No car better sums up America at its peak than the 1959 Cadillac—a rocket-styled starship for orbiting the galaxy of new freeways in the richest and most powerful country on earth. With 42 in (107 cm) fins, the ’59 Caddy marks the zenith of American car design.
Two tons in weight, 20 ft (6.1 m) long, and 6 ft (1.83 m) wide, it oozed money, self-confidence, and unchallenged power. Under a hood almost the size of Texas nestled an engine almost as big as California. But while it might have looked like it was jet-powered, the ’59 handled like the Exxon Valdez. So what. The ’59 Caddy will always be remembered as a glorious monument to the final years of shameless American optimism. And for a brief, hysterical moment the ’59 was the preeminent American car, the ultimate in crazed consumerism. Not a car, but an exemplar of its time that says more about Fifties America than a trunk of history books. The ’59 was the American Dream.
With tail fins that rose a full 31⁄2 ft (1.07 m) off the ground, the ’59 is an artifact, a talisman of its times. Not a car, but a styling icon, wonderfully representative of the end of an era —the last years of American world supremacy and an obsession with space travel and men from Mars.
Steep, wraparound windshield could have come straight out of a fighter plane.
Chrome door quarterlights could be swiveled from inside the car.
Glamorous white sidewall tires were a convenience option.
Massive slab-sided doors gave easy entrance and exit.
The ’59’s length meant that its turning circle was a massive 24 ft (7.3 m).
Commentators at the time actually thought the ’59 too garish. So did Cadillac, which took 6 in (15.5 cm) off the fins in the following model year.
With top furled, the Cadillac had a dartlike profile.
Trunk was cavernous and could hold five wheels and tires.
Egg-shaped ruby taillights were pure jet age.
With a hood the size of an aircraft carrier, the ’59 Caddy was perfect for a society where a car’s
importance was defined by the length if its nose. The price to pay for such excess was that the front end was notorious for vibration. To help with the comfort factor, electrically operated seats, windows, and trunk could all be ordered.
In addition to power brakes and steering, auto transmission, central locking, and tinted glass, you could also specify automatic headlight dimming.
Interior was vast, a true six-seater with acres of room.
The monster 6.3-liter V8 engine had a cast-iron block, five main bearings, and hydraulic valve lifters, pushing out a not inconsiderable 325 bhp at 4800 rpm.
The ’59’s outrageous fins, which are the highest of any car in the world, are accentuated by its very low profile— 3 in (8 cm) lower than the ’58 model’s already modest elevation.
Extravagant mounds of chrome might look like turbines but concealed reversing lights.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Cadillac Eldorado Convertible (1959)
PRODUCTION 11,130 (1959)
BODY STYLE Two-door, six-seater convertible.
CONSTRUCTION X-frame chassis, steel body.
ENGINE 6.3-liter (390cid) V8.
POWER OUTPUT 325/345 bhp at 4800 rpm.
TRANSMISSION GM Hydra-Matic three-speed automatic.
SUSPENSION All-around coil springs with optional Freon-12 gas suspension.
BRAKES Four-wheel hydraulic powerassisted drums.
MAXIMUM SPEED 112 mph (180 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 10.3 sec
0–100 MPH (0–161 KM/H) 23.1 sec
A.F.C. 8 mpg (2.8 km/l)