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1961-1964 Cadillac

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."

Cadillac shared these roof lines and a sharp-angled variation of General Motors' "bubble-top" two-door hardtop design with Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight and senior Buicks.

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."

For more on the 1961 Cadillac, see the next page.

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