THE BIRTH OF THE BUICK RIVIERA AND OLDSMOBILE XP-784
Although Cadillac had rejected the XP-715, the design was not yet dead. Since Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac were all interested, GM held an internal competition in the fall of 1960 to determine who would build the car. The eventual winner, as we have previously seen, was Buick, and the LaSalle II became the 1963 Buick Riviera.
Well before the Riviera even went on sale, Oldsmobile was asking the corporation for a Riviera-style specialty car of its own. Around the spring of 1962, Car and Truck Group VP Ed Cole finally relented, authorizing the development of a new personal Olds for the 1966 model year. As we discussed in our Toronado history, it would be based on a rendering by Oldsmobile stylist David North. That design, coded XP-784, would later become the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado.
Dave Holls, Cadillac’s assistant chief stylist during this period, says the development of the Riviera and Toronado galvanized Bill Mitchell’s determination to build a sporty Cadillac personal car. If both Buick and Oldsmobile were to have stylish specialty cars, Mitchell argued, it hardly made sense for Cadillac to be left out.
The Cadillac studio had revived the XP-727 project in early 1961, resulting in a new full-size clay, the XP-727-2. We were unable to obtain pictures of that model for this article, but photos of it in other sources show a subtly V-shaped windshield, skirted rear wheels, peculiar headlamp ‘eyebrows,’ and broad semi-fastback sail panels. The XP-727-2 was apparently another dead end and was abandoned after August 1961.
As the Oldsmobile XP-784 took shape, the Cadillac studio developed another clay, the XP-727-3. It once again sported a V windshield, adding rear ‘suicide’ doors and another curious front-end treatment with exposed high beams and concealed low beams. By November 1962, that model had reached a highly finished state, but it was rejected as insufficiently modern-looking.
THE E-BODY CADILLAC
Full-size models of Oldsmobile’s XP-784 design were completed by February 1963 and received management approval in April. By that time, there was a strong possibility that it would have front-wheel drive, with which Oldsmobile had been experimenting since 1957.
The extent of Cadillac’s interest in front-wheel drive up to this point is unclear. Most of the enthusiasm for that idea appears to have come from Styling or the Engineering Staff rather than the division itself. The XP-727 (and possibly the XP-727-2 and -3) was designed to accept either front- or rear-wheel drive, and some early examples of the experimental OHC Cadillac V-12 (described in the sidebar below) were intended for transverse installation, implying at least some tentative notion of using the V-12 in a FWD application. However, both the stylists and contemporary Oldsmobile employees, including former Olds comptroller Dick Elliott, later maintained that Cadillac management remained indifferent to the whole idea.
Harold Warner’s interest or disinterest in FWD would soon become a moot point. By mid-1962, Ed Cole had decided that in order to maximize the corporation’s return on the substantial tooling costs of the new Oldsmobile personal car, Cadillac should have its own mechanically related car for 1966, sharing the corporate E-body shell with the Olds and the second-generation Riviera. Although formal approval for front-wheel drive would not follow for almost two more years, Cadillac was ordered to collaborate with Oldsmobile and Buick on the development of the FWD powertrain and platform.
In May 1963, the Cadillac studio, now led by Stan Parker, developed a new clay model based on the package dimensions of Oldsmobile’s XP-784 and confusingly sharing the same designation. Cadillac’s XP-784 had little in common with the earlier XP-727 concepts except that it was initially also a two-door coupe. By August, however, this had been superseded by a four-door version, again with rear suicide doors. This, too, appears to have been a dead end and it was dropped by September.
After the demise of the XP-784, the Cadillac studio started over, leading to a new clay, the XP-820. Photos of that model suggest a return to the themes of the earlier XP-727-3, including a similarly low beltline molding and bladed fenders, which, according to Stan Parker, were originally suggested by Bill Mitchell. The XP-820 also added a number of new elements, including a V-shaped backlight and a curious concave windshield. There were studies of a possible convertible version, although the eventual production car would be offered only as a two-door hardtop.