Patrick Shaw - July 13, 2018
There are few cars as recognizable - and controversial - as the 1959 Cadillac. The large, iconic tailfins, dual bullet taillights and audacious front and rear bumpers represented the zenith of stylistic flamboyance and put an exclamation point on an era when the jet age was capturing the nation's collective imagination.
The Evolution of a Classic
Eleven years earlier, in 1948, Cadillac first introduced tailfins to its cars. They were just small "bumps" on the top of the rear fender, just enough to raise the tail lights above the trunk surface. The fins remained relatively modest through the early-mid 50s, but in 1957 they began to take on a bit of flair. Just two years later they became, in the words of author Maurice D. Hendry, author of Cadillac: Standard of the World, "ridiculous."
The 1959 Cadillac was the sixth generation of Cadillac Series 62, which was produced from 1940 to 1964. In 1959 it was renamed Series 6200. The sixth generation spanned only two years, 1959 and 1960. The '59 Caddy also came in the Deville and Eldorado models, including the Brougham and Biarritz. Variations included four or six windows (the extra two were vent panes behind the rear windows), two or four doors, and it was available as both a hardtop and convertible.
What Was Under the Hood?
The standard engine in the 1959 Cadillac was a 390 V-8, which had an output of 325 hp. It had a compression ratio of 10.25:1 with hydraulic valve lifters and a Carter AFB four-barrel 2814S carburetor. The Eldorado V-8 engine - which kicked the horsepower up to 345 - was available as an option for the Eldorado model. The car could go from 0 to 60 in just over ten seconds and topped out at around 115 mph. The transmission was the 315 Hydramatic; the Hydramatic automatic transmission was first introduced on Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs in 1940. Developed by GM, the Hydramatic transmission was also sold to Nash, Hudson, Frazer, Kaiser, Willys, and Lincoln for use in their automobiles.
Standard equipment on the '59 Caddy included power brakes, power steering, dual exhaust, two-speed wipers, outside rearview mirror, and vanity mirror. The convertible had power windows and a two-way power seat. The Eldorado also included as standard equipment power windows, six-way power seats, heater, fog lamp, radio, rear speaker, air suspension, and electric locks. And the Eldorado Brougham came with air conditioner, automatically dimming headlights, and cruise control. The rear axle ratio was 2.94:1, but 3.21:1 was available as an option and was standard on vehicles with air conditioning.
Cadillac vs. Lincoln
The 1959 Lincoln Continental - the flagship luxury car of Ford and probably Cadillac's closest competitor - looked tame next to the '59 Caddy. While equaling the Cadillac in luxury, the Lincoln still looked like a car anchored firmly in the 1950s, and with much smaller tailfins than the jet-age Cadillac, which was reaching for the stars in its sleek, daring design. It marked a major shift in design for Cadillac and started off the next decade with a resounding bang. While Cadillac produced 142,272 cars in the 1959 model year, Lincoln produced only 26,906.
The original factory price for the 1959 Cadillac was about $5,000, depending on the model. Today, the 1959 Cadillac is highly sought after by collectors. A specimen in excellent condition can easily fetch over $50,000. In 1959, the Eldorado Biarritz convertible sold for a whopping $7,401. It is a very rare model - only 1,320 were produced because of the high price - and in 2016, one sold for a staggering $390,000 at auction.
The evocative look of the 1959 Cadillac can still turn heads when it glides by. Sleek and snazzy lines, lots of chrome, and outrageous tailfins make this a classy classic automobile like no other. By the next year, the entire car had been toned down a bit. State-of-the-art luxury and a daring design coupled to make the 1959 Cadillac, in the opinion of many, the classic car by which all others should be judged.