Theme: Bodies – The Cadillac Confusion

This could be about the Cadillac De Ville convertible, which is enough of a car to write a few hundred words about. What rose to the top of the froth was that I don’t really know what year this car is from.

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That’s the badge on the car. I didn’t see others. Presumably one of our very knowledgeable US visitors knows the serial number and which dealer it was sold from. The part I’d like to deal with is the way GM/Cadillac managed to change the appearance of their cars with such incredible rapidity. These days a car might get a new set of bumpers every three years and even then the difference is often slight due to the need to retain common feature lines and shapes. In the good old days of square, modular styling the car could be chopped up quite markedly and large parts changed without the carried over bits looking wrong.

None of the Wikipedia reference images for the Cadillac De Ville match this. I think it’s a 1970 which is the last year a De Ville convertible could be had.

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Is this a 1970 Cadillac De Ville?

The styling studios must have been like sweatshops and often decisions on the body style must have been taken very swiftly if they were to make quite big changes to the bodies each year. As I understand it, a drawing was sent to the clay modelling studios where it would be made at full-size and adjusted. Then the 3D form was translated into a die using a device which milled the form into a block of steel. That was then polished by hand and re-polished if the pressed parts did not look right. The huge investment paid for itself because the market was so buoyant. These days the CAD data is used to cut the shape of the dies for pressing the steel or making the injection moulds. Interestingly, the dies are still hand polished.

This car rolled past almost soundlessly. It’s V8 might have been doing 800 rpm for all I know. It suited the car’s lounge-on-wheels style.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

12 thoughts on “Theme: Bodies – The Cadillac Confusion”

  1. Definitely 60s since they had moved to horizontal lamps by 1970, this one is probably a 66 year.
    I once owned a white 76 four door pillarless that was last of the big ones before downsizing began and what a barge it was like steering some sea going vessel. This was a period when I had the SM so jumping from one to the other took some adapting! The Caddy was mainly purchased as a business venture involving weddings and was very popular in the late seventies.

    1. Thanks – I am afraid I didn’t spend too long hunting though my casual search misled me to 70. It looks 66ish.
      How many people had a Citroen SM and a DeVille convertible at the same time? I imagine the DeVille made the SM seem small (and it’s not). Both require practice to manoeuvre. Would I be right in saying the SM was trickier?

      The fecundity of GMs design department beggars belief. With five lines of cars and annual changes was it not like working on a newspaper? Every few months some new shape had to get released or the dealers would scream. Maybe working at Hennes And Mauritz feels similar: four collections a year in direct response to the market.

  2. I think it’s a question of evolution vs revolutions. The time after the war until the late 60’s was a time of revolution of the shape of the car, from a car with separate fenders to pontoons to square boxes. The makers could bear such rapid shifts, as it meant an advantage over the competition. Those who couldn’t afford the race was left behind, like Hudson or Studebaker.

    Since the 70’s, the basic shape and package of the car is practically the same, and is more a question of styling fads and graphics. There’s just a slight evolution of shapes, because there’s just so many ways you can “better” a Toyota Camry. Revolution comes in exploring unexplored niches, that’s why we have all this flooding of niche cars. With the computer/robot based design/production of today, seemingly different cars can be made on the same factory line one after each other seemingly haphazard.

    Also, even though they had yearly updates, lead times was longer, between one and three years. Which meant the styling studios had to work in parallel. When say the shape of a ’57 Cadillac was sent to production, they were already working on the ’58 updates and preparing for the all new ’59. So, it’s not like everything was a rush job, I see it more as a sort of McDonaldisation of the design work, they treated it like an assembly line….

  3. When I was much younger I paid little attention to Cadillacs. Then, as now, to my eye most of them looked alike.

    But in the late ’50s and early ’60s every year Pontiac astonished by releasing a car that looked radically different from the previous year’s. It seemed to me at the time that in fact Pontiac had two different shapes, one for even years and the other for odd years. Even year to even year, odd year to odd year the differences weren’t that large. But year to year, oh my!

    1. That was a clever stategy.
      What’s puzzling is that with CAD speed and the processing power available to logistics systems, variation is as limited as it is. Or is it an impression? If I had the time I’d do a numerical analysis of bodystyles then and bodystyles now (and ignore model names). My expectstion is that instead of 4 model
      lines with lots of body styles we have more models with fewer bodystyles. The number of distinct bodies might similar. I do think the amount of change in metalwork has slowed, the moreso in the US than Europe where I think model cycles have always been slower.

  4. Sorry to give a boring reply, but don’t you think the less frequent facelifts are due to the vastly increased safety legislation that makes even the slightest change extremely costly to execute. Not just that but in some instances, such as the mandatory fitment of DRL’s, legislation only applies to new models, so the manufacturers will delay launching to postpone the cost. On top of that, each time a new or revised model comes out it has to go for emissions and crash tests. The Italians of course have lead the way in leaving cars unrevised for as long as possible.

    1. Yes, all those reasons probably slow things down. My focus was on production; I’d forgotten all the legislative/regulatory matters.
      It makes you think, those 60s cars must be rather less safe than one might suppose.

  5. What I find strange is the mentality of large is safer still persists today in America. What they never seem to realise is there is always something larger and “big” makes their vehicle more a target and more unweildly.
    My friends are somewhat dismayed that when I visit there I drive a Smart car!

    1. The largeness arms race can´t really be won. Of course, if you are driving a Hummer in a world of Fiat 500s you are better off from the standpoint of being hit by a Fiat. When more and more people drive large SUVs to be safer the effect diminishes and you´ve externalised a cost to someone, the Fiat 500 driver whose life is now at greater risk. Something similar happens when people install alarms. Apparently the risk to non-alarmed houses increases. Eventually when everyone or most people have an alarm they draw little attention. It´s another arms race that ends in status quo in a worse state than the beginning.
      That said, my car is 4.7 metres long but only weighs 1450 kg. The more time goes by the less of relative risk I am to other drivers. I´m mostly a hazard to myself.

    2. D., I’m a unitedstatesian and I’m baffled by my fellow citizens love of huge vehicles but I understand why they don’t rate nimbleness highly. They don’t drive in situations that require it. Last Saturday I drove from Chicago to a bit north of Milwaukee and back, mainly on superhighways. Even though it was Saturday the roads were highly congested — at places we crept along at 20 mph or less and I saw traffic going the other way not moving at all in a few places — and there was nothing to be gained by changing lanes to pass vehicles going slightly slower than the average. In such situations nimbleness is worthless.

      A couple of weeks ago I drove from more-or-less Philadelphia to Rhode Island. This time on a Tuesday, starting early to miss the worst of the NYC morning rush hour. The same story, except that near Providence I got on to back roads to avoid traffic on I-95. The two lane roads I used had low speed limits, were straight, and had no passing zones. Perpetual double yellow lines. Who needs nimbleness?

    3. Fred: I think the distances have a lot to do with it. Everywhere in the USA is a long way away.

      Conversely, I found some lovely roads pootling around the backwoods of Kentucky. How I would have loved a Lotus or MX5 then, instead of the horrible Mitsubishi Lancer I actually had.

  6. What a super looking car. Far less baroque than the late 1950s Caddies but still opulent and assertive. My understanding of the time was that most of the development cost was sank into model year styling and trim changes, facilitated by a bolt on body architecture, whereby the whole front and rear fascias could be swapped out. I gather this is where the American term front or rear ‘clip’ comes from.

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