If a new vehicle was sold today with: air conditioning, electric seats with a memory function, power windows and door locks, cruise control, a remote boot release, automatically dimming headlights, air suspension, a digital clock, a set of fitted crystal tumblers, and a vanity set that came pre-stocked with a choice of cosmetics to the customer’s specification, the car would certainly be considered luxurious.
The above specification is not contemporary however, but was the standard equipment on a 1958 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. A car which was launched at the end of 1957, a full 63 years ago. To say that the car was well-equipped would be an understatement, as the ’58 Eldorado Brougham genuinely redefined luxury motoring for those who were able to afford to buy one. For Cadillac, however, this resetting of a benchmark was nothing new - the brand had been pushing boundaries of development and societal norms since it was founded in 1902.
Pictured above is a 1931 Cadillac Fleetwood Drophead Coupe. Liveried in 23 carat gold lead, it is rumoured to have once been owned by Liberache! There's also precious stones in the hub caps and rubies in the mascot.
When Henry Leland started the company at the turn of the century, he had an overriding interest in precision manufacturing. In the context of America at that time, this concern was well founded. Motorist at the time were travelling huge distances across the continent on roads that were often unpaved. Environments were often harsh, and the majority of the continent was still more or less untamed. The reliability of a vehicle, and its ability to survive on a long journey, was not just desirable for an owner - it could save motorists’ lives.
With the winning of the prestigious Dewar Trophy for engineering in 1908, Cadillac became known for reliability and, with this reputation, the company soon established itself as a luxury brand – one which would not rest on its laurels, but which would continue to innovate.
The electric starter motor soon followed, which not only allowed motorists to remain inside the vehicle in all weathers, but by eliminating the need for strength and stamina to start a motor by hand. Cadillac instantly opened up the joy of driving to 50% more of the population, and the day of the female motorist dawned.
Cadillac was almost globally unique in its conscious effort to appeal to women, both as owner / drivers, and influencers for the males around them. From the early 1930s the wonderfully art-deco adverts for Cadillac showed women at the wheel of the car, always glamorously dressed in furs, couture gowns and jewellery. This ‘house style’ remained with the brand right up until the mid-sixties, proved ahead of its time by decades.
The cars themselves genuinely were appealing to the both sexes, with innovations that made the act of driving easier for everyone. Synchromesh gearboxes were launched in 1929, which made changing gear a simple task at any speed and, from 1932 onwards, the introduction of power-assisted clutch and brake pedals meant that driving a Cadillac became less strenuous. By the time the automatic gearbox was introduced in 1941, driving a Cadillac had become nearly effortless, whatever the size of the car, or driver.
It is all too easy for Europeans today to think of Cadillac as a brand tainted by the excesses of size, weight and over-adornment, due to its later models of the 1970’s. To overlook the huge advances in automotive technology, refinement and reliability that came from the company would, however, be foolish. If you have enjoyed the benefits automatic climate control, automatic headlights, or even just taken your ability to start your car at the turn of a key for granted, then you can thank Cadillac for the pleasure.
Have you owned or enjoyed a classic Cadillac? If so, let us know your thoughts in the comments below!