1963 Cadillac Full-Line Brochure
After more than six decades of producing cars, Cadillac’s heritage was rooted in exceptional product. That track record raised a question:
In beauty, luxury, performance and craftsmanship, the 1963 offerings surpassed the cars they had superseded.
1963 was marred by the tragedy of an assassination, but it had first introduced us to push-button phones and the Zone Improvement Plan, more commonly referred to as the ZIP code. Studebaker closed up shop in the U.S., while Chrysler tested the wonders of turbine power in quasi-production form. New nameplates for 1963 included Buick’s Riviera and Porsche’s 901 (quickly renamed “911” after Peugeot successfully claimed rights to three digit names using a “0” in the middle).
Since the price of gas was all of about 29 cents a gallon at the time, flagrant size really was a non-issue for domestic cars, indeed even leveraged as a premium attribute. Out of the eleven models offered by Cadillac for 1963, only one was less than 18 feet long (it was 17 feet and 11 inches).
For setting, I’ve compiled a bit of topical background.
Honestly, the more I looked into this era of Cadillacs, the more I realized I was unclear on—outside of those legendary ’59 fins, naturally.
The fin meister
Relative to the trends in popular culture, Cadillac gave way to their wild side a little early. Some of their most daring work occurred toward the end of the 1950s, before they began restraining themselves going into the 1960s. Cadillac’s all-new lineup for 1963 contributed to that shift by rejecting flamboyance in favor of a no less sizable but more dignified design language than the previous few iterations.
If a 1963 Cadillac seems over the top to you, consider it was merely four years prior that they had thrown down the gauntlet.
While all of GM’s large cars broke molds of convention in 1959, Cadillac etched itself into the annals of history with some of the most fantastical fins to grace any production car—reportedly cresting at 45 inches.
However, extreme styling statements often come with limited shelf life. So, the following several years saw significant alterations that tidied things up.
More decorum was exercised at the rear for 1960, yet its honed fins appear more lethal than the former tridents. Notice that the 1959’s low nacelles (which visually exaggerate the reach of its fins) were enlarged for 1960 to comprise a greater ratio of the profile, relative to the fins.
The 1961 model was of a new generation and even further toned down, yet its upper fins tie closely with its immediate predecessor’s. The rear-facing faux grille was gone but new were lower fins that spanned most of the length of the car. 1962 saw more geometry in its surfacing, the return of the faux rear grille, and the jet-inspired tips (set below the fins) returned to single-pod units. That is, after they were dual vertical pods in 1960 and dual horizontal pods in 1961.
I see the genesis of Cadillac’s legendary vertical-themed rears in all of these examples but, certainly, the orthodox Cadillac rear is established by 1963.
Despite appearances, the rear’s substantial alterations for 1963 did not come as part of a new generation but rather a major refresh. Changes of this magnitude and frequency are unheard of today.
In contrast, the year-over-year metamorphosis during this period was less dramatic up front. Instead it unfolded in three notable and, what I found to be, peculiar stages.
Continue this story on page 2, below.