Definitively American, this ’59 Caddie embodies post-war zeitgeist
Every car nut eventually comes to understand this: There’s something extraordinary about Cadillac sedans of the era falling roughly between 1950 and 1960. They possess a strangely egalitarian blend of power, glamour and grit. They are at home parked in front of the White House, a split-level ranch in the ‘burbs or a house of ill repute on the south side of Chicago; tooling along Rodeo Drive or blasting down Route 66 between those amber waves of grain.
Joe the barber’s son may never feel quite right in a Mercedes-Benz, but if he works hard, he can wear a Sedan DeVille like he was born in it. They are the most definitively American vehicles ever made.
James Donlon, of Galveston, came to this understanding as a child.
“I became fascinated looking at them when I was a kid growing up in Connecticut,” Donlon, 52, said.
The objects of his fascination were two 1959s that a pair of “mysterious neighbors” drove, he said. It probably was Ozzie and Harriet or Ward and June across the street in the Connecticut suburbs, but with those Caddies, they could have been Bonnie and Clyde.
For Donlon, and a lot of others, those Cadillacs embodied the great strength, security and potential of post-World War II America.
“They are about the promise of a bright future,” he said.
Donlon’s obsession continued into adulthood.
“I was always looking at them on the internet,” he said. “Finally, my wife said ‘just go ahead and buy one.’”
Donlon, who works as a pilot flying chartered airplanes, started looking in earnest a little more than a year ago and found a 1959 model for sale in Oklahoma.
It was a two-owner Series 62 “flat top” done in a color GM called Wood Rose and sporting just about 54,000 original miles.
The model, which had been renamed Series 6200 in 1959, may be the representative example of the big post-war Cadillac sedans, with its ostentatious tail fins and rear bumper details resembling jet exhaust ports, both hinting at flying cars and colonies on Mars, which, everybody knew, were just around the corner.
If they weren’t the best examples, they certainly were among the last, rolling off the line just before everything began to change and phrases such as air pollution, fuel economy and Rust Belt began to form in the national lexicon.
The specifications of Donlon’s Cadillac say as much about the period in history as they do about the car. It’s almost 19 feet long, weighs 4,770 pounds — a little more than two tons — has power everything, factory air, four ashtrays with cigarette lighters and no seat belts.
All that good American steel is pushed along by a 390-cubic-inch V8 making about 325 horsepower.
Donlon said he has no plans to restore the car.
“It’s a driver,” he said. “I like rolling down the windows and driving along the seawall. People have a visceral response to it. They want me to stop so they can take a picture.
“I think the mission of this car is to bring joy to the island. When people see it, they smile.”