The development of the 1961 Cadillac actually began about a decade earlier. One day in the early 1950s, William Mitchell took an aspiring young CM truck designer aside and told him, "If you ever want to amount to anything around here, you better start designing cars." As much as Chuck Jordan loved trucks, he could see that his boss was right.
"Okay then," recalls Jordan, who retired from the General Motors design vice presidency in 1992, "I said to myself: Harley Earl started out with Cadillac and Bill Mitchell took over the Cadillac studio in 1936, so Cadillac definitely looked like the place to be." It was a plan that bore fruit in October 1957 when Earl, the founder of General Motors' styling section, named Jordan chief designer for Cadillac.
In those days "Standard of the World" wasn't just a slogan. Cadillac truly did set the standard: in desirability, in quality, prestige, engineering, and, most importantly, in styling. Living under "The Penalty of Leadership" Cadillac had imposed on itself in a World War I-era advertisement meant the division could never rest. It had to keep forging ahead, pushing, with every move calculated to lead the industry.
"If you were in there designing Cadillacs, that was a big thing," says Jordan. "Cadillac was the prestige studio, and I wanted to be sure what we did was significant. The 1959 model was almost finished when I took over as chief designer. The studio had a 14-member team: designers, modelers, and technical people. We got comfortable with each other as we face-lifted the 1960 Cadillac, so we were ready when it came time to start on the 1961."
Nearly everybody in the Cadillac studio was young and dedicated. In early 1958, when the 1961 project started, Jordan was 31. His assistant, David R. Holls, was 27, and the rest of the team was equally youthful.
The 1961 Cadillac might have been Jordan's first as a studio head, but it was also one of the last designs Harley Earl had a hand in. Today, we tend to remember General Motors' overstuffed, over-chromed, slow-selling 1958 models as Earl's last hurrah as styling czar, but they weren't.
He still had absolute control during the creation of the 1959-1960 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham -- the second-generation Brougham designed in the United States but handcrafted by Pininfarina in Italy -- and Earl remained in charge throughout a crucial period of the 1961 Cadillac program prior to his retirement on December 1, 1958, whereupon Mitchell took over as General Motors' design vice president.
Earl was more interested in the 1959-1960 Eldorado Brougham as a theme-setter for the 1961 Cadillac than for its own sake. The individual behind the 1959-1960 Brougham's styling was Holls, who also did the high-finned regular-production 1959 Cadillacs.
While the second-series Brougham by no means led directly into the 1961 Cadillac, it did what Earl hoped it would. It wasn't hard to change the Brougham into the 1961 Cadillac, partly because the Brougham contributed one very strong, unmistakable styling element: the crisp, finely wrought, thin-pillared greenhouse.
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1961 Cadillac Design
If you park a 1960 Eldorado Brougham and a 1961 Cadillac six-window sedan side by side, you'll notice major differences. Mechanically the 1961 Cadillac was almost identical to its finny 1959-1960 production ancestors, with the same engine, transmission, frame, and suspension. Yet the 1961 Cadillac design -- body and interior -- was all new, and the design that Earl, Jordan, and the Cadillac studio created that year was totally unlike anything done before.
"The 1961 model would be a clean-sheet design and my first chance to do a brand-new production car," he remembers. "We all recognized it as a great opportunity, so we worked night and day. I mean I worked my tail off, because I believed in that car, and I also had the responsibility. I did a lot of the illustrations at home at night, because there just wasn't time in the studio."
As so often happens, the studio's first attempts to do an all-new design started pretty far out and needed to be reined in.
"We felt the 1961 Cadillac ought to be a style leader," comments Jordan, "which meant not as heavy-looking as in 1959-1960. It needed to keep the Cadillac elegance, but with more life and more of what I call grace and spirit. At first we got a little too spirited."
Dave Holls adds, "We wanted to get off the big fins. Chuck came up with the idea of the skegs, those long, pointy fins along the bottom of the fenders, and those first appeared on the 1960 Brougham. The skegs came partly from the Cadillac Cyclone Motorama show car and partly from the Firebird III gas-turbine experimental, which influenced all of us. At first, we were going to make the skeg dominant on the 1961; the skeg would be the main fin.
