I’ve always had a thing for early ’50s Cadillacs. When I was in second grade or so, my grandparents got me a hardcover “coffee table” type book called Decade of Dazzle. It was a book on Fifties cars, and one of the featured cars was the 1953 Cadillac Eldorado. Looking supreme in white over red leather, it left an impression on me. And later that same year, out on a trip to the Jewel-Osco with my Aunt Candy, I got a 1/43 scale 1952 Cadillac Series 62 sedan in pink and white. I still have it.
Of course, the 1953 Cadillac was the final iteration of the all-new postwar 1948 Cadillac. It inaugurated the classic Cadillac fishtail fin, and in 1949, the small block V8. In 1950 it was totally restyled, though it still bore a close resemblance to the 1948-49 model.
Between 1950 and 1953 only small cosmetic changes were made, and you have to be a real aficionado to tell a ’50 from a ’51 from a ’52. But the ’53 was different.
The biggest change were prominent Dagmar bumperettes, which grew exponentially over the 1952’s units. That term, by the way, came from a well-known 1950s actress by that name who had, ahem, similar attributes…
First of all, naturally, the all-new dreamboat Eldorado convertible appeared late that model year. It blew everyone away, was used in the presidential inauguration, and was the most expensive Cadillac, at a hefty $7,750 a pop.
But the gold standard in owner-driven Cadillacs was the Fleetwood Sixty Special. It was, quite simply, the biggest Cadillac you could get that wasn’t a limousine. Its base price was $4,305, a hefty sum, and eclipsed only by the Fleetwood Seventy-Fives and the Eldorado pricewise.
This, at a time when the Series 62 sedan retailed for $3,666 and the Series 62 coupe was $3,571. A 1953 Chevrolet 210 sedan was $1,761. If you saw someone in a Fleetwood Sixty Special, odds are that person was somebody.
The 1953 Sixty Special, Model 53-60, body/style 6019X, rode a 130 inch wheelbase, four inches longer than a Series 62 coupe or sedan. Like all 1953 Cadillacs, it was powered by the famed 331 CID V8, producing 210 hp at 4,150 revolutions per minute.
Curb weight of this swanky sedan was 4,337 pounds, making a new ’53 Sixty Special less than a dollar a pound. Not a bad deal, all things considered.
This car was also equipped with the Autronic Eye, which automatically dipped the high beams when it sensed headlamps from an oncoming car.
Of course, being a Sixty Special, most everything was standard, including the V8, Hydra-Matic automatic transmission, plush seating and many electric gadgets. But there were some options available, including Autronic Eye ($53), chrome wire wheels (set of five, $325), power steering ($177).
The most expensive option, factory air conditioning, for a princely $620 extra. Or one-third the cost of a new Chevrolet.
One other interesting thing about 1953 Cadillacs. Not all of them got Hydra-Matic drive, due to a spectacular fire which occurred at the Hydra-Matic factory in Livonia, Michigan on August 12, 1953.
That event is a story in itself, but the long and short of it is that Cadillac production ceased with no transmissions to install. Cadillac production finally resumed on September 8, 1953. And approximately 28,000 Cadillacs were built with Buick’s Dynaflow automatic transmission until supply of Hydra-Matics finally caught up with production requirements.
Exactly 20,000 1953 Fleetwood Sixty Specials were built. This showroom new survivor was photographed by my friend Jayson Coombes at the 2018 CLC show in San Marcos, Texas last summer.
This one is exceptionally rare, due to the factory air conditioning.
Only 2% of 1953 Cadillacs had this option. It was also the first year that factory-installed air conditioning was offered by Cadillac.
It took up a large part of the trunk, as A/C technology was still relatively new in motor vehicles, though it had been used in buildings and department stores for decades by the early Fifties.
Come 1954, Cadillacs would get fresh sheetmetal once again, and slightly bigger fins. Which, as we all know, would continue to grow through 1959, when Peak Fin was achieved.
But I love these P-38 finned Cadillacs, and am grateful to Jayson for taking so many excellent pictures. What a beaut!