Category: Luxury Cars

High-end and middle-market luxury cars, from personal luxury cars like the Ford Thunderbird to the patrician barges from Packard, Cadillac, and Mercedes.

Requiem for Misterl: The 1959 Cadillac and the Winter of Harley Earl

Even if you know nothing about cars and your only exposure to American automobiles is TV and movies, you probably recognize this shape. It’s been featured on everything from T-shirts to postage stamps, a quintessential icon of Fifties Americana in all its grandeur and absurdity. It is, of course, the 1959 Cadillac.

The ’59 Cadillac emerged from a seismic shift at General Motors and marked the transition between two very different eras in automotive design. This week, we look at the history of the 1959 cars and the final days of legendary design chief Harley Earl.

1959 Cadillac De Ville fins
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More from Less: The Pontiac Grand Prix and the Politics of Downsizing

Thirty years ago, the watchword of the auto industry was downsizing. Driven by high oil prices and ever-increasing emission standards, American automakers were forced to dramatically reduce the size and weight of their cars. Today, with spiraling oil prices and concerns about global warming, a new wave of downsizing can’t be far off. However, downsizing can be risky. Customers have been indoctrinated for decades in the idea that bigger is better, and you have to be careful that smaller size isn’t perceived as poorer value. Do it wrong, and you can end up with a sales disaster that could put you out of business. This week, we take a look at an early example of downsizing that succeeded. This is the history of the 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix

1969 Pontiac Grand Prix badge
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Dollar-Store Decadence: The Luxurious Ford LTD

The epoch-making success of the Ford Mustang and Thunderbird tends to leave other Ford cars of its era looking like poor relations, but in the 1960s Ford really led the pack when it came to new product development. One of the least-acknowledged — but most lucrative — new concepts was the Ford LTD: Ford’s cut-price luxury car.
1966 Ford LTD hardtop emblem
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Das Boattail: The 1971–1973 Buick Riviera

Bill Mitchell, styling chief of General Motors from 1958 to 1977, presided over quite a few hits and a number of duds in his long career. Some of those designs still spark controversy — few as much as this one. Critics were divided on this design when it first appeared and even today, there’s a love-it-or-hate-it attitude toward it. This week, the history of Buick’s infamous 1971–1973 “boattail Riviera.”

NOTE: This article, originally written in 2007, was revised extensively in November 2010 to correct a number of factual errors.

1972 Buick Riviera tail
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Razor-Sharp Style: The 1963–1965 Buick Riviera

From 1958 to 1977, the head of General Motors Styling was William L. (Bill) Mitchell, protégé and anointed successor of the legendary Harley Earl. Mitchell was just as contentious and flamboyant as his mentor, but his tastes were somewhat more restrained, bringing about a new era of crisp, confident styling that was perfectly suited to the prevailing mood of the early 1960s. One of the best designs of Mitchell’s tenure — and one of his personal favorites — was the 1963–1965 Buick Riviera, a stylish coupe that finally put GM on the map in the lucrative personal luxury market. But if things had gone according to plan, the Riviera wouldn’t have been a Buick at all, and it came to market only after a strange and complicated journey of missed opportunities, corporate politicking, and sibling rivalry.

1965 Riviera hood ornament close-up
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Take Me to Your Style Leader: The 1938–1942 Cadillac Sixty Special

For nearly five decades, Cadillac was the standard-bearer for luxury cars in America. That dominance was not won through technical innovation or forward-thinking product development, but through styling leadership. Although the division produced some gorgeous cars in the early thirties that are acknowledged as classics, Cadillac’s position as a true styling leader can be traced to one car: the 1938-1941 Cadillac Sixty Special. This enormously influential model was laden with then-radical features that have since become the industry norm. The Sixty Special also launched the career of William L. (Bill) Mitchell, GM styling chief Harley Earl’s eventual successor and one of the most influential men in the history of the American automobile. This is the story of the Sixty Special.

1941 Cadillac Sixty Special nose badge
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Last Time Around: The 1971–1976 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible

Thirty years ago, many believed this car would be the last American convertible. It wasn’t, but it did mark the end of the line for that uniquely American concept: the full-sized open car. This is the history of the 1971-1976 Cadillac Eldorado convertible.
1976 Cadillac Eldorado convertible script
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