"We did all kinds of strange things up at the top of the fender, like little mid-waisted fins and things like that. Tons and tons of my sketches tried to find new ways to do the upper fins, and some versions of the car didn't have upper fins at all. Mr. Earl didn't like that, though, and neither did Bill Mitchell. So eventually we put regular fins back on the car, but the skeg remained in a reduced form."
Cadillac offered three different sedan roofs for 1961. The first, the one used on six-window hardtop sedans, derived from the Brougham. And, according to Dave Holls, the Brougham's upper -- with its bridge-like silhouette, thin, rectangular sail panel, and equally slim A-pillar -- came from a four-place Lancia Flaminia coupe by Pininfarina.
The second roof, for a four-window hardtop sedan, used the "cantilever" or "flying wing" silhouette. This was General Motors' very flat, thin upper with a raked, wrap-around rear window. The flying wing appeared on General Motors cars ranging in size from the Corvair to the Cadillac, and was an update of the corporate "flattop" two-door hardtop style of 1959-1960.
"We never considered that roof to very successful on the 1961 Cadillac," Jordan notes. "The flying-wing roof looked gawky because we had to raise it after customers complained about bumping their heads on the 1959-1960 versions. When we raised the flying-wing roof on the 1961 Cadillac, I always thought it looked a little awkward."
The third sedan roof used by Cadillac for the year was the six-window hard design that appeared on the Series Special. It featured a more formal up structure with a blind rear quarter and rear vent windows attached to the doors.
It was also the year when General Motors abandoned the expensive, knee-knocking, "panoramic" wraparound windshield (except on Series 75 limousines, which bore the style through 1965) and went to a more conventional type.
"We wanted something new," recalls Holls, "but couldn't get anything that satisfied Earl until we did the Brougham windshield. He told us, 'You can't just end it at the bottom of the pillar. You've got to something different. Do a little circle do something else there.'
"He didn't want the windshield to look like Chrysler's anybody else's. He wanted that little curve, that switchback where it went into the belt; that was Mr. Earl's touch. The Brougham also had a 60-degree rake to the glass, which was very fast for that time. And then when we finally got that windshield right, he said, 'Oh my God that's more beautiful than the wraparound!'"
All 1961 Cadillacs gained considerable finesse in their detailing. Holls says the accessory road lights were among favorite details. "They look like Marchal or Lucas lamps: clear lenses, bullet in the center, floating vertical struts, and a rear projection into a mirror-like parabola. You could never have done a headlight like that in an American car, but we had more fun doing those road lamps."
Body-color wheelcovers added yet another distinctive touch. Holls borrowed the idea from Rolls-Royce. "We'd tried body-color wheelcovers for 1960, but Cadillac decided they didn't want to use all those colors, so they offered the 1960 versions only in black, white, and a brushed finish. Most people ordered the brushed wheelcovers," he says. "Cadillac completely missed the point, and the salespeople did a terrible marketing job. But they finally got it right in 1961."
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While the 1961 Cadillac looked entirely different from its 1960 predecessor, it remained very similar mechanically. The biggest change was a new front frame, which lowered the tubular X-member chassis to give more seat height and head room.
The 1961 Cadillac engine was basically the 331-cid ohv V-8 of 1949 bored and stroked to 390 cubes. The 345-bhp Eldorado powerplant of 1959-1960, with three 2-barrel carburetors and dual exhausts, was no longer offered.
The only available 1961 engine delivered 325 bhp at 4,800 rpm with a 10.5:1 compression ratio; the sole available transmission was General Motors' four-speed Hydra-Matic. A 2.94:1 axle ratio came standard, but equipping a Cadillac with optional air conditioning mandated a 3.21 differential. The Series 75 limo used 3.36 and 3.77 axles, and limited-slip was also optional.
