Postwar Cadillac vehicles innovated many of the styling features that came to be synonymous with the late 1940s and 1950s American automobile. Incorporating many of the ideas of then General Motors styling chief Harley J. Earl, these included tailfins, wraparound windshields, and extensive use of chrome.
Tailfins were first added in 1948 and reached their apex in 1959. From 1960 to 1964 they decreased each year until they disappeared in the 1965 model year (remaining vestigialy only on the limited production 1965 Series 75 chassis, a carry-over from 1964).
Cadillac’s other distinctive styling attribute was its front-bumper. What had started out after the war as a pair of artillery shell-shaped bumper guards moved higher on the front-end design as the 1950s wore on. Becoming known as Dagmar bumpers for their similarity to the buxom 1950s television personality, they were toned down in 1958 and gone the next year. 1956 saw the introduction of the pillarless four-door hardtop sedan, marketed as the “Sedan deVille”; a year later the feature appeared in all standard Cadillacs.
Fledgling automotive magazine Motor Trend awarded its first “Motor Trend Car of the Year” to Cadillac in 1949 for its innovative overhead valve V8 engine. While the company initially snubbed the honor, it now proudly references its “Car of the Year” wins in publicity material
On November 25, 1949, Cadillac produced its one millionth car, a 1950 Coupe de Ville. It also set a new sales mark of 100,000 cars, matched in 1950 and 1951. 1949 also saw the introduction with Buick of the first mass-produced hardtop coupe, a closed-body style without a “B” pillar. Marketed as the Coupe de Ville, it would become one of Cadillac’s most popular models for many years.
In 1951 Cadillac began production of the M41 Walker Bulldog army tank, which saw service in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
In 1953, the “Autronic Eye” was introduced. This feature would automatically dim high-beam headlamps for the safety of oncoming motorists.
In 1957, Cadillac attempted to move upmarket, creating the hand-built Series 70 Eldorado Brougham. It featured self-levelling suspension, “memory seat” function, and an industry-first all-transistor signal-seeking car radio produced by GM’s Delco Radio. While the car showed Cadillac’s technological prowess, it only sold 904 units.
The dual-reservoir brake master cylinder, with separate front and rear hydraulic systems, was introduced in 1962, six years ahead of the Federal requirement. The first fully automatic heater-air conditioning system also appeared, as did the three-speed Turbo-Hydramaticautomatic transmission; it would become the GM standard model for several decades. From the late 1960s, Cadillac offered a fiber-optic warning system to alert the driver to failed light bulbs. The use of extensive bright-work on the exterior and interior also decreased each year after 1959. By the 1966 model year, even the rear bumpers ceased to be all chrome – large portions were painted, including the headlight bezels.
In 1966, Cadillac had its best annual sales yet, over 192,000 units (142,190 of them de Villes), an increase of more than 60%. This was exceeded in 1968, when Cadillac topped 200,000 units for the first time. 1967 and 1968 saw the introduction of a host of federally mandated safety features, including energy-absorbing steering columns and wheels, soft interior and instrument panel knobs and surfaces, front shoulder belts, and side marker lights.
The front-wheel-drive Eldorado was launched in 1967, setting a new standard for a personal luxury car. Its simple, elegant design was a far cry from the tailfin and chrome excesses of the 1950s. Cadillac’s success grew against rivals Lincoln and Imperial, Division sales topping all of Chrysler for the first time in 1970. The new 472 cu in (7.7 l) engine that debuted in the 1968 model year, designed for an ultimate capacity potential of 600 cu in (9.8 l), was increased to 500 cu in (8.2 l) for the 1970 Eldorado. It was adopted across the model range beginning in 1975. Driver airbags began to be offered on some Cadillac models from 1974 to 1976. The pillarless Coupe deVille ended with the 1973 model, while the Sedan deVille remained pillarless through 1976.
The 1970s saw new extremes in vehicle luxury and dimension. The 1972 Fleetwood was some 1.7 in (43 mm) longer in wheelbase and 4 in (100 mm) overall, compared to the 1960 Series 75 Fleetwood; the entry-level 1972 Calais was 2.4 in (61.0 mm) longer than the equivalent 1960 Series 62, on the same wheelbase. Models gained a smoother ride while vehicle weight, standard equipment, and engine displacement were all increased. Cadillac experienced record sales in 1973 and again in the late 1970s.
1977 experienced the same “downsizing” as the rest of GM’s “B” and “C” bodied cars. DeVille models lost hundreds of pounds, received smaller exterior dimensions and engines, but gained taller windows. Fuel economy and handling improved.
The 1980s saw a downsizing of many models, and the introduction of the brand’s first front-wheel drive compact, the Cimarron. Detroit Assembly on Clark Street in Detroit, where Cadillacs had been made since 1921, closed in 1987.
In the late 1990s, Cadillac fielded its first ever entry in the growing SUV segment. The Escalade, introduced in 1999, was marketed to compete with the Lincoln Navigator and luxury SUVs from various import brands.