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1938-1941 Sixty-Special Cadillac

1936 Series 60 Cadillac

Dreystadt knew better than anyone at GM that Cadillac could literally no longer afford to pursue the cost-be-damned practices that were by then customary among "carriage trade" automakers, yet he was determined to maintain the marque's standards of quality and engineering excellence. Interestingly, an important development that would reconcile these seemingly contradictory aims was already in the works at the time he took over the helm.

It was a new monobloc V-8, so-called because the cylinder head was cast integrally with the block. Devised under the leadership of Owen Nacker and, later, John F. "Jack" Gordon, it was projected to be much cheaper to build than Cadillac's existing 353-cubic-inch V-8, let alone its mighty 368-cubic-inch V-12 and 453-cubic-inch V-16. Moreover, it was expected to be quieter, thanks to hydraulic valve lifters, and to have better performance and durability.

As time would prove, this smooth, strong, and refined powerplant was so good that it would be continued without major change from 1936 through 1948. It also hastened the departure of the V-12, which it rendered virtually obsolete. Meanwhile, Dreystadt had been taking a close look at the market. Inevitably, his attention was drawn to the $900 price gap between the new straight-eight LaSalle, introduced for 1934, and the least expensive Cadillacs.

1938-1941 Sixty-Special Cadillac
Beginning with the 1936 line, GM wanted to build a more affordable Cadillac.

What this amounted to was that a buyer could have both a LaSalle and an Oldsmobile for the price of one new Caddy -- and still have enough money left over to purchase a first-class living room radio. The difference was even greater at Packard, still the leading U.S. luxury marque at the time, where a fat $1,325 separated that firm's new 1935 One-Twenty series from its least expensive senior models. It's not clear why it took so long for the powers at Cadillac -- or Packard, for that matter -- to see that the market was ripe for a car priced to bridge this gap.

What is clear is that once he recognized the problem, Dreystadt moved swiftly to solve it. The answer was a new low-end offering for 1936. Designated the Series 60, it rode a 121-inch wheelbase, 10 inches shorter than the 131-inch chassis used for the Series 70 and Fleetwood Series 80, and shared the General Motors "B" bodyshell used by LaSalle, Buick, and Oldsmobile.

All Cadillacs this year featured GM's much-ballyhooed all-steel "Turret-Top" construction for closed body styles, plus big duo-servo Bendix hydraulic brakes, doubly effective on V-8 models because the new mono-bloc engine weighed less than the previous V-8. Other changes included a more rigid frame, a refined front suspension, and a handsome face-lift carried out by GM's Art & Colour section under the direction of Harley Earl.

Marked by a stylishly tall, narrow grille and a divided vee'd windshield, it suited the new Series 60 especially well. Lean and trim in appearance, the "budget" Caddys were arguably the best-looking models in the 1936 line. Best of all, they were the lowest-priced cars to wear the Cadillac crest since 1908, listing at $750 less than the cheapest 1935 V-8 Series 10, a savings of more than 30 percent.

On the next page, find out about how the Cadillac Sixty-Special arrived on the competitive car scene.

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