Cadillac's pillowy ride was a function of ball-jointed front A-arms, helical coil springs, rubber-mounted strut rods and rubber bushings to absorb impacts and isolate road noise. The rear suspension likewise used coil springs.
Vacuum-boosted drum brakes gave 221.8 square inches of lining area (233.7 in the limo), and power steering had an 18.2:1 ratio. Additional standard equipment in all series included turn signals, windshield washers, two-speed wipers, a vanity mirror, an oil filter, and backup lights.
The 1961 Cadillac arrived in dealer showrooms on October 3, 1960, in seven body styles: hardtop coupe, convertible, long- and short-deck six-window four-door hardtops, four-window cantilever roof four-door hardtop, blind-quarter Fleetwood Series 60 Special four-door hardtop, and the Fleetwood Series 75 sedans.
Neither of Cadillac's domestic competitors had anything near the breadth of that range. The outrageously face-lifted Imperial was offered as Southampton two- and four-door hardtops, a convertible, a formal LeBaron four-door hardtop, and a rare Ghia-built limousine. The dramatically redesigned Lincoln was confined to only a pair of four-door body styles: a sedan and a unique convertible.
Cadillac model choices began with the Series 62. Base prices -- without a radio or heater -- started at $4,892 for the coupe, the only Cadillac that listed for under $5,000. Also available in the Series 62 were a convertible and four- and six-window four-doors, including a most unusual "short-deck" sedan. Basically it was a six-window four-door, but with the trunk shortened seven inches for a total length of 215 inches.
Some Cadillac owners had complained about difficulty parallel parking and fitting previous models into their garages. The Town Sedan was intended to answer those concerns, but prices were the same as for the full-bodied Series 62 and sales were sluggish.
The next step up was the De Ville in coupe and full-length sedan forms. The sporty Eldorado quietly surrendered its own series designation and was folded into the De Ville range. With the Seville coupe dropped from the line, the Biarritz convertible became the lone Eldorado offering. Furthermore, it was no longer easy to tell a Biarritz apart from the Series 62 ragtop at a glance.
Next came the Fleetwood Series Special formal sedan, the top of the so-called owner-driven cars. At the very top stood the 149.8-inch-wheelbase Fieetwood 75 limousine and nine-passenger sedan, the former with a partition window between the driver and passenger compartments. Series 75 prices began at $9,533 for the nine-passenger sedan, a considerable jump over the 60 Special, which listed for $6,233.
Standard equipment in most upmarket series included power seats, power windows, a remote trunk lock, and five whitewall tires. However, amenities like tinted glass, power windows, power door locks, power seats, cruise control, an automatic headlight dimmer, and fog lamps all cost extra in the Series 62, and some of these items were optional even on De Villes and the Eldorado Biarritz.
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Jordan's staff touched up the 1962 Cadillac to bring it more in character with previous models. By the time this face-lift was begun, Mitchell had replaced Earl as General Motors' design vice president, bringing with him a new design sensibility.
"Bill thought we were heading down the wrong path with Cadillac," comments Dave Holls. "He didn't like the 1961 front end. He said it would make a great front for a Chevrolet, and when I was transferred to Chevrolet, we did the 1963 Chevrolet grille like the 1961 Cadillac. But Bill wanted to get back to a more traditional Cadillac front end.
"We used to have photographs up on the board with all the Cadillac fronts from 1941 on, and Bill felt that the 1961 grille didn't say Cadillac. It was a beautiful front, but it was like the 1939, which wasn't a very good Cadillac, either. Nothing wrong except it just wasn't Cadillac. So part of our assignment was to change that."
The grille took on a more traditional look for 1962, with a floating, horizontal bar across the middle. The car also pioneered clear-lens taillights that turned red when they lit up. These 1962 lamps stood upright and their bezels were smaller than those used in 1961. This change came about at the request of hearse builders who wanted more tailgate width, according to designer Jerry Brochstein.
Cadillac's trademark fins were shaved incrementally and lost the chrome beading that had edged previous versions. (Fleetwood 75s carried on with 1961 fins, however.)
