz. Above those was the new Series 6900 Eldorado Brougham, sporting a series clearly above the 6700 Seventy-Five. Larger in all dimensions than before, Eldorado Brougham was hand-built by the artisans at Pininfarina in Italy. The 6900 chassis were shipped to Italy by boat, completed, then shipped back to Detroit.

With its expanded and now internationally-built model line, the 1959 and 1960 Eldorado models were a pinnacle moment. Though nobody knew it at the time, the name would never again reach such heights as these two model years. In our next installment we’ll talk dimensions and figures, and review the engineering advancements Cadillac made to Eldorado for 1959. Cadillac had a leg up on the competition as the only brand with new models that year, and they were eager to talk about it.

[Images: GM, Chrysler, YouTube, Henry Ford Museum]

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Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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5 of 36 comments
  • Ravenuer Ravenuer on Apr 07, 2024

    I loved the 59-60 Italian Caddys!

  • Syke Syke on Apr 08, 2024

    1959: I'm a nine year old child, dad is at the height of his being the Chevrolet dealer in Johnstown, PA, I'm virtually living in the showroom, and I thought the entire GM line for 1959 was ugly beyond belief. Chevrolet annoyed me the least, and I wished dad hadn't given up his '58 Impala (the concept of company cars still eluded me, back then I though it was normal for people to buy a new car every year like our family did), I kinda liked the Buick, and the ugly prize was a dead heat between Oldsmobile and Cadillac.

    Yes, Cadillac is Americana. A prime example of pure American arrogance, which is how we lived then. I seem to remember the concept of "Ugly American" came out at this time, the American tourist who goes to Europe and spends his entire vacation explaining to the locals how they're doing it wrong, and how they should be living like we do. And the Cadillac was definitely the "Ugly American" car of choice. Look how great we are.

    And how nobody noticed those couple of military advisors we were sending to a place called South Vietnam . . . . . . .

    • See 2 previous
    • Syke Syke on Apr 09, 2024

      @DesertNative - any disagreements I'd have with your take are in the fine details, not generalities.

  • Slavuta "The company’s shift to relying on European executives...." - Ursula? he he he
  • Bd2 For the Tassos who gave his only beloved son so that we may one day be redeemed in the eyes of the lord.
  • Wjtinfwb My favorite generation S-class. Beautiful
  • FreedMike Very nice.
  • Rna65689660 I am beginning to believe that manufacturers purposely make the top of doors hard so that we stop resting our arms on them. Getting T-boned with your arm there would result in 2 elbows on the same side of your body.