In mid-1949, GM’s senior divisions introduced a trio of glamorous new models — the Cadillac Coupe de Ville, the Oldsmobile Futuramic 98 Deluxe Holiday coupe, and the Buick Roadmaster Riviera — that are popularly, if incorrectly, considered the first pillarless hardtops. This week, we consider the origins of this quintessentially (though not uniquely) American body style, examine the development of the the 1949 Buick Roadmaster Riviera, and consider the origins of the hardtop coupe.
Continue Reading Pillarless Pioneer: The 1949 Buick Roadmaster Riviera
The 1967 Cadillac Eldorado is a milestone Cadillac by any standard. Rakish, sophisticated, and surprisingly sporty, it was the division’s first front-wheel-drive car and its first serious entry in the burgeoning personal luxury genre. This week, we explore the story of the first FWD Eldorado.
Author’s note: An earlier version of this article first appeared in August 2009. We’ve completely rewritten and expanded it, clearing up some errors and misconceptions and adding new information and new images.
Continue Reading This Time, It’s Personal: The 1967-1970 Cadillac Eldorado
Most histories of the Oldsmobile Toronado start and end with the original 1966 models, but that wasn’t the end of the story. The Toronado survived another 25 years and its most commercially successful period was still to come. This week, we look at the history of the 1971-1992 Toronado and examine another vehicle that shared its novel powertrain: the 1973-1978 GMC Motorhome.
Continue Reading Out in Front: The Front-Wheel-Drive Oldsmobile Toronado, Part 2
GM’s original Hydra-Matic transmission was one of the most important innovations in the history of the automobile. It wasn’t the first automatic transmission, but it was the first one that really worked and its resounding commercial success paved the for every subsequent auto-shifter. This week, we take a look at the origins of the Hydra-Matic and its originator, Earl Thompson, who also developed the first Synchro-Mesh gearbox back in the 1920s.
Continue Reading Hydra-Matic History: GM’s First Automatic Transmission
The 1976 Cadillac Seville was Detroit’s first serious response to the growing popularity of luxury imports like Mercedes. Although it was an immediate hit, earning a handsome profit and inspiring numerous imitators, the Seville marked the beginning of the end of Cadillac’s credibility as a leading luxury car brand. This week, we look at the history of the 1976-1985 Cadillac Seville and the reasons for Cadillac’s subsequent decline.
Continue Reading The Perilous Success of the 1976 Cadillac Seville
Certain cars become emblematic of a time and a place, perfectly encapsulating the values, priorities, and obsessions of their eras. For America of the fifties, it’s the 1955–57 Chevrolets and the 1959 Cadillac; for the sixties, the Mini, the Beetle, and the Mustang. For the seventies, we’d make a strong case for the Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Generally reviled by critics, staggeringly popular with the public, and much imitated, the Monte Carlo remains as powerful a symbol of the period as disco balls, platform shoes, and The Brady Bunch. This week, we explore the history of the Monte Carlo and consider the reasons for its immense — and ultimately ephemeral — popularity.
Continue Reading Disco-Era Darling: The Chevrolet Monte Carlo
The short-lived Buick Reatta two-seater may seem like the most innocuous of cars (indeed, that was part of its problem). Behind the Reatta’s placid exterior, however, lay a ferocious internal battle that also gave birth to the Cadillac Allanté, ended the four-decade dominance of the once-mighty GM Design Staff — and set the stage for the decline of GM itself.
Continue Reading All Fall Down: The Cadillac Allante, The Buick Reatta, and How GM Lost Its Styling Mojo
Conceived in a farmhouse and inspired by a World War Two fighter plane, Cadillac’s famous tailfins are still virtually synonymous with the brand. This week, we look at the 1948-1949 Cadillac and the birth of the tailfin.
Continue Reading Fork-Tailed Devil: The P-38 Lightning and the Birth of Cadillac’s Famous Fins
Unlike its Mercury division, Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln brand was originally a separate company, founded in 1917 by Henry Martyn Leland, the founder of Cadillac. Henry Leland was one of the best and most respected engineers of the early auto industry, an expert in mass production and precision manufacturing. His life, however, is a tragic tale of broken promises and dashed hopes, the story of a great man brought down by the pettiness and venality of a new era that no longer had any place for great men. This week, we look at the career of Henry Leland, founder of Cadillac and Lincoln.
Continue Reading The 19th Century Man: The Rise and Fall of Henry Martyn Leland
We said in the conclusion of our article on the multicylinder Cadillacs that the era of custom bodywork was fading away by 1940, but that wasn’t exactly true. The era of bespoke bodies for elite luxury cars was ending, but a new age of customized cars was only beginning. By the mid-1950s, the trend had spread back to Detroit, leading to a curious array of “factory customs” like this one: the 1953-1954 Buick Skylark.
Continue Reading The Kalifornia Kustom Comes to Detroit: The 1953-1954 Buick Skylark
As we saw in our first installment, in January 1930, a few weeks after the stock market crash of October 1929, Cadillac introduced its fabulous V-16. After a few months of strong sales, its popularity suddenly dipped sharply. The cause was not yet the economic crisis, but the introduction of a new internal rival, the Cadillac V-12. This week, the story of the 1931-1937 Cadillac V-12 and the 1938-1940 Cadillac V-16.
Continue Reading King of the Highway, Part 2: The Cadillac V-12
The 1920s were a time of unprecedented prosperity in the United States, with fortunes made practically overnight by means both legitimate and otherwise. By the end of the decade, many automakers were preparing a new breed of ultra-luxury cars aimed at that rich new market — not realizing that the Great Depression was about to bring the party to screeching halt. This week, we examine one of the most famous of those elite cars: the 1930-1937 Cadillac V-16.
Continue Reading King of the Highway, Part 1: The Cadillac V-16