The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit: Don Draper’s 1962 Cadillac

by James Kraus

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Don slides behind the wheel of a Newport Blue Coupe de Ville with Olympic White roof and blue Chelsea Cloth interior. He purchases it days later.

The other day I was discussing season two of the television drama Mad Men with a friend and not surprisingly, talk soon turned to Don’s new Cadillac. Prototypical of what a successful New York executive would have purchased in the 1960’s, it was quiet, smooth and comfortable; equipped with a full measure of the latest developments in convenience features and driving aids.

Did Don care about how much power it had? How fast it was? No; these were more the concerns of men further down the totem pole. They amused themselves with lower-cost, larger-engined Fords, Chevrolets and Plymouths. All of which could easily out-power Don’s posh new Cadillac. No matter; Don had no need for mere demonstrations of power; he possessed power.

This phenomenon was not unique to the U.S. In Germany, a top-range 300 SEL Mercedes could be outpaced by an Opel Diplomat. In Italy, a prestigious Lancia Flamina or Alfa 2600 Berlina would likewise both be left behind by the more prosaic Alfa Giulia TI Super. In the U.K., the Rover 95, 110 and P5 and Humber Super Snipe were all quite sedate. Only Jaguars could hustle, and thus became favorites of the underworld (à la Peter the Dutchman in the classic 1971 Michael Caine film Get Carter.)

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Don and Betty disembark from their new Cadillac. Note that the white sidewall tires are not quite correct. 1961 was the last year for this style. For the 1962 model year; GM, Ford and Chrysler began using a narrower white band, half the width of those depicted above.

Jet Age kingpins, power brokers and men about town did not concern themselves over such matters. When you have been through the rigors of war and are now commanding Madison Avenue or Wall Street, or overseeing the design of skyscrapers, jet aircraft or mainframe computer systems, there is little need to concern oneself over being able to out maneuver some stranger in the next lane. The idea was simply to travel in a modicum of style and arrive comfortable and refreshed after commuting to the office, county club or favored purveyor of libations.

Don had a powerful sway over women, and wielded considerable power at the office. Today, women often exhibit as much sexual assertiveness as men (witness the rise of the popularly celebrated cougar) and exercising power at the modern workplace can lead to censure from Human Resources or legal retribution by disgruntled or terminated employees. The inexorable rise of the often-questionable team ethos has also served to erode individual power in the executive suite.

Thus today’s striving Don Drapers often grasp for a show of power by commuting daily in harsh-riding, flatulent-sounding “executive” cars far better suited to contesting the European Touring Car Championship. Executives in the 1960’s enjoyed an innate sense of masculinity that allowed them to drive cars that were not conceived to overtly express the same trait. They were free to drive cars that were simply elegant. They aspired to be gentlemen rather than bad boys.

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The recreated showroom of 1962. The producers actually rounded up three vintage Cadillacs to grace the establishing shot for this scene: two 1962 models and one 1961.

When Don first visits the Cadillac showroom, he gets a taste of his own advertising hyperbole when the salesman asserts that while Don’s Dodge was wonderful for “getting you where you are going, this (gesturing toward a new Coupe de Ville) is for when you have already arrived;” thus subjecting Don to the same marketing psychology on which the entire existence of Sterling Cooper is based.

There is a sizable contingent that believes the 1961 and 1962 Cadillac marked the pinnacle of the brand. Still bearing the thematic futurism of the late-50’s models, they mercifully shed the flamboyant bombasticism of their immediate predecessors in favor of a design that was created to ideate grace and spirit.

In 1963 the design team elected to pursue an emphasis on more ‘traditional’ Cadillac styling cues and began phasing in more ostentatious grilles, broader C-pillars and more blunt detailing. Brashness and gravitas unfortunately displaced the short-lived grace and spirit.

The clearest and best expression of the grace and spirit motif can be seen in the 1961 Coupe de Ville with its elegant, slender C-pillars; and the rare 1961 four-window cantilevered-roof version of the Sedan de Ville with its sleek, monumentally scaled one-piece wraparound rear glass. I believe these two models represent the epitome of post-war Cadillac design. Another intriguing pair of ’61 and ’62 models are the short-deck Town Sedan and Park Avenue, both of which are a svelte 18 cm (7”) shorter and 18 kg (40 lbs) lighter than their standard brethren. Since today’s cars have grown so portly themselves, these Cadillacs are not so comparatively gargantuan as one might think. They are less than 10 cm (4”) wider than a Porsche Panamera, and these shorter versions are less than 20 cm (8”) longer than the current Audi A8L.

