Richard Heseltine unearths one of Cadillac’s more unusual collaborations with Italian styling house Pininfarina in the late Fifties…
From here to obscurity
Richard Heseltine’s weird and wonderful American cars from the past.
Italian design houses and Detroit’s Big Three once had a symbiotic relationship. While the association between Ghia and Chrysler is well-remembered, perhaps the most enduring alliance was that between Pinin Farina (or Pininfarina from 1961) and Cadillac. It spanned seven decades, after all. The car pictured here, however, is perhaps the most shadowy of the many Italo-American hybrids to wear the Cadillac badge.
The relationship between the Turin firm and General Motors’ premium brand stretches all the way back to the early Thirties. The first PF-bodied Cadillac was a one-off V16 Speedster that was built for the Maharaja of Orchha. The resultant creation impressed GM style czar Harley Earl sufficiently that he initiated a meeting with studio chief Battista ‘Pinin’ Farina with a view to him shaping a series of cars for the La Salle sub-division. Sadly, this scheme came to naught.
There wouldn’t be another PF-bodied Cadillac until 1954. Farina and his metal-wielding artisans conjured the ‘PF200’ Cabriolet Speciale, which boasted a body design adapted from those that featured on a variety of different platforms, Lancias more than most. It was all a bit cut ’n’ paste. This radical-looking three-seater ragtop screamed Jet-Age, even if it wasn’t particularly attractive. As with the V16, this was a custombuilt car made for a wealthy enthusiast (Mr Norman Granz) rather than something built at the behest of Cadillac itself.
It clearly did the trick, however, as Pinin Farina was subsequently tasked by GM with shaping a Buick concept car – the Lido V8 – in 1957, before following through with the car pictured here a year later. Based on a Series 62 chassis, this was a GM-funded project, although it bore little resemblance to the donor car. That was probably the point of the exercise, ‘Project PF 779’, doing away with much of the regular Caddy’s sense of theatre, in its place a more sober and surprisingly inelegant outline. It did, however, have tailfins, but they were nowhere near as lofty as those of the standard car. If anything, it was the front end that divided opinion, the quad headlight arrangement and full-width grille screaming Checker taxi cab rather than glamour wagon. Nevertheless, the car was displayed at the 1958 Paris Motor Show, before making a few other public appearances. However, a degree of uncertainty surrounds its fate, or that of a fixed-roof coupe variant which, depending on whose version of history you believe, was either a brand-new car or the cabriolet reworked with a new Plexiglas roof and given a blow-over in a different colour. Roof and change of hue aside, there was little to tell them apart.
Just to add to confusion, ‘they’ were also known by a variety of other names, including Skylight/Skylite and Starlite. As to what happened to the prototype or prototypes, your guess is as good as ours. One – or the one and only – prototype was purportedly advertised for sale in New York in 1970 but the trail goes cold after that. Cadillac was clearly impressed by Pinin Farina’s efforts, though, as it subsequently commissioned it to build the Eldorado Brougham in series as a subcontractor. More recently, it collaborated on the handsome but ill-starred Allanté…
Front end reminiscent of a Humber Super Snipe. The Italian take on fins was certainly elegant.