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As personal possessions that symbolised a certain version of ‘the good life’, these two cars were perhaps without compare 60 years ago.
They reigned supreme in an age when there was still a casual acceptance that the graceful, dignified Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud really was ‘The Best Car in the World’.
If it was not, then it was still the most expensive, and that was good enough.
Equally, it was generally agreed that Cadillac represented the finest of the US motor industry at a time when almost everything from the New World seemed to be bigger and better.
Particularly in convertible form, a Cadillac spoke of the technological, industrial and cultural power of America more eloquently than perhaps any other commercially available object.
A Cadillac was a winner, driven by life’s winners: Lincoln and Imperial combined could not approach its sales figures (Cadillac outsold Lincoln a whopping five times over in 1960) or seriously challenge the general consensus that ownership of a Cadillac was one of the ultimate American consumer aspirations.
But if many climbers of the greasy pole of American life traded up to Series 62 coupes and sedans – and maybe even a Coupe de Ville – from their Oldsmobiles and Buicks, few could aspire to the open-topped decadence of the convertible.
There were two variants: the ultra-plush Eldorado Biarritz or the slightly less lavish Series 62 Convertible Coupe, such as this.
It sat near the top of a 13-model 1960 Cadillac range that was a carry-over from 1959, but with the tailfins slightly tamed and the frontal treatment simplified.
Resting on an ‘X-frame’ chassis with a 130in wheelbase and running a 2.94:1 differential, this 5060lb showboat was urged up to 120mph by a 390cu in (6.4-litre) 325bhp V8 with a four-barrel carburettor.
Of the 142,184 units Cadillac produced in 1960, some 14,000 were Series 62 convertibles.
But if there was no pretence of high-gloss artisan finishing, then at the very least the 1960 Cadillacs, like the ’59 cars, were more carefully assembled – on the giant corporation’s slowest-moving production lines – than any other American automobile.
Run-in on a dyno, the Cadillac engine was built to closer tolerances than any other in the General Motors empire.
These epic cars also shared much less than you might think with lesser GM models, while aspiring to the same levels of mechanical refinement as the most esteemed European marques, including Rolls-Royce.
With its power locks and seats, automatic headlamp-dipping and self-seeking radio, the Cadillac was equipped with labour-savers Crewe had yet to imagine.
Air suspension was the ultimate refinement, although 1960 would be the final year for this troublesome option.
Otherwise, the engineering theme in both of these cars was well-proven conservatism.
Live rear axles, for instance, still made a lot of sense in big, hefty automobiles where the unsprung weight was less of an issue.
Rolls-Royce paid Cadillac the compliment of using its own version of the same Hydramatic gearbox in the 1955-’65 Silver Cloud, the most freeway-friendly Crewe product to date.
The introduction of a new 6230cc V8 gave the 1960 Cloud II the final element of credibility it needed to earn full acceptance from wealthy Americans.
Beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest tycoons in rainy, cold England, the convertible Silver Clouds were aimed squarely at the Stateside glamour market – Sammy Davis Jnr and Tony Curtis were among the American buyers.
As with most things to do with Rolls-Royce, there is a lot more to the story of the 1959-’63 ‘Adaptation’ dropheads than meets the eye.
Rather than being truly coachbuilt, these beautifully proportioned convertibles were hand-assembled, steel-panelled composites based on saloon bodyshells delivered by Pressed Steel to HJ Mulliner’s Chiswick works.
They arrived bereft of trim but complete with special steel panels to fill the apertures left by the rear doors.
HJ Mulliner removed the roof and the B-posts, and lengthened the front doors before sending them back for mounting on their chassis, using solid rather than flexible mounts.
The wiring, painting and trimming were also completed at Crewe, although these ‘convertible coupés’ were returned to Mulliner for their fully lined hoods – optionally power-operated at first, standard later – with PVC rear windows.
The dashboard remained unchanged, as was the split-bench front seat – but it now tipped forward to give access to a rear bench that was four inches narrower than the saloon’s (due to the ingress of the convertible hood mechanism), and set four inches further forward.