There was also a major shake-up in roof designs. The thin-pillar coupe and overhanging four-window four-door hardtop roofs were replaced by a decidedly more formal top with a thick sail panel that in profile looked a little like a convertible with its top up.
Production of the Series 62 Town Sedan was transferred from the six-window body to this new four-window style and the De Ville got a companion "short deck" car -- dubbed the Park Avenue -- but it, too, lagged in sales.
The most notable mechanical improvements for 1962 involved the addition of a dual-circuit brake master cylinder and the inclusion of radio and heater as standard equipment in the Series 62. Nonetheless, the year proved a good one for the division; Cadillac assembled 160,840 cars for the model year to break a production record that had stood for six years -- and better 1961 output by more than 22,000 units.
After seeing to it that the grille had been straightened up, Mitchell next turned his attention to the skegs, which he felt made the rear end look too much like a rocketship. For the 1963 Cadillac, Mitchell told Jordan, "Let's get off those skegs."
Yet Jordan and his crew initially kept coming up with low fins. Finally, according to Holls, "Bill said, 'Goddammit, get off those skegs! You know, three times and you're fired.' He wasn't really mad; he was just guiding the studio." Jordan got the message, and the 1963 Cadillac not only lost the skegs but went back to a more solid, more elegant 1959-1960 feel.
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Jerry Brochstein, who arrived in the Cadillac studio in 1959, recalls that the 1961 Lincoln shook everyone up and made Cadillac designers think about simplifying the body sides for the 1963 Cadillac, "... to get away from those corrugated surfaces."
Brochstein says that on one of Jordan's flights back to Detroit after visiting his parents in California, the studio chief sketched what essentially became the 1963 Cadillac on an air sickness bag. He brought the very sketch into the studio, where it served as the concept drawing for the production car.
"The 1963 Cadillac had more of the substance, the solidity, and presence of the 1959-1960 production models," contends Jordan. "We never wanted to make it as heavy in appearance as those earlier cars. We were after a leaner-looking Cadillac; lighter. You'll notice that in 1963 and 1964, we went back to that smoother, more solid shape, and the more regal, snooty front. I think the 1963 was the best of those cars."
The two 1963 Cadillac two-door hard-tops had noticeably longer rear decks as a result of the adoption of shorter roof sail panels. "We started working on the 1963 models by first doing the Coupe de Ville. Well, I had an idea one day when I saw this new four-door hardtop they were working on at Chevrolet," explains Chuck Jordan.
"I said to myself, 'Hey, why not put the Chevrolet four-door hardtop roof on the Coupe de Ville ... mount it physically on the Cadillac lower and see, because of the Cadillac's extra length, if the Chevy sedan roof doesn't make a good Cadillac coupe.' And boy, that was it. That was it. We couldn't afford another upper, but with that shorter four-door Chevrolet roof, nobody ever caught us. And it looked great."
The more compact roofline gave coupes a seven-inch increase in rear deck length, despite a one-inch gain in body length for all Cadillacs (except the short-deck four-door, which remained at 215 inches).
Fins were reduced about an inch in height. A simple thin chrome strip ran front to back on the sides of Series 62s, De Villes, and Series 75s. With the skegs gone, heavy rocker panel trim bands were extended from behind the front wheel openings to the back bumper on the 60 Special and Eldorado convertible. They also both adopted chrome block-letter identification forward of the front doors and wreath-encircled Cadillac crests on their rear fenders.
Perhaps it was no surprise, then, that the Eldorado had its best year since 1959 -- when it came in coupe and convertible form. The short-deck Series 62 Town Sedan was discontinued, leaving the De Ville-based Park Avenue to soldier on by itself. But after just 1,575 were made for the year, it, too, was consigned to history.
A new dashboard design placed the fuel and temperature gauges to the right of the carryover strip speedometer, and pulled the clock and radio closer to the driver than they had been previously. Cadillac made a tilt steering column available in 1963, but the most important mechanical difference was an engine not derived from that of the 1949 Cadillac.
