The 1938-1941 Sixty-Special Cadillac, the make known as "The Standard of the World," set a new design standard for the world in the late Thirties with the crisp, timeless lines of a very special luxury model based on its volume V-8 series. Here’s the story of the most influential prewar Cadillac, its all too brief existence, and the brilliant young designer who created it.

What may well be the single most influential prewar Cadillac originated during the most difficult period in the marque’s history. The year was 1934, and General Motors’ prestige outfit stood at the crossroads. The luxury-car market had all but disappeared in the chaos of the Depression, and Cadillacs weren’t selling very well. Production that year stood at only about a fifth of what it had been back in record-setting 1928, and the operation had been a consistent money-loser in the intervening years.

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1938-1941 Sixty-Special Cadillac
The Sixty-Special Cadillac set a new design standard
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Worse, the division’s medium-price companion make, LaSalle, wasn’t doing much better, yet its sales volume was looming ever more crucial to Cadillac’s survival. To be sure, Cadillac was protected from the economic upheaval of the Thirties in a way its rivals were not: by the great size and financial strength of its parent company. But clearly, even Cadillac would have to change if it hoped to return to prosperity.

Ideed, GM management had already instituted a number of measures toward this end, such as reducing the number of components unique to each car line. Into this sour situation stepped a new general manager, the man who would lay the foundations for the fabulous Sixty-Special.

Nicholas Dreystadt was certainly no stranger to Cadillac. Before being promoted to the division’s top post in late 1934, he had been manager of Cadillac’s Clark Avenue home plant for more than two years, and served as general service manager for six years before that.

Efficiency was his stock-in-trade, and cost-effectiveness ranked high among his goals. As Ernest Seaholm, Cadillac’s chief engineer in those days, would later recall: “Nick made us look closely at everything. . . .If someone else made a part for two dollars, why did ours have to cost three or four?”

Continue to the next section to read about the 1936 Series 60 Cadillac.

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