The Jet Age was all about capturing the future. For me, there is one particular American car that stamped its authority on the 1950s by not only looking futuristic but by putting innovative features into production. That means you can keep your Dymaxion, Davis Divan, and every Motorama concept—not to mention every futuristic Ford unveiled in the Albert Kahn-designed Rotunda.
But before I go into why this particular Cadillac was so special, I was reminded of the car when hearing the news that the future Mercedes-Benz S Class-fighting Caddy will be called…
Not Eldorado, Evoq, Elmiraj, de Ville, Calais, Converj, Celebrity, Castilian, or Catera. Not Sixteen, Cien, Ciel, Cyclone, or St. Moritz. Not La Salle, La Espada, Le Mans, Palomino, Orleans, or Florentine.
Other than apparently not wanting to live in Detroit (sorry, but I don’t blame him), the new Cadillac boss Johan de Nysschen is famous for re-naming entire car ranges. To do this, he works hard to create a cauldron of alphanumeric glue that binds every model together. At Audi, he did A_; Infiniti, Q_; and now, at Cadillac, CT_.
If only there was a moniker from the past that united most of Cadillac’s models under a common name…like…”Series.”
Today’s car is a Series 70 Eldorado Brougham, a body style built for only two years in response to the ultra-luxury 1956 and 1957 Lincoln Continental Mark II. While the Lincoln was more sedate and sculpted, the Cadillac managed to look like every Jet Age American car…and none of them, all at the same time.
Its large, pillar-less four-door coupe body still looks purposeful and powerful—a combination of the four small headlamps up front, low and sharp tail fins, massive chrome-like stainless steel skirts that trimmed the lower 1/3 of the car, and a brushed stainless steel roof.
It looked a sensation, but was even more so on its debut because the price for the hand-finished car was astronomical—more than a Mercedes-Benz or Rolls-Royce. When a "normal" new Cadillac cost around $4,800, a new Chevrolet family sedan rang in at about $2,000. The Series 70 Eldorado Brougham? More than $13,000—about the cost of a nice new home.
After paying that amount, your car may not have been legal. How baller is that? This was the first U.S. car offered with four round headlamps, and was put on sale before some states allowed them.
While not as unconventionally brilliant as the Citroën DS, you have to hand it to Cadillac for including a trunkload of amazing features and innovations:
- Power opening and closing rear doors and trunklid
- Auto-lock doors when car is shifted to Drive
- Memory front seats (first for a production car)
- Forged aluminum wheels (first for a production car)
- Air conditioning
- Polarized sun visors
- Air suspension system
- Transistor-seeking Delco radio
Want more? The glove box was fitted with a fold-out shelf with mirror, silver magnetized shot glasses (I shit you not), cigarette case, tissue dispenser, a lady's compact (probably best to let your wife have it), lipstick, and an atomizer filled with Arpège cologne.
For those wishing to get work done, the rear arm rest contained a note pad, pencil, mirror, and a perfume atomizer—this time filled with Arpège by Lanvin—often referred to as the "fragrance of 1000 flowers."
Buyers had the selection of more than 45 choices of trim and colour combinations, with my favourite choice among them being the high-pile carpets made of wool from the Karakul sheep, a particularly exotic breed found in Central Asia.
The most conventional part of the Series 70 Eldorado Brougham is its engine and transmission: a 6.0-litre V8 with more than 325 horsepower, hooked up to a 4-speed automatic.
With 704 made over two years, it represents the best of American Jet Age design. To me, these 1957 and 1958 Cadillacs were the last that could be considered to be the "Standard of the World."