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1970 Cadillac: Farewell,
Fleetwood Sixty Special Sedan

Image: Farewell Fleetwood Sixty Special

Image: 1970 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special SedanThe distinguished Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special Sedan reached the end of a long and elegant line of premium motorcars in 1970. It all began in 1938 with the first Sixty Special, one of William L. (Bill) Mitchell's first designs as the new head of Cadillac's styling studio.

The original Sixty Special was a stunning automobile, truly a landmark design in its day. It broke all the rules when it came to accepted styling concepts. There was nothing else like it on the road at the time, and it set the stage for automotive designs for many years to come.

Perhaps the most notable styling details were what the car was missing. In short: running boards! The Sixty Special didn't have them, and in their place was a ribbed chrome rocker molding. Suddenly every other car on the road with running boards looked old and dated. The shape of the Sixty Special set it apart, as well. It highlighted two separate body components, the lower body and the upper "greenhouse" above the belt line. It featured a flat roof line and flush-mounted side glass with thin chrome frames. The glass was sharply angled at the corners, and gave the car a completely new look.

The rear window maintained a Cadillac styling motif introduced in 1934, which utilized two vertical divider bars, but that was its only styling connection with other Cadillacs at the time. A single vertical chrome bar ran down the center of the windshield. From the front, a massive chrome grille with horizontal bars dominated the front appearance. Bullet-shaped headlights were tucked in between the grille and squared off front fenders. The 1938 Sixty Special sat three inches lower than other Cadillac models, as well.

Powered by the same 346 cubic inch V-8 engine used in most of the other 1938 Cadillacs, the Sixty Special weighed in at 4,170 pounds. Designated Model 6019-S, it was priced at $2,090 and 3,703 were built. This was a very strong performance, as 1938 was not a good year for the automobile industry, with the country having been hit by a recession.

Image: 1939 Cadillac Sixty SpecialThe Sixty Special was the first of many spectacular Bill Mitchell designs, which included the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray, 1963 Buick Riviera, and the 1967 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado, among many others. The Sixty Special was always positioned at the top of the Cadillac line, and was first challenged in 1965 with the addition of a formal roof trim option called the Fleetwood Brougham. On this model, the roof was covered with a padded, textured vinyl material outlined with a thin molding that bordered the roof rails and lower roof edges. Twin chrome beads gave this molding an almost jewel-like appearance. "Brougham" scripts and a small Cadillac wreath and crest were added to the upper rear roof quarter. This $194 option added a new air of distinction to the car, and was a very popular option with Sixty Special customers.

In 1966, just the second year the Brougham option was offered, it became a separate model priced $317 higher than the standard Sixty Special Sedan. Again, it was very popular and 13,630 were sold in 1966 compared to just 5,445 standard Sixty Special Sedans. The final pages of the chapter were already being written for the Sixty Special. By 1970, just 1,738 of the bare-roof Sixty Special Sedans were built, a striking figure when compared to the 16,913 Fleetwood Broughams built for 1970.

And so it all came to a close very quietly when the Sixty Special Sedan was discontinued at the end of the 1970 model year. The Cadillacs of 1971 would be completely restyled, and the Fleetwoods would feature a new roof line that was reminiscent of the very first Sixty Specials back in 1938, perhaps done as a tribute to honor the ground-breaking beauty of the original design. In a way, it's a sad ending for such a distinguished automobile that was a companion to the rich and famous for so many years. Done in by a padded vinyl top that would harbor moisture and cause the metal roof structure to rot over time. We think the bare-roof cars look especially striking due to their absence of additional glued on and bolted on accoutrements.

It should be noted that two other Cadillac models also bid farewell to the motoring public in 1970. The DeVille Convertible and the Sedan deVille (with B-pillar) were both dropped, but would live on in other forms. The DeVille Convertible would be replaced by a glamorous new Fleetwood Eldorado Convertible for 1971, and the Sedan deVille nameplate would live on in hardtop form, only the slow selling pillared Sedan deVille was gone. Hardtop styling was very popular during this time, and many models that had once offered both hardtop and pillared body styles were now dropping the pillared versions.

Today, vinyl roofs are rarely seen on cars, and even the lauded Fleetwood Brougham is gone. The American automobile industry is in turmoil, and has been on the brink of collapse for years. The American auto makers have lost incredible sums of money trying to compete with foreign car makers that don't have the history or the legacy that the American brands have. Most foreign cars wouldn't know good styling if it ran over them. Thank goodness we still have a few of the good old cars still around, like that Spartacus Blue Firemist one pictured above. We'll likely never see automobiles like that again. Some say that's a good thing, but the truth is the excitement just isn't there any more.

Perhaps excitement was also discontinued along with the great cars like the Fleetwood Sixty Special Sedan.