1956 Cadillac Fleetwood
Postwar Cadillac vehicles, incorporating the ideas of General Motors styling chief Harley J. Earl, innovated many of the styling features that came to be synonymous with the classic (late-1940s and 1950s) American automobile, including tailfins, wraparound windshields, and extensive exterior and interior bright-work (chrome and polished stainless steel). Fledgling automotive magazine Motor Trend awarded its first “Car of the Year” to Cadillac in 1949; the company turned it down. On 25 November 1949, Cadillac produced its one millionth car, a 1950 Coupe de Ville. It also set a record for annual production of over 100,000 cars, a record it repeated in 1950 and 1951. Cadillac’s first tailfins, inspired by the twin rudders of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, appeared in 1948; the 1959 Cadillac, designed by Peter Hodak, was the epitome of the tailfin craze, with the most recognizable tailfins of any production automobile. From 1960 thru 1964, the fins decreased in size each year and disappeared with the 1965 model year (except for the 1965 series 75 chassis which was a carry over from 1964). The Cadillac tailfin did serve one practical purpose, however. From the inception of the fin up to the 1958 model year, the driver’s (left) side fin housed the gasoline filler neck under the taillight assembly. To fill the car with fuel, the taillight had to be released and pivoted upward to access the gas cap. This eliminated the unsightly gas filler door from the side of the vehicle, providing a smoother, cleaner appearance.
Tailfins were added to body shape in 1948. In 1953, the “Autronic Eye” was introduced. This feature would automatically dim the high-beam headlamps for the safety of oncoming motorists. The Eldorado Brougham of 1957 offered a ‘memory seat’ function, allowing seat positions to be saved and recalled for different drivers.
Cadillac’s other distinctive styling attribute was its front-bumper designs which became known as Dagmar bumpers or simply Dagmars. What had started out after the war as an artillery shell shaped bumper guard became an increasingly important part of Cadillac’s complicated front grille and bumper assembly. As the 1950s wore on, the element was placed higher in the front-end design, negating their purpose as bumper guards. They also became more pronounced and were likened to the bosom of 1950s television personality Dagmar. In 1957 the bumpers gained black rubber tips which only heightened the relationship between the styling element and a stylized, exaggerated bumper design. For 1958 the element was toned down and then was completely absent from the 1959 models.