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6 thoughts on “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit: Don Draper’s 1962 Cadillac

  1. The ’61 and ’62 were a high-water mark. The later sixties Cadillacs were far less interesting, and the 1970’s models continued a sad decline into fake wood, crushed velour, opera windows, opera lamps and other nonsense. The quality took a dive as well with extensive use of plastic chrome, uneven panel fit and gaps, and plastic headlamp retainers that regularly broke, leaving the front lamps pointed down about 45 degrees.

  2. Elegance was often lacking in the realm of postwar Cadillacs; particularly in the fifties and seventies. However these ’61 and ’62 models did possess a futuristic élan that previous and later models lacked. The 6-window sedans and the ’61 coupes with their generous glass areas expressed this ideal particularly well.

  3. Don Draper should have driven a ‘hot’ Buick, Like a 63 Riviera GS, not a Cadillac and not one that looks like it would have been ordered for a woman. Blue with a white top, really?

    I love Mad Men, but I most definitely think it’s weak link has been the cars used. Cars are often shown without their stock wheels, and the chug chug chug of the aging cars should have been over dubbed. Cadillac’s were silent in 1962, they didn’t make a sound. And the episode where Don tells the gas station attendant to fill up his Caddy with “regular” gas had me rolling on the floor. That car would have pinged all the way back to NY.

    Sorry Mr. Wiener, the cars of Mad Men have been disappointing since the pilot. But you still managed to create the best show that has ever been on TV!!

    • You raise some interesting points; but given that Don bought his new car in early 1962, the Riviera would still have been 5-6 months in the future (It was introduced in October of ‘62.) Also, the ‘hot’ GS (Gran Sport) version only became available with the debut of the 1965 models.

      I think the Cadillac was a good choice. Don was at the top of his game; men like him in the U.S. pretty much drove Cadillacs, Lincolns or Imperials. Buicks; even the stylish Riviera, were for men still striving for the corner office. Remember, it was Roger who gently nudged him to buy a Cadillac because it was time for Don to step up and join the “people who get to decide what will happen in our world.”

      As to ‘hot’ performance; wealthy 1960s executives like Don weren’t very interested. Cadillac dropped their last performance option, the high-output triple-carburettor “Eldorado” V8 after the 1960 model year; not enough customers were ordering it.

      Regarding blue and white being a colour scheme for a woman’s car; light and medium blues were extremely popular with men in the 1960s, with or without a white top. Growing up I recall a gentleman down the street buying a brand-new ’62 Pontiac Grand Prix in pale blue; lighter than Don’s de Ville. In the film Tin Men, set in the same decade, the character portrayed by Richard Dreyfuss purchases a new 1963 Coupe de Ville in the same colour scheme as Don’s.

      I do not have access for paint data on Cadillacs, but one car of the mid-to-late sixties for which colour data is readily available is the Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray. Demographics for Corvette buyers in the 1960s did not exactly skew toward the feminine; yet in 1965 the most popular colour for the Sting Ray was Nassau Blue, a colour very similar to the Newport Blue of Don’s Coupe de Ville.

      Out of eight available colours that year, Nassau Blue Magic-Mirror acrylic lacquer covered more than one-quarter of all Corvettes produced, and remained the most popular colour for the Sting Ray in 1966; and the majority of Nassau Blue Corvette convertibles had white tops. By comparison, Tuxedo Black, a colour many consider very “masculine” today, accounted for only 5% of Sting Rays sold in 1965 and a minuscule 4% in 1966.

      One car that I would have cast differently was Don’s old Dodge. I would have placed him in something a little more upscale, along the lines of an Oldsmobile 98, a Buick LeSabre (like he drove in the premier), or more interesting from a period standpoint; a DeSoto Fireflite.

  4. Rather than a leased German car, I could picture a present-day Don Draper in a first-gen Scion xB. It’s his first and only new car, bought back when he was hired for the Emerging Media Division back in ’05, when he was a kid showing off how well he was doing. Now, as a name-on-the-door partner, that does the showing off for him while his car is a tool and nothing more and the xBox is well suited to that as well as still being a blast to run up through the gears after 9 years and 120,000+ miles.

    Don only owned the Dodge briefly, he had Buick and Olds coupes and convertibles before that. One fan theory is that he bought the Dodge post sedan after crashing the X-frame GMs driving drunk.

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