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1930-1939 Cadillac


Cadillac V-8 Models of the 1930s
The competitively priced 1936 Cadillac Series 60 sedan, with its cast-iron L-head engine, was an impressive seller.
The competitively priced 1936 Cadillac Series 60 sedan, with its cast-iron L-head engine, was an impressive seller.

Fortunately for Cadillac, its V-8 line sold consistently and fairly well through the 1930s. Model-year production hung around 10,000 units for 1930-31, plunged to 2,000-3,000 for 1932-33, and then recovered rapidly.

With the introduction of the low-priced Series 60 for 1936, V-8 volume passed 10,000, then reached over 13,000 by 1939. This highly creditable sales performance was owed to a reliable cast-iron L-head engine, competitive prices, and a wide range of body styles.

Cadillac's early-'30s V-8 was based on a 341-cubic-inch unit introduced in 1928. Sized at 353 cubic inches for 1930 through 1935, it delivered 95-130 horsepower.

A completely redesigned V-8 of 346 cubic inches and with 135 horsepower replaced it for 1936. That year's new Series 60 used a 322-cubic-inch version, then adopted the 346. This respected powerplant would remain in production until Cadillac launched its new short-stroke overhead-valve V-8 for 1949.

Though the L-head had limits, it delivered excellent performance and reasonable economy. The lighter 1938-39 models could do nearly 100 mph and run 0-60 in 15-16 seconds, no mean feat for 4,500-pound luxury liners before World War II.

Although Cadillac did supply chassis in fair numbers to independent body builders, unlike many luxury rivals, it designed and built most of its bodies in-house via Fisher and Fleetwood, two respected coachmakers GM had acquired. This arrangement enabled GM design chief Harley Earl to maintain a consistent look throughout the car instead of in just the radiator and hood.

The clean lines and rounded hood of this 1931 Cadillac Sixteen Madame X sedan epitomize classic Cadillac styling.
The clean lines and rounded hood of this 1931 Cadillac Sixteen Madame X sedan epitomize classic Cadillac styling.

"Classic" Cadillac styling was undoubtedly epitomized by the 1930-1931 models with their opulent, thick-collar vertical radiators; beautifully rounded hoods; and clean, flowing lines.

Body styles were bewildering. The 1930 Fisher line spanned seven types in the $3,300-$4,000 range. Fleetwood Custom models numbered no fewer than 14, priced from $3,450 to $5,145. Most elegant of all were the several "Madame X" styles, named after a stage play of the era, with slender chrome door and windshield moldings.

Square-rigged styling began to dissolve with the more-rounded 1932 Cadillacs, but the '33 models showed evidence of true streamlining, a look then coming into vogue through the world of industrial design.

The 1933 Cadillacs retained basic '32 bodies, but Earl modernized their appearance with items like skirted fenders, vee'd radiators, and more-swept-back windshields. A notable innovation was front-door venting windows, called "No-Draft Ventilation," a feature shared with sister GM divisions that year. All early-'30s Cadillacs have long been prized by enthusiasts as some of the best designs of the late Classic era.

Styling for 1934 was fully revised along the lines of the exotic, experimental "Aero-Dynamic" fastback coupe, a special show car prepared for the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. Earl now moved away completely from upright forms into the realm of rounded pontoon fenders, sloped radiators, "bullet" headlight shells, and rakish rear decks. He also conjured novel two-piece front and rear bumpers likely inspired by biplanes, but they proved fragile and unpopular, and were thus abandoned after one season.

GM's pioneering stylist, Harley Earl, incorporated exotic, rounded features in the 1934 Cadillac Aero-Dynamic coupe's design.
GM's pioneering stylist, Harley Earl, incorporated exotic, rounded features in the 1934 Cadillac Aero-Dynamic coupe's design.

The 1935-36 models were relatively dumpy by comparison, with roundness prevailing over squareness throughout. However, 1935 introduced a popular innovation: closed "Touring" body styles with built-in trunks. Though appearance was awkward from some angles, these models offered extra practicality and quickly replaced traditional "beaverback" versions with separate detachable trunks.

Cadillac introduced major changes in the late 1930s. Learn about the beginning of Cadillac's "new era" on the next page.

For more infomation on Cadillac, see:

  • Cadillac: Learn the history of America's premier luxury car, from 1930s classics to today's newest Cadillac models.
  • Consumer Guide New Car Reviews and Prices: Road test results, photos, specifications, and prices for 2007 Cadillacs and hundreds of other new cars, trucks, minivans, and SUVs.
  • 1940-1949 Cadillac: Cadillac produces some of its most beautiful cars and some of its most important engineering developments -- not to mention the tailfin.