The 1959 Cadillac is pretty much the Cadillac, and all Caddies produced since then were just hangers-on. Even GM realizes this, as is evidenced by the recent advertising scheme they've been using. What vehicle do they use to introduce their car? A red 1959 Eldorado Biarritz. The same vehicle has also appeared in older Cadillac commercials. They know that the 1959 is the One Cadillac to Rule Them All. Let's all give a silent thanks to Harley Earl and his team of designers for bringing us tailfins.
The '59 is easy to recognize; no other Cadillac had those prominent, pointed fins with bullet taillights. The '58 has similar smaller fins and the typical '50's curvy body, wide-mouth bass front grill, and big, sharp bullets on the bumper. (I wonder what those bullet bumpers would do to my Toyota pickup? Nothing good, I suspect.) The '60's fins are lower and more horizonal, and have twin "rocket-nozzle" taillights. From the front, the '59 and '60 are similar, but the '59 has oval foglights, while the '60 has slightly trapezoidal foglights. The '59 and '60 share many styling features, but just a glance at the fins and grill will determine the year.
The '59 came in several models, which can be identified by various differences in their trim and badging:
- 62 series: Straight chrome strip down the middle of the side of the vehicle; small badge on fender near front wheels
- DeVille: Same chrome as the 62, badging on quarter panels, under the fins
- Fleetwood: Two chrome strips meeting at a point around the faux air scoops on the quarter panels, badging on the front fenders
- Eldorado: Chrome bordering the top and bottom of the sides of the vehicle meeting at the rear bumper, badging on front fenders near tires
- Fleetwood 75 Limo: Extra-huge, same chrome as the 62
- Brougham: Same chrome as the 62, has same grill and fins of a 1960; the differences lie in the shape of fog lights and brake lights
There are other variants, but they all fall under these names and the differences are mainly in the number of doors (Sedan DeVille vs. Coupe DeVille) and whether the vehicle is a hardtop or convertible (Eldorado Seville vs. Eldorado Biarritz).
All models have power steering and brakes, and the Hydra-Matic automatic transmission. Buyers could also get the air suspension, cruise, power locks, power windows, power seats, A/C, factory sound, and foglamps. Reads pretty much like a list from your local Honda dealer, doesn't it? Buyers could also get the famed Autronic Eye, which would automatically dim the headlights for oncoming traffic or when the vehicle entered better-illuminated surroundings. Pushing this nineteen foot, two and a half ton machine is a 390 cubic inch V8 engine equipped with a four-barrel carb, or three two-barrel carbs on the Eldorado powerplant. A 21 gallon gas tank prevents the driver from having to fill up every mile. All this could be had for as little as $5000 for the basic models to $13,000 for the Eldorado Brougham (That's over $70,000 in today's dollars. Ouch!).
Today, they can be bought for as little as $3000-$4000 for a driveable, mostly complete, "good restoration project" car. They can be bought for less, but they may contain one or more of the following: Rust, rot, roaches, rats, fire, or Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Prices go way up from there; a mint-condition '59 can bring in $40,000 or more. A copy of the Ecto-1, the Miller-Meteor ambulance conversion seen in the Ghostbusters movies, was once advertised in Old Car Trader for the bargain price of $6000. Had I been richer and slightly less dumb, I would have bought it, even if it was the clapped-out wreck with pretty paint that I suspected it was.
One day, I will have one, oh yes.... Unless civilization collapses, or gasoline is abolished. If that happens, I'll be one pissed-off fellow.
Keep in mind that this was written by a guy who doesn't own one (at least, not one that's more than eight inches long). I only drool over them when I see the purty pictures. Most of the information in this writeup comes from Tomm's 1959 Cadillac page (http://home.earthlink.net/~tommw/), which features some marvelous full-color scans of original dealership brochures. Some other bits came from Cadillac by Bond (http://billee007.tripod.com/CadillacbyBond/id16.html).