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A History Lesson in Cadillac Coupes

February 17th, 2014

The unveiling of the 2015 Cadillac ATS coupe at the NAIAS is a significant car in more ways than one. First, it is a sign that Cadillac is serious about going head-to-head with the European premium brands by offering multiple body styles off with its lowest cost offering. Second, it shows that Cadillac is committed to the flair that a coupe body style offers to the buyer that is clearly buying more car than needed. For a short while it appeared Cadillac had given up on the coupe bodystyle having offered four coupes in 1992 to only one by 1994 only to surprise the world with its dramatic CTS coupe in 2010. Indeed, if we trace back the heritage bestowed upon the ATS coupe we see that this latest Cadillac has much to live up to. 

Perhaps the most significant coupe to kick off Cadillac’s long line of premium two doors is the 1933 Aero-Dynamic coupe designed for GM’s 1933 Chicago Century of Progress Exposition at the World’s Fair. Powered by a V-16 the coupe offered a long hood and a fastback deck. The car was then offered on sale from 1934-36 with several changes that didn’t detract from the overall look. Unfortunately, this magnificent car was launched at a time where such extravagance was limited by able and willing buyers. Cadillac’s emphasis on coupe design would not return significantly until 1949.

In 1949 Cadillac introduced its revolutionary overhead valve V8, which was offered in a car whose one year old design was already well received with its trend setting fins. Though that V8 hid under the hood of the new Cadillac, what the public could see with the 1949 models was the introduction of the pillarless hardtop, christened ‘Coupe deVille’. This hardtop design set the industry in catch-up mode as other GM brands and competitors alike introduced pillarless coupes, then sedans, and even station wagons. The Coupe deVille was to be a mainstay in Cadillac’s line up for decades but it would not be alone.


1953 saw the production of four GM convertibles that were more or less dream cars. Chevrolet’s Corvette, Oldsmobile’s Fiesta, and Buick’s Skylark all featured wraparound windshields and dramatic styling. Cadillac’s Eldorado was the most expensive of the quartet. The only body style was a convertible, but it would launch a series that would be accompanied by a hardtop coupe, designated Eldorado Seville, by 1956. With the exception of the 1954 model, Eldorados had several unique body panels to differentiate them from the standard (Series 62 and Calais) coupes and Coupe deVilles.

Beginning in 1959 and continuing through 1966 Eldorados were essentially loaded up Coupe deVilles offering extra exterior bright work. Beginning in 1967 the Eldorado became a distinct product and featured front wheel drive. The car’s styling remains among the most attractive the premium GM brand has ever produced. As time went on, however, the Eldorado became cumbersome until the 1979 redesign returned the car to crisp proportions. Styling became muted with the 1986 downsizing, then conservatively athletic when revamped for 1992. The Eldorado would remain in production in limited volume through 2002 when Cadillac abandoned the coupe market, but only for a time.

The Coupe deVille soldiered on during most of this time losing its pillarless hardtop styling in 1974 in anticipation of government rollover standards that never materialized. The Coupe deVille became more and more conservative as the years went on before a dramatic 1985 downsizing that left the car devoid of flash in spite of offering a Touring Coupe (and Touring Sedan) edition complete with plastic rocker panel extensions, deck lid spoiler bridging the small tailfins, and quarter window louvers. The Coupe deVille was accompanied by a similar Fleetwood Brougham coupe from 1980-85 and then by a Fleetwood Coupe from 1989-92. Though low volume, the Fleetwood coupes show Cadillac’s attention to the coupe body style in an era where sedans were beginning to dominate the sales charts. By the 1994 model year Cadillac had decided that the Coupe deVille was superfluous with the Eldorado and offered only a sedan in that year’s deVille lineup.

The Coupe deVille and Eldorado were accompanied by the Allante roadster from 1987 through 1993, but that Pininfarina styled two-seater never looked much like a Cadillac. The Allante’s single styling influence for future Cadillacs was the repositioning of the Cadillac wreath and crest from atop the hood to the center of the grille – a position where it remains today amongst all current production Cadillacs.

The XLR roadster joined the Cadillac line-up from 2004-2009 and was the only car to ever share a platform with the Chevrolet Corvette. Powered by a 4.6L Northstar V8, the car’s dramatic Art and Science styling heralded the way forward for distinctive Cadillac styling unlike the copycat Allante. Supercharged V-series versions couldn’t boost sales high enough to justify a second generation so yet another 2-door Cadillac was retired to the history books.

Have no fear, coupe lovers! Cadillac came to the rescue in 2010 with the dramatically styled CTS coupe. With rearward visibility ignored in favor of a design that was styled from the outside in, the CTS coupe reminded the world that Cadillac once was a style leader, and intended to be once again. 2014 marks the end of the CTS coupe in anticipation of something more.

The first part of that ‘something more’ is the 2014 Cadillac ELR, which seems to evoke the ghosts of the 1967 Eldorado in that it’s dramatic styling is simultaneously original, premium, and sporty. A range extended plug-in electric car, similar in concept to the Chevrolet Volt, the ELR is priced above $75k ensuring exclusivity to all those in love with its technology and styling. It should be noted that 2014 is the first model year since 1993 that Cadillac offered buyers two different coupes. Certainly the ELR was introduced as a type of halo car for the Cadillac brand. Cadillac was in need of something even more.

The second part of that ‘something more’ is the 2015 ATS coupe. Enthusiasts expected the ATS coupe to be less dramatic than the CTS coupe that came before it, but few were expecting a car so good looking. The ATS coupe signals the return of the aspirational entry level luxury coupe in Cadillac’s lineup. Contemporary styling, flawless proportions, and uniquely Cadillac styling cues backed by enthusiast oriented suspension and drivetrain options certainly are pumping life into this storied luxury brand. All indications are that this car could be the spiritual rebirth of the beloved Coupe deVille, targeted at an entirely new generation of Cadillac buyer.

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