Introduced at the New York show in April 1959, the six-cylinder Cloud I and its Bentley S1 twin were short-lived and rare – 13 Rolls-Royces and just two Bentleys – but the coming of the V8 Cloud II and S2 later that year tapped into the pent-up North American demand, where 74 (out of a total of 104) were sold.
The design is normally attributed to HJ Mulliner, but it was Park Ward – then already part of the Rolls-Royce group – that produced the first example.
The idea was to create a specialist open-topped variant of the Cloud and S-type in a less time-consuming and more cost-effective way on the basis of an off-the-peg saloon body, widely regarded as being the visual equal of many of the coachbuilders’ efforts.
Park Ward seemed to think the concept was more trouble than it was worth and only made one – as a Bentley – in March 1958.
HJ Mulliner came fully into the Rolls-Royce fold in 1959, it revived the Adaptation concept and made a success of it as design number 7504 (or 7492 in rarer Bentley form), replacing its all-aluminium design number 7410 body style.
At £7601 ($20,000) in 1960 – three times the price of the Cadillac – the Adaptation was the only catalogued Rolls-Royce convertible; Bentley customers could order an Adaptation or choose a Park Ward Continental Drophead Coupé for an additional £400.
The true precursor to the rationalisation of the coachbuilt range, ushered in with the two-door Silver Shadow, the HJ Mulliner Adaptations – replaced by the restyled Cloud III and S3 dropheads in 1963 – are today often regarded as the ultimate members of the Cloud family, sometimes with near-seven-figure price-tags.
More than a foot longer than the Cloud, the Cadillac has a certain kind of sculpted elegance yet it is hard to get your head around the circumstances that caused such an outrageous vehicle not only to be built, but to become a common part of the American driving landscape.
In 2022, it feels not merely of another age, but of another world.
The Rolls-Royce is almost apologetic in comparison: it’s beautifully proportioned and detailed, but with a much smaller boot and a more compact cabin.
The Cadillac is nicely made. Its doors shut with a reassuring thunk and a lot of work has gone into its heavy, cast, star-spangled grille and aggressive bumpers.
The complex production tooling that went into its vast, sculpted body panels alone is mind-boggling.
But it was a far, far cheaper vehicle than the Rolls-Royce; a car built in days rather than the weeks it took HJ Mulliner to craft each drophead Cloud.
So you cannot truly compare the tinny way its great bonnet slams shut – or the industrial look of the massive, cast-iron engine underneath it – with the well-groomed action of everything you touch and operate in the Rolls-Royce.
Inside, the Cloud’s soothing veneers, simple instrument layout and armchair seats contrast with the glitzy distractions of the Cadillac’s horizontally accented fascia, but you might prefer the American car’s steering-wheel position, not to mention its soft, leather-clad, powered seats and easier-to-use controls.
On the move, there is nothing in it in terms of straight-line pick-up: the performance of both cars is brisk and authoritative, without being startling enough to upset the occupants of either, combined with a long, easy stride in top (fourth) gear for 100mph-plus cruising.
The Series 62’s gearchange is so seamless you don’t really think about it.
The silken, perfectly set-up shift in this Cloud III, sold new to Sir Hugh Fraser of the House of Fraser Group, easily matches it, belying the ‘jerk-a-matic’ reputation of these early automatics built by Rolls-Royce.
A convertible will never be as refined as a saloon but, with their body-on-frame construction, the Cloud and the Cadillac have a head start if you want to go topless: neither rattles or creaks, while at the same time isolating their occupants admirably from the workings of their drivetrains, suspension and the noise of the tyres on the road.
The fully coil-sprung Series 62 is softer- and quieter-riding than the firmly restrained Cloud overall, but where the British car can press on well over bumpy surfaces, the pitch and wallow of the Cadillac make fast driving feel a bit conspicuous.
Your enthusiasm is further tempered by the knowledge that drum brakes are likely to heat up quickly (I’ve boiled the brakes on a ’60s Cadillac convertible – it’s not fun) if called upon too intensively.
