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      Car History: Car History Year 1959
    Posted on Monday, September 27 @ 00:22:25 UTC by Cars
      Cars The history of the twentieth century is, more often than not, divided up into decades and each ten year period given its own separate identity. It is curious that this convenient method of grouping so often, and in so many ways, reflects the changes that take place in society. In purely automotive terms, nothing can surely equal the 1959 Cadillac tail fin as a symbol of the end of an era.

    The Fifties was the age of the tail fin and, after having reached such heights, there was nowhere to go but down. 1959 was also the year that Harley Earl retired from his position as head of styling at General Motors and the towering Cadillac fins are looked upon as his final extravagance before bowing out. It has to be said that Ear! would have found it hard to adapt to a changing environment of simplicity and economy rather than outrageous, ever bigger automobiles. It was a problem that other designers, working at rival auto makers, would also struggle to come to terms with. At the time, there were few, if any, signs of misgivings. Designer Bill Mitchell (who took over from Earl) described the tail fins thus: "From a design standpoint the fins gave definition to the rear of the car for the first time. They made the back end as interesting as the front, and established a long-standing Cadillac styling hallmark." Whether the addition of a rear "grille" which closely resembled that of the front was such a good idea is open to debate, but the feature didn't last very long. Lower than ever before, though no longer or wider, the '59 Cadillac not only attracted comments about its styling it also drew some favorable reports about how it drove. Jim Whipple, writing in Car Life, said: "The car rode as level as any I've ever driven..." But it wasn't totally perfect, as shown by a report in Motor Life which stated: "Flaws are noted only at high speeds, when some swaying motion sets in, and in fast corners when the tires protest loudly as the heavyweight goes through a bend." Of course, the Cadillac was built for luxury motoring and comfort, and not intended for slalom racing, so it can be safely assumed that few were ever pushed to the same limits by their owners. Mind you, thanks to a new 325 horsepower (345hp in Eldorado models), 390 cu.in. V8 engine under that hood, the Cadiliac was no slouch when it was time to get going, 0-60mph in under 11 seconds or thereabouts. And if you were in a real hurry, a top speed of close on 120mph was possible. Pretty impressive for a car weighing over 5,000 pounds and close to 19 feet in length. Sales moved ahead too, topping 142,000 and keeping Cadillac in the top ten (just) of US auto manufacturers. The array of Cadillac models included convertibles, two-door hardtop coupes, and two different four-door hardtop sedans plus the Fleetwood limousines. Prices started at about $5,000 and went up to $7,400 for an Eldorado, with the Fleetwoods more than $9,500. But easily the most expensive was the Eldorado Brougham 4-door, the only Cadillac model of '59 that didn't have the huge tail fins and bullet-shaped lights, which was built by coach builders Pinin Farina in Italy, and cost a massive $13,000 -small wonder that only 99 made the transatlantic crossing this year. But underneath all the razzle-dazzle there were engineering improvements too, with better suspension, and revised power steering. In May 1959, Motor Life compared the Cadillac to an Imperial and summed up with the following: "Cadillac's strongest claim to superiority is its unmatched feeling of luxury and quality. When riding in this car, the almost soundless operation coupled with rich materials and fine assembly produce the desired effect: you know that this is an expensive and luxurious automobile. One is never in doubt." A smooth ride, luxury fitments, excellent performance and build quality - from almost any aspect, the 1959 Cadillac was a state-ofthe-art prestige car of its day, but you cannot ignore the flamboyant body styling. Whatever your personal tastes, this is one car that it is impossible to be neutral about, you either love it or loathe it. To its detractors, the '59 Caddy has all the glamor of a Las Vegas hooker, while others regard it as the ultimate expression of Fifties space age design. Its styling is unique and the obvious associations with rockets, missiles and aircraft are clearly visible -from the dual jet intake shapes of the parking lights in the massive front bumper to the bullet-like tail lights (said to represent exhaust flames) set in those soaring fins. It is a triumph of design over function. Nobody needed fins that tall, nor the lavish application of chrome, nor most of the other styling excesses included under Hariey Earl's direction. However, need and want are two entirely different emotions and Earl was a master at producing automobiles that were wanted in the highly prosperous USA of the Fifties. True, his obsessive pursuit of getting a car as low as possible had created designs that were at, or very near, the minimum height possible - given the agility of the average human being and ease of entry and exit required. And who knows how many knees were bruised in consequence, particularly negotiating a way around the bottom corner of the wrap-around windshields (another Hariey Earl innovation) that protruded into the access opening. Ergonomics came second to styling, and product liability litigation was nothing like the rapacious industry of the Nineties, so such small inconveniences as these would be tolerated for the sake of owning the newest shape of automobile. The annual model change that ultimately spawned the '59 Cadillac was regarded as part of the process that would provide what the Detroit public relations machine called "better transportation tomorrows." A false promise if ever there was one because, as every child knows, tomorrow never arrives. We can look at these things with the condescension of hindsight, but caught up in the euphoria of the age it was hard to be completely objective. Without doubt, Cat-Life's Jim Whipple echoed popular opinion when he enthusiastically described the '59 Cadillac as "...one of the sleekest jobs that ever came down the pike." But to many fans, 1959 marked the beginning of the end of rock 'n' roil, and the most significant event of the year happened on February 3 when a Beechcraft Bonanza light aeroplane crashed near Mason City, Iowa killing Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. However, if three stars had been extinguished from the pop music firmament, at least there were two new stars on Old Glory as Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th States. And NASA was also aiming toward the stars -besides launching satellites and two monkeys into orbit, it also named the seven astronauts who would take part in the space race. Automobiles might be about to get their wings clipped and the raw energy of Fifties rock 'n' rollers seemed to be giving way to slushy music exploited by large record companies in pursuit of a quick buck, but there was still plenty to look forward to! Specification CADILLAC ELDORADO BIARRITZ Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 390 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.0x3.88 ins. Horsepower 345 Body styles Convertible coupe No. of seats 5/6 Weight (lbs) 4,800 Ibs Price $7,401 Produced 1,320     Specification MERCURY PARK LANE Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 430 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.30x3.70 ins. Horsepower 345 Body styles Hardtop sedan; Hardtop Coupe; Convertible coupe No. of seats 5-9 Weight (lbs) 4,386 Ibs-4,455 Ibs Price $4,031 - $4,206 Produced 12,523     Specification FORD THUNDERBIRD Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 352 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.0x3.5 ins. Horsepower 300 Body styles Hardtop coupe; Convertible coupe No. of seats 2-5 Weight (lbs) 3,813 Ibs-3,903 Ibs Price $3,696 - $3,979 Produced 67,456     Specification CADILLAC SERIES 62 Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 390 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.0x3.88 ins. Horsepower 325 Body styles Coupe; Sedan (2 versions); Convertible coupe No. of seats 6 Weight (lbs) 4,690 Ibs-4,855 Ibs Price $4,892 - $5,455 Produced 70,230  
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