Cadillac engineers knew that anything bigger than 390 cid would be pushing the old V-8's displacement limit. They also recognized that cars would become bigger, heavier, and more power-hungry, especially Cadillacs.
So the division's chief engineer, Charles F. Arnold, decided to develop a new V-8, one that was lighter, stiffer, more durable, easier to manufacture, and easier to work on. It turned out to be one of the quietest re-engineering jobs on record. Few Cadillac partisans were aware that the 1963 engine was altogether different from the previous V-8.
That was because, for one thing, the 1963 Cadillac engine displaced the same 390 cubic inches as its predecessor. It even used the same bore and stroke: 4 × 3.875 inches. Horsepower and torque stayed the same, too: 325 bhp at 4,800 rpm and 430 pound-feet at 3100, respectively. Compression held at a ratio of 10.5:1.
So why did Cadillac go to a new engine that was so similar in so many ways to the one it replaced?
First and foremost, the new V-8 had a lot more growth potential. The 1963 powerplant contained enough meat to go out to 500 cubic inches, which it would for 1970. Another reason had to do with compactness and the rapid disappearance of under-hood space due to an expanding accessory list. The new block stood an inch lower, 1.25 inches shorter, and four inches narrower. It proved to be sturdier -- and lighter than its predecessor by about 50 pounds.
A new ArmaSteel cast crankshaft could handle greater loads, especially with its main-bearing widths going from 2.63 to 3 inches. Accessory drives became more compact and accessible, and the front covers used more alloy for less weight. The only components carried over from the previous engine were the heads, connecting rods, valves and rocker arms.
The package of new styling and engineering added up to another record year for production with 163,174 1963 Cadillacs moving off the lines. Output moved up to 165,959 for 1964, the final go-round for the 1961 design generation.
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The big news for the 1964 Cadillac was under the hood. Bore was increased to 4.13 inches and stroke grew to 4 inches, adding up to 429 cid. Horsepower went to 340 at 4,600 rpm and torque rose by 50 pound-feet to 480 at 3,000 rpm.
This resulted in a marked improvement in performance, not that Cadillacs had been sluggish before. The 1964 Cadillac boasted a top speed of 122 mph, with 0-to-60 mph in 8.5 seconds and the quarter mile coming up in 16.8 seconds at 85 mph.
Cadillac owners valued effortless performance, and this engine provided it with silence and reliability. Fuel economy, however, dropped from around 13 mpg in 1963 to 10 mpg in the 1964 models.
Series 62 and Fleetwood 75 models carried on with the Hydra-Matic automatic transmission, but De Villes and 60 Specials were fitted with a new Turbo Hydra-Matic autobox. The three-speed unit made use of a torque converter.
Cadillac's big convenience innovation for 1964 was Comfort Control, the industry's first fully automatic, thermal resistor-type climate control system. Comfort Control allowed the driver to choose a temperature setting and forget about ever adjusting it again. Summer or winter, the interior temperature and humidity remained the same (in theory, at least). Also available for the first time were Twilight Sentinel automatic headlights.
With technology in the spotlight, styling stood pat for 1964. Cadillacs gained a half inch in length as the vertical taillight bezels in the bumper came in for a slight outward bend at the center. Up front, 1963's small round parking lights were replaced by larger panels integrated into the lower grille.
The most notable change came on the renamed Fleetwood Eldorado. Fender skirts were deleted in favor of a bright-rimmed open-wheel look that resulted in the most distinctive Eldorado in several years; production edged up to 1,870 units. Also, the Series 62 lost its convertible as the entry-level Cadillac ragtop got a promotion to the De Ville ranks.
The good days were hardly over for Cadillac. Sales rose steadily every year through 1970 and the dramatic front-wheel-drive Eldorado coupe's debut in 1967 reaffirmed the division's role as a style leader.
The marque continued to dominate the American luxury field and didn't begin to suffer the effects of overseas competition for another decade. These large, prestigious automobiles -- the Cadillacs of 1961 through 1964 -- did their part to maintain the standard of the world in look, feel, and reputation.
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