In the 1950s and 60s, the Coupe DeVille was synonymous with style and success. The Jones may not have had a Coupe but their wealthy relatives did. If you wanted your engine to purr ever-so-elegantly, you drove a Coupe DeVille with its fashionable fins and luscious curves (and everyone else asked you for a ride).
A Coupe Is Born
When it debuted in 1949, it didn’t take long for Cadillac’s new model, the Coupe DeVille, to skyrocket to success. Motor Trend magazine also came out that year and chose the Caddy as Car of the Year, many say outshining Ford and Oldsmobile because of the jewel in its luxurious Series 62 line: the legendary Coupe.
The Series 62 line was eight years old when the Coupe DeVille—one of the more upscale vehicles in Cadillac’s luxury lineup—began vrooming down Main Street, giving new life to a line that was just beginning to rebound after the war. The Series 62 had featured fine cars on its roster before it added the two-door convertible hardtop to the list, but once the Coupe DeVille came out, Cadillac positioned the pillarless wonder in the spotlight as its #1 prestige model—and there it stayed for decades to come.
Coupe DeVille: The Car For Who’s Who
The Coupe DeVille wasn’t just anybody’s car. With its lowest prices coming in at just under $3,500, the DeVille offered an elite group of customers an elegant, upscale driving experience. That’s why few anticipated that the car would achieve such massive success—much larger than your typical luxury niche vehicle. Though Cadillac only sold a little more than 2,000 Coupe DeVilles in 1949, that number nearly doubled for the first few years to follow and 12 years after its debut, 20,000+ new cars found their way off car lots in 1961.
The 1949 debut DeVille was a recycled redesign from 1948, meaning there weren’t many surprises in store for die hard Caddy fans. However, General Motors made it worth buying because of two key factors: a new engine and a new pillarless hardtop design—a first for Cadillac. The 331 cubic inch overhead valve engine helped the DeVille drop 200 pounds from the 346 inch model that most Caddys were sporting the year before, saved gas, and drove faster thanks to a horsepower upgrade from 150 to 160.
As for the pillars? Cadillac joined Buick and Oldsmobile in being the first to part with pillarless in their two-door hardtop models. This design meant the car boasted all-weather protection while still offering the airy, luxurious feel of a convertible. And Cadillac spared no expense on the inside, sitting drivers on plush, leather interior lined with broad vinyl piping.
1959 – Definitive DeVille
Over the next few decades, the DeVille’s success—and its body—kept growing. (17 inches by 1973). Released just shy of the Coupe’s 10 year anniversary, the 1959 model is often recognized as the iconic DeVille. This was the year that the car moved from Series 62 to 6300: a series dedicated entirely to the DeVille line, which included the luxurious four-door Sedan DeVilles.
By this point, the car’s tailfins had grown to epic proportions—termed “zap” fins by car historian Walter M.P. McCall—and its taillights had transformed into red bullets. Most 1959 Cadillacs blinked with four headlights and smiled at stop signs with an elaborate upper and lower chrome grille. Under the hood, the 390 cubic inch V-8 engine cranked out 325 horsepower, making it a favorite on the racetrack as well. If you really wanted to fly in style, you could kick the horsepower up to 345 with th optional Eldorado V-8 option, which would cost you an additional $134.30.
DeVille driver was sure to feel more at one with the road than ever before because of the unparalleled visibility of GM’s entire lineup. And driving a DeVille meant all sorts of creature comforts like power windows and power seats with optional air conditioning, cruise control, and radio.
Though 1959 marked its apex, the Coupe DeVille continued to be a symbol of high style and big success for years to come. Wealthy ad man Don Draper, the lead character of the AMC show “Mad Men,” set in the 1960s, drives a 1962 Cadillac Coupe DeVille—an example of how the DeVille is and was recognized as a status symbol.
The Times They Are a-Changin’
However, Cadillac’s 1968 marketing campaign shows how the company was targeting buyers a bit different than Don Draper—who bought his DeVlle to please and impress his older bosses—with Coupe DeVille ads that read “Cadillac owners look a little younger these days,” describing the car as “elegance and grace poised for action.” The Coupe DeVille was changing with its market.
In 1965, the Series 62 was renamed Calais, and the line continued to nearly mirror the DeVille’s, only with less equipment and fewer trim options. And for the 1965 model year, the Coupe and the Calais sported brand new designs. No more fins, bullets, or curves. The 1965 redesign was boxy and rectangular; all the elaborate styling details of years past were toned down to reflect an industry-wide shift towards more conservative designs. But the DeVilles did hold onto their signature scripts, a touch that definitely did not go unnoticed by drivers, critics, or admirers—or by today’s restorers.
The 429 cubic inch V-8 engine with 340 horsepower and a 10.5 to 1 compression ratio counted on hydraulic valve lifters and a Carter AFB four-barrel carburetor. And while the DeVille originally captured hearts with its pillarless design, Cadillac reintroduced pillars in 1965 and drivers loved it. (Pillars came back for good in 1974.)
The 1965 Coupe DeVille’s sales exceeded everyone’s expectations with 43,345 new Coupes cruising the streets, but not as much as the Sedan DeVille—the Coupe’s four-door brother—which came in #1 in the DeVille family. The Sedan was so successful that it eventually replaced the Coupe, which was last produced in 1993. The Sedan DeVille continued to reinvent itself until 2005.
The Coupe may have faded away shortly after its heyday in the 50s, but its legend lives on. Teen dream Eddie Cochran sang about the Coupe DeVille in his 1959 hit “Teenage Heaven” and hot rockers continue to sing about the classic—the Grammy-winning group Kings of Leon sang about the Coupe in their 2007 song “Knocked Up.” The Coupe DeVille haunts readers in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and keeps restorers hidden in their garages, hoping to rev up a memory or two. Today, when people want to remember a forgotten time, they remember the Coupe DeVille.
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