Despite becoming the poster child for 1950s excess and optimism, the ’59 Cadillac was born of a hurried redesign to outdo rival Chrysler’s stunning new ‘Forward Look’ cars. General Motors’ stylists tore up their blueprints, making the 1959 Cadillacs longer and sleeker than any previous offering. But limited budgets meant parts sharing above and below the surface with lesser sisters Chevrolet, Pontiac and Oldsmobile. Cadillac outer panels were hung on a skeleton designed by Buick and each GM division disguised it with increasingly outlandish lines.
Happily this means today replacement roof trim and glass remain widely available. As do the greasy bits, since under the surface were tried and tested mechanical parts. Up front is a 6.4-litre (390ci) V8 with 325bhp to push that two tonnes of steel to 60mph in 11 seconds.
Gearboxes were only ever automatic. The four-speed drops into top somewhere around 35mph and stays there until your bravery runs out; usually just north of 120mph. Incidentally, GM’s Hydramatic gearbox was good enough for Rolls-Royce to use under licence until 1967.
Even by modern standards these are big cars, seating six, but they carry their weight well on hefty coil springs (air suspension was an unreliable option). Handling therefore isn’t perfect but is predictable – indeed at sensible speeds they corner remarkably well. The powered drum brakes and genuinely fingertip-light power steering were excelled in period only by Citroën.
That bubble-top roof provides excellent visibility, although it takes a while to shake the feeling there’s something looking over your shoulder – it’s that 42-inch high fin.
As for reliability, there’s no reason Cadillacs should be any less usable than any other car of the period; they were designed to be driven worldwide and fixed by anyone who could open a toolbox.
Which one to buy?
Despite a steel strike that forced production to slow, 21,924 Coupe deVilles were built, out of a total run of 142,272 Cadillacs that included equally stylish four-door sedans, limousines and convertibles across seven model series. The coupes and convertibles have a lower roofline that further emphasises those fabulous fins, which were hand-rolled and could supposedly vary in height by up to an inch.
Black or white suits these beauties best although, thanks to Sugar Ray, Elvis and Bruce Springsteen, you’ll find a few in pink. Many of the best have relocated to Sweden but such is the Cadillac’s popularity you won’t have to search hard to find one. Be warned, though, it’s still a seller’s market for decent ’59s; even today nothing succeeds like excess.
Performance and specs
Engine 6382cc, V8
Power 325bhp @ 4800rpm
Torque 430lb ft @ 3100rpm
Top speed 155mph
Fuel consumption 15mpg
Gearbox Four-speed automatic
Dimensions and weight
Weight 2127 kg
• Accident damage from the rear usually results in wavy bodywork just behind the rear wheels (the fins don’t bend so impact shock moves down the body). That long back wing comes as one piece and is welded on so look for rust, especially around the trim.
• Check bonnet gaps since the front wings can be tricky to line up, as can the multi-piece grilles.
• Bumpers are vast and not cheap to repair or replace so examine closely for damage.
• Check the glass carefully too.
• Mechanical parts, however, are just a phone call away and often cheaper than you might expect.
• The seats, windows, brakes, steering and even the vent windows are motorised so ensure everything works. In most cases it’s just a motor needing a clean, but chasing breaks in wiring will become tedious. Very little interior or exterior trim is reproduced.
• Consider extending your garage to fit the near-19-foot length, and upgrade your jack and axle stands if you plan on working under your new two-ton friend. There’s no reason you can’t service a classic Cadillac at home.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
Convertibles easily hit £50,000 and concours examples £90,000-plus, yet the two-door Coupe deVille is more realistic at around £15,000-30,000. DeVille was a model series that included more affordable four-door Sedan deVilles with pillarless styling in four- or six-window rooflines, so consider these too. The Series 62 hardtop coupe is near-identical
to the Coupe deVille and equally plentiful.
Words: Mike Renaut