All American Automakers were faced with the daunting task of what to do next as the 1950’s gave way to the 1960’s. If one is to take a meter of aggregate automotive flamboyance, 1959 ranks as the equivalent of Liberace, Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly hosting a Christmas party. Befinned and bejeweled, Offerings from Rambler to Imperial maximized access to costume jewelry like no year before or since.
The splurge on baubles pushed Cadillac in particular to have a full Breakfast At Tiffany’s moment for 1959. In the hangover year that was 1960, a lot of those jewels were sent to the pawn shop. With the same basic body shell, a remarkable sense of restraint and modesty was applied to the variety of 1960 Cadillacs, as respectability replaced rambunctious as the value people coveted in their luxury machines.
In actuality, the shaving actually started in 1959. Once you got past the fierce face and the righteous rump, the mid-section of the 1959 Cadillac body was rather restrained. Two Tone colors had been de-emphasized. Once you train your eye to notice, there wasn’t as much chrome trim on the flanks as in earlier model years.
The 1960 face furthered the transition with a calmer grille with a more delicate eggcrate design versus the miniature bullets of the previous season. The bumper incorporated the turn signals/parking lamps in less jet-pod styled orbs. They were now nestled in cleaner, more linear curved boxes, combining a look that implied a graceful lithe appearance in contrast to the slightly ponderous 1959 face. It still imparted a sense of purpose and pride, but in a more refined sensibility that became a calling card as the decade unfolded.
The butt lift implied a new athleticism ready to sprint into the new decade as well. Gone where the twin bullet tail-lamps. In their place were fins basically lifted from the super limited production, Pininfarina built 1959 Eldorado Brougham with slender blade tail lamps. The subtle retraction that the Tailfin would make throughout the early 1960’s was on. Each year the tailfins with subtly decrease in height until they became linear blades in 1965.
The reverse lamp pods gained separate parking and reverse lamps that flanked a ribbed beauty panel hiding the gas tank filler. It was a far calmer, less jukebox view that you followed in previous seasons of finned finery from Cadillac. The removal of so many visual details competing against each other for your attention make the 1960 Cadillac seem so different from the previous year.
All of that visual magic to appear so new in the march of planned obsolescence meant that below the surface there were only mild refinements to the previous years car. In the case of Cadillac, that wasn’t a bad thing. For all of the flamboyance, the 1959 Cadillac was not a *bad* car. Although its 390 Cubic Inch V8 was not only smaller than powerplants from rivals Lincoln and Imperial (it was also smaller than the 394 and 401 cube units available in senior Oldsmobiles and Buicks), it provided a healthy 325 horsepower in standard tune. Coupled with the legendarily stout 4 Speed Hydra Matic transmission, Cadillac still offered an enviable combination of economy and performance in the luxury car field. 0-60 times clocked in around 10 seconds, and it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility to still eek out 15 mpg in steady highway cruising. In comparison, the monstrous MEL 430 in contemporary Lincolns reverted to 2 barrel carburetors in a token nod to fuel efficiency for the 1960 model year.
It all came together as a hushed, relaxed and luxurious experience that was *just right* for affluent buyers in 1960. Cadillac remained the premium prince, leaving Imperial and Lincoln to be paupers scrambling for crumbs off the discerning buyer table. More than 142,000 Cadillacs went out the door by the close of 1960, bringing profits and pride to General Motors that was the envy of manufacturers worldwide.
To a reflective lens, the 1960 Cadillac doesn’t seem like a paragon of restraint. Given that Lincoln would completely trump Cadillac in defining 1960’s elegance with the 1961 Continental doesn’t help matters either. But for a moment at the turn of the decade, Cadillac proved the wisdom in washing off the make-up after the party. Wearing less is more, and the true beauty of what you have to offer will truly shine through.