Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

1959 Cadillac Cyclone


1959 Cadillac Cyclone Troubleshooting
Earl's successor as GM's styling vice president, William Mitchell, had different tastes in design, which affected the Cadillac Cyclone. During his tenure, the fins were radically trimmed and the color was changed to silver.
Earl's successor as GM's styling vice president, William Mitchell, had different tastes in design, which affected the Cadillac Cyclone. During his tenure, the fins were radically trimmed and the color was changed to silver.
David Durochik

When Cadillac Cyclones were being built in the shops at the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, small crews worked on them and a great deal of hand finishing was involved. Sometimes what had been created on the drawing board or in the minds of the designers would not translate into reality without a compromise or creative solution.

The engineering genius who most often found the solution in those days was Art Carpenter, a self-taught mechanical and electrical wizard who had started at GM in 1950 and quickly found his way to the special-projects section. His partner was Leonard McLay, who had been with the company since 1942 and had the public relations skills to handle even the most irate executive, as well as the talent to build just about anything.

As was true in any large corporation, they were often up against impossible deadlines to have a car ready for a certain show or opening, and were expected to travel with the finished car to help with setup and troubleshooting.

One of the Cadillac Cyclone's first publicity outings was in early 1959 at the opening of the new Daytona International Speedway in Florida, where U.S. Air Force General Curtis LeMay was to drive a pace lap with the car. As the Cyclone was being unloaded, the air-suspension sensors decided that full inflation was called for and, to add insult to injury, the automatic door-lock system locked up.

GM officials and the recently retired Earl were on hand for the event, and to say that they were upset would be an understatement. Fortunately, the very men who had translated the designer's dreams into reality had travelled with the car; Carpenter and McLay were able to adjust the complex control system they had invented and return the car to normal in time for the opening ceremonies. The pace lap was driven without further incident and it was all smiles at the photo session afterwards.

Cantankerous air-ride and malfunctioning door locks were the least of the Cyclone's complexities, for it was equipped with an autopilot system that not only regulated the speed, but steered the car, as well. Under the front was a sensor-bar that could follow a guide wire buried in the highway. Talk in those days was that all superhighways of the future would be equipped with such steering strips, which would allow drivers complete relaxation on long trips.

A test track oval with steering wires was set up at the GM proving grounds to try out the Cadillac Cyclone, and reports are that the system worked perfectly. In addition to auto-steering, a radar system built into the front bumper cones acted as a proximity warning system. When an object was detected in front of the car, the first warning came via a flashing light on the dashboard, and a readout on the proximity and stopping distance display window.

Next, the flashing light would be joined by a warning sound that increased in pitch as the object got closer. Finally, before impact, the system would automatically apply the brakes. No one associated with the car ever had the nerve to try out that final part of the system, so it's not known if it worked.

For more information on the 1959 Cadillac Cyclone classic car, continue on to the next page.

For more information on cars, see:


More to Explore