From Commander Cody singing about trying to pass a Cadillac in a “Hotrod Lincoln” to The Marine Corps running in formation singing about how “they took away my Cadillac”. There is probably no other car out there that is so frequently mentioned with music and other indicators of pop culture. Think about it, did Sammy Kershaw sing a song about “my little baby loves me Plymouth Valiant style?” There is something about the Cadillac that allows a person to relate to an audience. Weather its “Cadillac style” or the “Cadillac of microwaves” we find that frequently “Cadillac” is used to describe the quality or style of something.
To figure out how a noun became an adjective look no further than Rock and Roll. Rock and Roll, a cultural movement that still rages on today got its start in 1953 on a record called “Rocket 88” by The Delta Cats. Granted the band took its name from a fellow GM product line this was the start of rock and Roll. It occurred at the same time that one of the greatest automotive icons also got its start known as the Eldorado. The only other Car that may be mentioned as often in song is the Corvette, also debuting in 1953. Coincidence? I beg to differ.
By 1953 Harley Earl was really flexing his design muscle at GM, the Cadillac and Buck lines were the benchmark of automotive style. Chrysler and Lincoln by comparison were pretty plain, while Packard and Dusenberg’s days were pretty much done. If you wanted a car to show the world you made it, you drove a Cadillac. High quality, flamboyant styling, chrome, and that smooth v8. There was nothing out there like a Cadillac. As soon as Elvis’s First single in 1955 got him enough cash a skinny Elvis marched right down and got himself a used 1954 Cadillac 4 Door. This car would be the first of many Cadillacs including the 1954 Pink and White car that is so famous now. Cadillac couldn’t ask for a bigger endorsement than a popular musician buying and collecting the cars they made. Like a girl looking at a Brittney Spears style school girl uniform on ebay the world knew if they had one they would be adored.
Johnny Cash wanted one so bad he stole one “one piece at a time” from a Detroit assembly line. The story may not be true but it reflects a feeling had by many folks over time. By 1959 the Cadillac became the car most associated with the 50s, with only the best seller 57 Chevrolet Bellair and the 50 Mercury fighting it for icon status. When people talk tailfin, the 59 is what comes to mind. King of the fins, king of the latest technology, king of style. Across the world the 1959 Cadillac Line is the quintessential American car. Ask any one from Russia, Japan, or Great Britain what the American car is, they will most likly say the Cadillac and point out a picture of a 59.
By the middle 70s however the Cadillac got “unpopular” in some regards. While “pimped” Eldorados with huge aftermarket headlamps and “dingle bells” hung from the headliner were the rage in some circles the big fancy cars were falling away due to the oil crisis. With a war raging in Vietnam most pop culture shifted away from what material things we wanted and focused on more what made us happy inside, or in Dan Fogelberg’s case what made us sad. We had sung about love, peace, even what happened one dark day at Kent state. Cadillac was a car of the “fascist pig” or “the man” as frequently mentioned by the keepers of popculture. Even the champion all of things Cadillac known as Elvis was lost in this era. The king of rock and roll and the Cadillac’s pop culture identity died at the same time. We even got to the point we sung a song about a Chevy Van. Good thing “Bread’s” popularity was fairly shortlived.
The biggest pop culture item to come out of this era was “Cadillac Ranch” where one oil tycoon had an artist bury Cadillacs nose first so the tailfins would show. One pristine 49 would fall the worst victim. The owner of the 49 demanded a higher price than what it was worth, the tycoon ordered the car be bought and its nose smashed right in front of the owner and was then promptly buried. OUCH!!!
Cadillac had enjoyed a little resurgence in the 80s as Crockett and Tubs were frequently seen in an early 60s Cadillac convertible on the show "Miami Vice". The real rebirth occurred in late 98 when the Escalade was introduced to the world. Pretty soon “it’s been a long time since I rock and rolled” became the battle cry for Cadillac. Almost overnight the Escalade appeared in music videos. One Escalade even leaked oil in a Ludacris video as he proclaimed “check out at the oil my Cadillac spills”. Hopefully this was taken care of under warranty. Then the CTS showed its stuff on the matrix sequel, it brought the “entry level” Cadillac out of the failure shadow (cast from the 82-87 Cimarron) and into loving owners garages everywhere.
The Cadillac casts a spell on people, I for one cant quite place my finger on it but I think it’s in that v8. As even hardened Import fanatics such as myself found the Cadillac Irresistible, turning down a Supra and a early 90s rx7 to have that V8 and tailfins I had seen and heard so much of my life. Like Rock and Rollers, Politicians, oil tycoons, Rap Moguls, and movie stars, I'm proud to point and say, “ that’s my Cadillac". I for one cant wait to see what the XLR, STS, SRX, V series and DTS will bring us over the airwaves.