This is in marked contrast to the Cloud, which has easily the largest and best drum brakes of any big car of its era.
The narrower Rolls-Royce, with its more commanding driving position, feels much less of a liability on country roads, where it sweeps around even quite tight corners on a surprisingly even keel.
Good vision and manageable steering ratios mean both these cars are unexpectedly wieldy.
Even when manoeuvring in confined spaces, you can paw around the Cadillac’s feather-light steering with one hand and the Rolls-Royce requires only a little more effort.
The Cloud’s helm has more connection to the road, while the Cadillac makes no such pretence.
It merely asks that you turn its skinny steering wheel in the direction you wish to travel and trust that the nose of the car will obey, which it does.
In fact, its steering is higher-geared than the Cloud’s, with a handier feel that Rolls-Royce sought to emulate in its subsequent Silver Shadow.
Both are mechanically quiet: the Cloud creeps around at low speeds as silently as a burglar in the night, but its alloy V8 is possibly a little noisier than the Cadillac’s with the throttle floored, although the sound is more a rush of airflow under the bonnet than anything remotely unrefined.
Where the Rolls-Royce merely aspirates, there is a suggestion of an alternating all-iron V8 burble from the Cadillac.
These giant, super-luxury convertibles of the early ’60s are not for the self-conscious among us.
Offering little more than 10mpg, neither of them will boost your eco credentials or make you a hero with the yoghurt-knitting folk who would tut-tut at the amount of road space these gilded V8 dinosaurs take up.
Ditto the health-and-safety mob – look at those child-slashing fins! – or the electric-car mafia, who would readily point out their past-era inefficiencies.
The trouble is, the 1962 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III Drophead and 1960 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible Coupe don’t care what people like that say or think.
They were not, after all, built to please the current, somewhat sanctimonious age of ecological puritanism, but rather provide the ultimate in swift, luxurious recreational transport for the very wealthy.
They both retain a heightened feel-good factor that would have delighted their original owners and tends to stick two fingers up at the killjoys: a charisma, an elegance and a sense of occasion that transcends the cares of the 21st century and transports you to better, simpler times.
Images: Luc Lacey
Thanks to: Classic Automobiles Worldwide for both cars
Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III Adaptation Drophead Coupé
- Sold/number built 1959-’63/157 (all)
- Construction steel chassis, steel body
- Engine all-alloy, ohv 6230cc V8, with twin SU carburettors
- Max power n/a
- Max torque n/a
- Transmission four-speed automatic, RWD
- Suspension: front independent, by wishbones, coil springs, anti-roll bar rear live axle, semi-elliptic leaf springs; telescopic dampers f/r
- Steering power-assisted cam and roller
- Brakes drums, with gearbox-driven servo
- Length 17ft 7¼in (5365mm)
- Width 6ft 2¾in (1900mm)
- Height 5ft 4¾in (1645mm)
- Wheelbase 10ft 4in (3150mm)
- Weight 4928Ib (2235kg)
- 0-60mph 10.1 secs
- Top speed 115mph
- Mpg 10-14
- Price new £7000
- Price now £500-700,000*
Cadillac Series 62 Convertible Coupe
- Sold/number built 1959-’60/25,130
- Construction steel chassis, steel body
- Engine all-iron, ohv 6384cc V8, with Carter four-barrel carburettor
- Max power 325bhp @ 4800rpm
- Max torque 430Ib ft @ 3100rpm
- Transmission four-speed automatic, RWD
- Suspension: front independent, by wishbones rear live axle, radius arms; coil springs, telescopic dampers f/r
- Steering power-assisted recirculating ball
- Brakes drums, with servo
- Length 18ft 9in (5715mm)
- Width 6ft 8in (2029mm)
- Height 4ft 8¼in (1427mm)
- Wheelbase 10ft 10in (3032mm)
- Weight 5060Ib (2295kg)
- 0-60mph 10.3 secs
- Top speed 120mph
- Mpg 9-14
- Price new $7000
- Price now £50-80,000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication