1961 Cadillac Sedan de Ville: The Color of Money

It’s hard to believe in 2019, but when the 1961 Cadillacs first appeared in autumn 1960, they were considered subdued. Well, consider the all-time wild and crazy 1959 Cadillac: The year GM took Cadillac and cranked it up to 11. Yep! Wild, crazy, luxurious, huge, all-American. And with fins you could see from space.

1959 Eldorado Biarritz at the 2015 CLC show in Brookfield, Wisconsin

Chrome, fins till next Tuesday, and the mind-boggling showgirl, even among fellow ’59 Caddys, the Eldorado Biarritz convertible. Some parking garages wouldn’t let 1959 Cadillacs park inside, because they were so big.

1960 Cadillac Series 62 owned by Josh Noiles

Then 1960 came. While the same basic body carried over, the most over-the-top-details from 1959 were removed. And actually, I prefer the ’60 Cadillac to the ’59, it just seems more elegant.

Then came the ’61s. All the GM marques, from Chevy to Cadillac, got new bodies and were, in general, trimmer than their 1959-60 forebears. The Chevrolets and Pontiacs in particular were cleanly styled, with no fins anymore. But of course Cadillacs still had fins. Sizeable ones, but they were slowly but surely getting less pronounced.

And as usual, a full line of models and body styles were available. From the least expensive Series 62 models to the more plushly upholstered de Villes, pricey Eldorado Biarritz convertible (the Eldorado Seville, the hardtop version, was discontinued this year) and formal Fleetwood Sixty Special sedan. And finally, the flagships, the upper-crust Series 75 Limousine and nine-passenger Sedan.

Sure, the ’61s may have been a little less wild than their immediate predecessors, but they were still Cadillacs. And still the ‘you’ve made it’ statement to all on the road, prominently parked in front of country clubs, fine restaurants and five star hotels throughout the Land of the Free.

And Cadillac showroom literature made no small effort in extolling their products: “By any criterion, this is the finest automobile ever created-a motor car to inspire the automotive world for years to come. For the most rewarding experience in motoring accept your Cadillac dealer’s cordial invitation to see and drive the 1961 Cadillac.”

“Interiors as functional as they are luxurious make a vital contribution to the over-all impression of perfection which you receive on inspecting the 1961 Cadillac.”

“The crisp, clean lines of the new instrument panel…the smaller, easier-handling steering wheel…the lower front floor and tunnel…the new door safety lights (ED: So that’s when Cadillac started using the red and white courtesy lights!)…the new power window and seat controls…the incredibly beautiful colors and fabrics…all play key roles in making the 1961 Cadillac as delightful to drive as it is inspiring to behold.”

Yes, the ’61 brochure ladled it on pretty thick! But they were beautiful cars, and the interiors were indeed plush and appealing. Our featured car today is a 1961 Sedan de Ville in Lexington Green, owned by my friend, Dave Smith.

He got it several years ago, and it has been prominent in the Hartford, CT-area car show scene.

It is notable not only for its fine condition, but the fantastic color combination. But I admit I’m a little biased in this area, as green is my favorite color. But it really does look fine in this light metallic silver-green.

The upholstery is green Covington cloth with matching Florentine leather. Yes, even when you got the cloth interior on Cadillacs in the early Sixties, they were still combined with genuine leather trim. Though the Series 62s were trimmed in vinyl.

One of my favorite things on ’61 Cadillacs is the color-keyed turbine-style wheel covers. They look so great! Oh sure, if you lost one to a curb or pothole, I’m sure it was a royal pain ordering a matching replacement. But so what? They look awesome! And if you’re driving a Cadillac, you can probably afford it.

There were actually two different Sedan de Ville body styles: The six-window hardtop, like Dave’s example…

…and the four-window hardtop, seen here. The six window SDV vastly outsold the four window version, to the tune of 26,415 to 4,847. Both variants were priced the same though, at $5,498. To compare, a basic Chevy Bel Air sedan went for $2,438 with a six or $2,545 with a V8. Naturally, all Cadillacs were V8s.

Yes, all Cadillacs flaunted their fins proudly in 1961, and would for a few more years yet, but tastes were changing. The 1961 Lincoln, with its slab sides and understated lines got a lot of attention that year, and Cadillac-and a bit later, Imperial-would start making their cars more subdued. The 1964 Cadillacs were the last ones with significant ‘finnage.’

1965 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special with the Brougham option group, seen at the 2015 CLC Grand National

The ’65s were much different looking, but beautiful in their own way, and still retained a hint of fins with their vertical rear quarters and slim taillights. But the brash, bladed Cadillacs were finally conveyed to the history books. Cadillac was headed in a new direction.

As for Dave’s car, he’s enjoyed it a lot these past few years, but earlier this fall he found another classic luxocruiser, a 1977 Lincoln Continental Town Coupé. So the Caddy needs to find a new caretaker. If anyone here has an interest, let me know in the comments, and I can pass it along. Until next time, ladies and germs, keep calm and Brougham on!

7 Replies to “1961 Cadillac Sedan de Ville: The Color of Money”

  1. AvatarLaurie Kraynick

    Fabulous article as always Tom. Hope Dave finds a suitable owner for this fine car. I’ve seen it in person, and it’s simply elegant.

    Reply
  2. AvatarPhilip

    Very unique color, I like it. BTW, following the recent ’90 Cadillac Brougham article I have a very similar ’91 that has been in our family since new and I am looking to sell it to make room in the garage. Would like for it to go to a collector, a happy home. Find it on Chicago CL or ping me and I can share the listing…

    Reply
  3. AvatarGregory Hamilton

    Growing up in New York the most popular color for Cadillacs was black and they were always seen double parked outside social clubs. I never saw any parking tickets on them though.

    Reply
  4. Avatarstingray65

    The back of the 1961’s look like the business end of a rocket ready to send the Mercury 7 into orbit – I suspect the similarity was intentional. Beautiful car.

    Reply
  5. AvatarBill

    I owned a ’62 series 62 coupe in college. We all drove around in giant American cars, which cost less than VW’s or Toyota’s. Or Renaults and Volvos for that matter. 16 MPG in city or highway cruising at 80. On a good day I could fill it with 4 guys and 2 girls, which meant we could split the cost 4 ways…
    Beautifully made, no woodgrain or plated plastic. If it looked like metal, it was. If it looked like leather, it was. 4 speed Hydromatic was perfected.

    Reply
  6. AvatarOne Leg at a Time

    Excellent as always.

    I always thought that the ’58 Cadillacs were heart-stoppingly beautiful; but I really love the look of those fin-mounted pods for tail lights on the ’59s. Embedding the lights in the fins (’60/’61) is slick, but I think it drastically changes the look of the car.

    Reply
  7. AvatarGlenn Kramer

    Another great article, Tom. It highlights the amazing styling continuity Cadillac had in the post-war period. As different as each year was, you could always tell it was a Caddy.

    Reply

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