Dave Smith’s 1961 Sedan de Ville was the color of money

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klockau classics 1961 sedan de ville banner
Credit: Thomas Klockau

It’s hard to believe now, but when the 1961 Cadillacs first appeared in autumn 1960, they were considered a bit … subdued. Well, for the appropriate context you can consider the all-time wild and crazy 1959 model, the year GM took Cadillac and cranked it up to 11. Wild, crazy, luxurious, huge, heavily chromed and all-American. With fins you could see from space.

61 sedan de ville
Credit: Dave Smith

The 1960 was heavily based on that outre ’59, but certain over-the-top-details from the prior year were removed. Then came the ’61s. All the GM marques, from Chevy to Cadillac, got new bodies and were trimmer than their 1959-60 forebears. The Chevrolets and Pontiacs in particular were cleanly styled. Of course the Cadillac still had fins. Sizeable ones, but they were slowly but surely getting less pronounced.

sedan de ville brochure
Credit: GM

As usual, a full line of models and body styles was available at Cadillac. Starting with the least expensive Series 62 models, then on to the enviably upholstered de Villes,  the pricey Eldorado Biarritz convertible (the Eldorado Seville, the hardtop version, was discontinued this year) and formal Fleetwood Sixty Special sedan. And finally, the flagships: an upper-crust Series 75 Limousine and nine-passenger Sedan.

1961 sedan de ville rear three-quarter
Credit: Dave Smith

The ’61s may have been a little less wild than their immediate predecessors, but they were still Cadillacs. And still the ‘you’ve made it’ statement to all on the road, prominently parked in front of country clubs, fine restaurants and five star hotels throughout the Land of the Free. Cadillac showroom literature made no small effort in extolling their newest products: “By any criterion, this is the finest automobile ever created-a motor car to inspire the automotive world for years to come. For the most rewarding experience in motoring accept your Cadillac dealer’s cordial invitation to see and drive the 1961 Cadillac.”

1961 sedan de ville interior seats
Credit: Dave Smith

“Interiors as functional as they are luxurious make a vital contribution to the over-all impression of perfection which you receive on inspecting the 1961 Cadillac.”

sedan de ville interior front dash
Credit: Dave Smith

“The crisp, clean lines of the new instrument panel…the smaller, easier-handling steering wheel…the lower front floor and tunnel…the new door safety lights …the new power window and seat controls…the incredibly beautiful colors and fabrics…all play key roles in making the 1961 Cadillac as delightful to drive as it is inspiring to behold.”

sedan de ville interior rear seat leather
Credit: Dave Smith

Yes, the ’61 brochure ladled it on pretty thick! But they were beautiful cars, and the interiors were indeed plush and appealing. Our featured car today is a 1961 Sedan de Ville in Lexington Green, owned by my friend, Dave Smith. He got it several years ago, and in the years since it’s become a fixture of the Hartford, CT-area car show scene.

sedan de ville rear three-quarter autumn
Credit: Dave Smith

It is notable not only for its fine condition, but the fantastic color combination. I admit I’m a little biased in this area, as green is my favorite color. It really does look fine in this light metallic silver-green. The upholstery is green Covington cloth with matching Florentine leather. Yes, even when you got the cloth interior on Cadillacs in the early Sixties, they were still combined with genuine leather trim. There exception would be the Series 62s, trimmed in vinyl.

four window sedan de ville ad
Credit: GM

There were actually two different Sedan de Ville body styles: The six-window hardtop, like Dave’s example, and the four-window hardtop, with a bigger, wraparound rear window. The six window SDV vastly outsold the four window version, to the tune of 26,415 against 4,847. Both variants were priced at $5,498. To compare, a basic Chevy Bel Air sedan went for $2,438 with a six or $2,545 with a V8. Naturally, all Cadillacs were V8s, regardless of trim level.

sedan de ville front three-quarter
Credit: Dave Smith

Cadillacs flaunted their fins proudly in 1961, and would for a few more years yet, but tastes were changing. The 1961 Lincoln, with its slab sides and understated lines, got a lot of attention that year, so Cadillac-and a bit later, Imperial-took the hint and started toning down the sheetmetal excitement. The 1964 Cadillacs were the last ones with significant ‘finnage.’

1965 cadillac fleetwood brougham
Credit: Thomas Klockau

The ’65s were much different looking, like this ’65 Fleetwood Brougham spotted at the 2015 CLC show in Wisconsin, but beautiful in their own way. And they still retained a hint of fins with their vertical rear quarters and slim taillights. But the Cadillacs with serious, unmistakable fins, were gone for good. Cadillac was headed in a new aesthetic direction.

As for Dave’s car, he’s enjoyed it a lot these past few years. Earlier this fall he found another classic luxocruiser, a 1977 Lincoln Continental Town Coupé. So the Caddy needed to find a new caretaker. After a false start with someone who didn’t follow through on his offer, a serious buyer appeared and added this de Ville to his collection. Green — it’s the color of money, but for many people it will also be, quite appropriately, the color of envy.

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