Motoring Trailblazers - Cadillac Brougham

Sat 7th Dec 2019

The world of motoring is hurtling headlong into a bright new future of all-electric, automated, connected technology - and Marty McFly is not behind the wheel! But what were the cars that were ‘back to the future’ of years gone by?

There have been many different trailblazing motors which were seen by the critics to be ahead of their time, and in this series, we will investigate and showcase many of the best in class.

Cadillac Brougham
While the Brougham brand from Cadillac may seem familiar to those who were in the market for a luxury car in the 1970s and 80s, it is a name which the American company have actually been using one way or another for more than 100 years.

The name was actually inspired by a British statesman, Henry Brougham, who along with helping to abolish slavery in the 19th century, was the designer of the brougham, a four-wheeled, horse-draw carriage.

Though Cadillac first used the Brougham name on a vehicle in 1916, there were no horses involved in what was a seven-seater sedan. Cadillac retained the use of the Brougham through the 1920s and 30s, but it wasn’t until 1955 and the launch of the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham that the car made history with its groundbreaking innovation - air suspension.

Air suspension’s own history began more than 100 years ago, but it was a long and winding road of development before we saw it introduced to mainstream vehicles. It was American, William W. Humphreys, who patented a ‘Pneumatic Spring for Vehicles’ a system where two cushions were closed at each by an air valve.

The air suspension innovation was used in a variety of means during the next few decades, with most ideas aimed at introducing the cushioned system after a vehicle had been built.

The French had been pioneers in the field of air suspension and in the early 1950s it was no surprise that Citroen replaced their steel spings in suspension with a hydraulic form of air suspension was evolved.

But it wasn’t until 1957 that we finally saw air suspension on a fully-fledged production vehicle. General Motors had done some work on air suspension on truck and airplanes in the Second World War and they pushed through that technology onto their Cadillac Eldorado Brougham.

The innovation saw an ‘Air Dome’ on each wheel which included sensors which compensated for uneven surfaces and automatically maintained the car’s height. This was a system which was standard on the Eldorado Brougham and as an optional extra on other Cadillacs.

So while the air suspension innovation came to the fore in the late 1950s, it was, and to some extent, remains an expensive luxurious extra which while providing a smooth drive has never been introduced to automobiles as standard.