The Calais was the new entry level Cadillac for 1965, replacing the 62 Series, which dated all the way back to 1941 and the demise of LaSalle. The new model cut ties with the fins and chrome that Cadillac had been utilizing since the 1950s, as the Calais took on a squared shape and headlights were stacked vertically Available body styles included two- or four-door hardtops along with four-door sedans, which Cadillac hadn’t offered since 1956. Side glass was curved and a new perimeter frame moved the engine forward six inches, offering more interior room. The standard 429 cubic inch engine produced up to 340 horsepower.
The 1966 Calais maintained the same shape but with still less chrome than the previous year. Improvements included variable ratio steering, optional reclining heated seats, headrests, and AM/FM stereo. Like all Cadillacs from 1967, the Calais’s grille was tilted forward, its sides became smoother, and the coupes received the Florentine show car roof line, allowing more privacy to rear seat passengers. The engine’s valve train was improved and a new carburetor fitted.
For 1968 Cadillac bumped its engine size to 472 cid, producing 375 horsepower; this engine design would be used until 1976. Overall body styling changed little; though side marker lights were added, and the hood was extended by 8.5 inches to accommodate hidden wipers. Minor changes to the grille caused the rectangular parking lights to be set slightly higher. There were 14 new paint colors and 147 upholstery combinations. Power windows were now standard. The slow-selling Calais four-door sedan was dropped.
In 1969, the Calais’ front and rear was redesigned, bringing it into line with the successful Eldorado style. Headlights were realigned horizontally for the first time since 1964 and the buttressed fenders carried the turn signals, parking and cornering lights; vertical taillights wrapped around the fins. The frame was stretched by 7.5 inches and the hood by 2.5 inches.
Cosmetic changes were abundant for 1970, but were most visible on the grille where 13 vertical blades were set against the cross hatched rectangular opening. Narrow V-shaped tail lights were also seen with bottom lenses located below the bumper. Calais sales dipped to 9,911 units from the approximately 20,000 being sold a few years earlier.
The 1971 redesign produced some of the handsomest Cadillacs of the period, with a 133-inch wheelbase, horizontal headlights and lower fenders to accentuate the long hood and smoothly curved sides. The 1972 Calais was little changed from the previous year, though new standard equipment included a flow-through ventilation system, automatic parking brake release, and passenger assist straps. The 1973 Calais was noticeably outfitted with energy-absorbing bumpers, which added 300 pounds weight and 6 inches in length to the cars.
Engine output was measured in net horsepower in 1974 and Cadillac’s 472-cid V-8 was now rated at 205 horsepower. Coupes had padded roofs with thick center pillars, and the new instrument panel design now housed a digital clock. The price of the base two-door Calais had jumped $1,505 to $7,371, and Calais sales skidded to 6,773.
By 1975 the 500-cid Cadillac V-8 produced only 190 horsepower, while weighing in at 5,003 pounds, new cars could be recognized by dual square headlights and tiny “coach” windows installed in C-pillars. There were two rounds of price increases, and the base Calais ended up costing $8,184.
1976 was the last year for big cars, and the Calais models came to an end. Only 6,200 were sold from a record total of 309,139 units, including 14,000 of the “last” Eldorado convertibles.
The Calais represents an unusual niche in the luxury market as an “affordable” luxury item. Comparatively few were sold against De Villes, so they are quite rare now, though it is debatable whether the Calais was anything more than badge engineering. Pre-emission cars are superior performers and reliable, if thirsty.