Like ships passing in the night, Cadillac’s two most iconic nameplates barely shared dealership floor space. The two-door Eldorado—that symbol of mid-century American automotive glamour and luxury—was being put to rest just as a new E-named vehicle, the Escalade, was arriving to restore Cadillac to the forefront of automotive vogue. In only 20 short years, with no prior pedigree, the Escalade has come to dominate and define the luxury SUV space. But what if it had some existing lineage? What if Cadillac had first thought up the Escalade back in the 1950s when it dropped the Eldorado on an increasingly affluent, booming America?
Great question, and it’s been answered by designer Abilemec, who imagined what a 1959 Cadillac Escalade might have looked like if the luxury division of General Motors had thought up the luxury SUV concept 40 years sooner. Cleverly, the renderings depict what appears to be a more luxurious take on the late-1950s-era Chevrolet Suburban. Just as today’s Escalade is split off from the tree that grows Chevy’s Tahoe and Suburban, as well as GMC’s Yukon and Yukon XL, this illustration assumes the same parts sharing relationship might exist between the hypothetical Cold War-era versions of these vehicles.
It’s almost eery how similar the births of the Eldorado and Escalade were. Both sat at vanguards of garish automotive styling trends. Throughout the 1950s, Cadillac engaged in a tailfin arms race with other automakers, which culminated in the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado’s towering rear dorsals. At the changeover to a new millennium, Cadillac decided to slap its badges, chrome, and some fancier wood and leather on GM’s lumbering GMT truck platform, kicking off an increasingly hedonistic race to make taller, heavier, and more lumbering luxury vehicles—gas prices be damned! But what’s really clever about the 1999-today Cadillac SUV is how it captured the Eldorado’s stylish “personal luxury” essence and repackaged it in a format that was appealing to early-2000s America.
Abilemec translates that idea to his 1959 Escalade design, incorporating Cadillac’s famous tailfins, jet-afterburner taillights, and chrome-tastic front and rear fascias onto the hulking Suburban’s wagon body style. The hypothetical old ‘Slade features three rows of bench seating, a big ol’ V-8 engine under its hood, and a host of electronic power accessories. In an Instagram post, the designer even furnishes a would-be 1959 sales brochure entry for the Escalade (and the awesome faux commercial above), which reads:
“A NEW REALM OF MOTORING MAJESTY!
A completely new way of transportation as radical as this could only be a product of Cadillac, the standard of the world. A perfect blend of practicality, convenience, value, elegance, and comfort and the best luxury experience available in a motor car are a few of the things you can expect from the most modern Cadillac ever built—Escalade is a realm all its own. To see it and to drive it is to discover [a] new measure of fulfillment in modern motoring.”
If the Escalade were to have had a 40-year head start, would it have entered the market in 1999 as a rebadged, hastily put-together GMC Yukon Denali? Probably not, but, we suspect, 40 years of baggage—and those awful malaise years in the 1970s and 1980s—likely would have dulled the shine of the Cadillac SUV’s star somewhat, just as they wore away at the Eldorado’s.