Remembering The 1959 Cadillac Cyclone: History Alley


In automotive design, Harley Earl is known as one of the all-time greats, and has gone down in history with his work. His sketches and models from the past have foreshadowed and inspired technology and design for years to come since his passing. Referred to as a true visionary, his final creation may have earned him a spot in the automotive design hall of fame.

The tradition of post-war futuristic concepts stayed strong in the automotive industry with the creation of the 1959 Cadillac Cyclone. The Cyclones headlights were shaped as “rocket cones” – envisioned to be radar devices. The headlights were unsuspectingly tucked away into the grill. Earl captured a technology that was sixty years away from mass production at the time.

The inspiration behind the radar cones was that if you were cruising down a back road at night, and wildlife was caught strolling along the road – the cones would detect the animal. Once detected, a signal on the dashboard would begin beeping louder as the object approached, avoiding a collision.  This concept appears to be very 21st century and in line with current technologies.

Aside from the futuristic ‘radar cones’, Earl also envisioned the rest of the car to be technologically advanced. An encapsulating windshield made of clear plastic, would give the driver a 360º look around the cabin. The power canopy in the rear controlled the encapsulating window, allowing for the ability to transform into a convertible or to provide shelter from inclement weather. While engaging the encapsulating window, a built in two-way speaker was engineered so that occupants could speak to outsiders without having to open the windshield.

A 325 horsepower 390 cubic-inch V8 was stuck under the hood to power the Cyclone, which also stored the muffler and exhaust system. Rather than a top-mounted air filter, the engine was fed with a four-barrel carb – which used a filtered air scoop in order to achieve a lower design.

Although Earls vision didn’t make it with the Cyclone, one radical concept piece is still used today in mass production. After the introduction of the Saginaw rotary-valve variable-ratio power steering, every Cadillac has since been fitted with this concept.

It’s times like these where we miss the outlandish free-thinking concepts of yesteryear. These types of concepts have mostly gone the way of the dodo in favor of design concepts to preview new product, if anything. One thing is certain though, automotive historians will have much to look back on with Harley Earl’s portfolio of stunning work.

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