Cadillac: The Tailfin Years

Cadillac: The Tailfin Years by Robert J. Headrick Jr.
published 2008 by Iconografix, Inc.
126 pages, softcover

ISBN-13: 978-1-58388-212-2
ISBN: 1-58388-212-X

purchased from a retailer specializing in auto literature, at their booth, during a classic car auction

I used to regularly attend a classic car auction in Toronto. While I was in the market to buy a car, I never ended up even registering to bid. But every time I went, I felt I needed to buy something.

One particular time, Cadillac: The Tailfin Years caught my eye. I didn’t have many books featuring Cadillac, and that the tailfin years were the focus was enough to seal the deal. When I got it 7 or so years back, I must have expected more because I recall being somewhat unimpressed. Upon recent rereading, I find it’s really not a bad book – a few flaws, but overall an enjoyable read.

It’s a fairly simple layout – each chapter features the Cadillac line for a model year, beginning with 1948 and ending with 1964. The text borrows heavily from the official, GM-produced Cadillac sales material. The images are all from a collection of original Cadillac sales literature and advertising.

I do like the layout and concept. As I’ve said, I enjoy seeing the original sales materials as I feel it gives great perspective of what the public was presented and a sense of the environment the car existed in. And there is no lack of prose or imagery here – full pages of sales brochures can be found throughout this book.

I do have some criticisms. I think the font is a little large, which always gives me the impression the author is trying to fill space, but that’s a personal pet peeve. I take some issue with the form. The author has quoted from the sales material, but gone ahead and made changes to the verb tense using square brackets, and many ellipses. While it may be technically correct, I find it somewhat distracting when reading. I think it’s understood the material quoted is from the past, so there’s no need to correct the tense. Further it may be fair to say any of these Cadillacs featured and still on the road today would continue providing all the luxury, power and dignity the brochures describe, so why not refer to these in the present tense?

The images from the brochures and ads have been scanned, and some could use more photoshop work. Some pages, when scanned, allow the image on the reverse page to show through because the paper is so thin (for example on one page I can clearly see the reverse of the GTE logo). Other times, wrinkled or wavy paper can show as shadows when scanned. I’m sure the images have been retouched, but perhaps a little more could have be done to really clean them up so they look as good as possible.

There are some typos to be found, and a somewhat bizarre situation involving the Golden Anniversary. In 1952, Cadillac did celebrate its 50th or Golden Anniversary. All 1952 Cadillacs were deemed Golden Anniversary models, and featured gold crest and ‘V’. However, the chapter about the 1958 Cadillacs also mentions ‘Golden Anniversary’. This must be an error by the author who may have pasted text inadvertently to the 1958 chapter. There wouldn’t seem to be any other explanation.

As said though, on rereading I find this is a pretty good book. In addition to the ad copy, there is a lot of good information to be found. Headrick includes an easy to understand description of each Series available and the models found. He describes the changes to the line over the previous year, as well as significant additions to powertrain and options. Each model has its sales totals and list price.

The more I read this book, the more I realize what a good book it is. As a reference, it’s actually wonderful. The information coming directly from the sales materials turns out to be a good resource, often revealing an option as being new that model year, or naming the available seating surface materials and colours. The more technical information, as well as the pricing and production numbers are great to fill in the picture of Cadillac’s year. The illustrations are clear enough you can certainly see the progression of Cadillac design over this period, and can serve as something of a field guide for identifying years and models in the wild.

This is where I found I warmed to Cadillac: The Tailfin Years. Factoids that come out such as when Cadillac dropped the Series Sixty-One, or the fact that the Eldorado was always given a slightly higher horsepower rating, those interest me. I appreciate the cars themselves, but I am the kind of car guy who enjoys knowing what distinguishes the Eldorado convertible over the Series Sixty Convertible, or being reminded the Seville nameplate was used on the Eldorado coupe.

As I said, initially I had some disappointment. Perhaps I expected the book about Cadillac to be ‘the Standard of the World‘, a book equal to the legendary precision engineering Cadillac was known for. This book is not that. But, it is an interesting, easy-to-read book that does a great job showcasing the tailfin Caddies in one place, using period imagery and language. It offers up some good useful information and will add to one’s appreciation of these iconic Cadillacs.

Pros: essentially presents a collection of 1948-1964 Cadillac sales literature, supported by other technical info
Cons: some design flaws, a few typos
Where to get it: Amazon, used bookstores

8 thoughts on “Cadillac: The Tailfin Years

  1. rulesoflogic

    Glad to see you can have an open mind about a book, or any topic. First impressions might be lasting, but they are often incorrect.

    I also like to see sales material from the actual time period. Such items are a window into the past.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. markcars2014 Post author

      Thank you for your comment sir.

      I am finding sales brochures are becoming a thing of the past themselves. In the last few years it seems many dealers ‘don’t have any in the office’ or the sales people are reluctant to give them up.


    1. markcars2014 Post author

      Yes, the cost and environmental considerations, and the ease of access to the internet are big factors. Still I like to have the physical brochure. I have managed to acquire original brochures for many of the cars we’ve owned, and I sometimes display the ones for the Grand Prix at cruises.


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