MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By: Robert Tate, Automotive Historian/Researcher 
Images: Courtesy of Robert Tate's collection
Posted: 01.07.2015

One of the most fascinating car designs of the 1950’s was General Motors’ Cadillac 1959 models. The models were designed under the direction of the late Bill Mitchell, Mr. Chuck Jordan, and Mr. Dave Holls. The 1959 GM line of automobile designs was considered a breakthrough from previous designs of General Motors’ past. However, it was Virgil Exner's 1957 Chrysler line that created a fresh, new styling look for the auto industry that attracted many consumers. Exner's 1957 two-door hardtop, particularly the Plymouth model, had delicate, shallow roofs low, clean belt-lines, lots of glass, nicely proportioned fins and a great lack of ornamentation; all of which shocked General Motors designers. The restyling for the 1959 Cadillac models resulted in tail-fins of great proportions. However, many people have admired these models for years.

file 20150107160336 59 Cadillac

The 1959 Cadillac models offered an elegant style to the consumer market. The grille was redesigned with a chrome divider bar separating the jewel like protrusions into two sections. The front bumper was new and the hood and fenders were designed so that they would flow smoothly together. The overall length of all models (excluding the Seventy-Five models) was 225 inches long. The length of the Seventy-Five models was 244.8 inches long. The rear quarter panels offered a fresh, smooth convex look with sculptured lines and a newly designed fin. Cadillac always had a rich history and was called “The Standard of the World”.

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The fin design, in automotive history, was represent in many other manufacturers styling themes throughout the world for a little more than a decade. However, it was Cadillac that offered a fin design dating back to the 1948 Cadillac models. Complete restyling of the Fleetwood Seventy-Five Sedan, and Limousine for 1959 gave this magnificent model a uniquely new and handsome appearance. The long low, impressive line of the Fleetwood roof and the rear panels came together in an oblique angle of classic design. The interior of the 1959 Cadillac models represented a luxurious atmosphere, abounding with tasteful colors, beautiful fabrics, soft leathers, and a myriad of tastefully arranged appointments. Fifteen basic colors were available throughout the line; and, in addition, five exclusive paint finishes could be selected for the Eldorado Biarritz and Eldorado Seville models. An additional 15 colors were limited to the Eldorado Brougham models. 

file 20150107160407 fleetwood

When the 1959 Cadillac models were introduced to the public on announcement day, the late James M. Roche – General Manager of the Cadillac Motor Car Division and vice president of General Motors – announced that “The Monarch in Cadillac’s realm of motoring majesty for 1959 is the fabulous Eldorado Brougham. In styling and craftsmanship, in every detail, this car is without question the most exciting model ever shown by Cadillac”, Roche said. Another standard feature on all 1959 Cadillac models was a compound curvature windshield with a glass area that featured 1740.1 square inches. Windshields on the coupes and flat-roof hardtop models were slightly smaller with an area of 1711.8 square inches.

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In conclusion, the 1959 Cadillac model was chosen as the cover car for Life magazine‘s issue on the first one hundred years of the automobile. The first set of stamps paying tribute to the automobile featured two 1959 Cadillac tail fin profiles, which many car collector and enthusiast fans admire greatly. Today, the 1959 Cadillac model will always be a great part of automotive history and an iconic symbol of high standard of excellence. 

file 2015010716044. Eldorado Biarritz

A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs are courtesy of Bob Tate’s Collection. (Bibliography: Mc Call M.P Walter. “ 80 Years Of Cadillac La Salle. Holls Dave & Lamm Michael. “A Century Of Automotive Style 100 Years of American Car Design” Langworth M. Richard. “Encyclopedia of American Cars 19301980”. 1984)

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