1940-1949 Cadillac


A sliding metal sunroof was a new (though rarely ordered) option for the 1940 Cadillac Sixty Special Sedan. See more pictures of the 1940-1949 Cadillac.

Some of Cadillac's most important engineering developments, and some of its most beautiful cars, appeared in the 1940s. Like sister division Buick, Cadillac gave its cars a facelift for 1940-1941, then issued completely new 1942 styling that left it in a good market position when civilian car production resumed after World War II.

Most 1940 Cadillacs were relatively plain, almost Chevrolet-like in front with simple bar grilles. The exception was the splendid Sixteen, which wore the eggcrate radiator theme first seen for 1937, and soon to be a Cadillac fixture. All models benefited from more-reliable sealed-beam headlamps, as did most Detroit cars that model year.

Ranked below the Series 90 and 75 for 1940 was a new Series 72 with a 138-inch wheelbase and slightly fewer models, but also lower prices ($2,670-$3,695). Though impressive and well designed, it would be a one-year-only line, with sales limited by competition from the more luxurious 75. Yet even counting 75s and Sixteens, Cadillac built only a little over 2,500 long-wheelbase 1940 cars.

The crisp Sixty Special returned with minor styling tweaks in the same four models offered for 1939. A predictive, if rarely ordered, new option (Cadillac sold only 1,500 between 1938 and '41) was a sliding metal sunroof grandly advertised as the "Sunshine Turret Top Roof". A manually cranked affair, it was available for both the standard "town sedan" and division-window Imperial models. There was also a Sixty Special "town car" offered with a painted-metal or leather-covered roof. Just 15 were built; most 1940 Sixty Specials were the standard sedan (4,472 units).

Displacing the Series 61 as the most-affordable 1940s Cadillac was the Series 62, another future Cadillac fixture. Initial offerings were comprised of a coupe, touring sedan, convertible coupe, and convertible sedan on a 129-inch wheelbase. Prices ranged from $1,685 to $2,195. As in later years, the 62 garnered the most sales by far of any 1940 Cadillac line.

This 1940 Cadillac Series 62 convertible sports a custom body by renowned coachbuilder Bohman & Schwartz.

The division's 1940 V-8 retained monoblock construction (unitized block and crankcase), three main bearings with counterweights, and two-barrel downdraft carb. Though heavy, it was reliable and exceptionally smooth. As in '39, it was tuned for 135 horsepower in the 62 and Sixty Special, 140 for the 72 and 75.

Next, we'll look at the groundbreaking features Cadillac introduced in its 1941 models.

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.
  • 1930-1939 Cadillac: Cadillac asserts its luxury leadership with magnificent V-16 and V-12 models that were among the greatest cars of an era of great cars.
  • 1950-1959 Cadillac: Cadillac symbolizes the optimism of a swaggering America with soaring tailfins and Elvis-era glamour.

1941, 1942, 1946, 1947 Cadillac

New styling for 1941 included an eggcrate grill, seen on this 1941 Cadillac Sixty Special sedan.
New styling for 1941 included an eggcrate grill, seen on this 1941 Cadillac Sixty Special sedan.

A significant and attractive design change occurred for 1941, when Cadillac revived the Series 61 to replace its junior LaSalle line. This was a marketing decision based on the success of the Lincoln-Zephyr at Ford Motor Company and Packard's One Ten/One Twenty. And it worked.

While Packard continued to rely on medium-priced cars long after World War II, Cadillac (and Lincoln) returned to the luxury field exclusively, thus bolstering its "fine car" reputation, and sales, at Packard's expense.

The '41 Cadillacs wore a fresh face: a complex eggcrate grille with a central bulge carried down from the hood. Taillights were also more prominent, and one even concealed the gas filler, yet another feature destined for a long life. Departure of both the Sixteen and Series 72 reduced wheelbases to three: 136 inches for the Series 75, 139 on four new Series 67 sedans, and 126 for others.

Cadillac's big mechanical news for 1941 was a first in the luxury class: fully shiftless Hydra-Matic Drive. Developed by sister division Oldsmobile, which had introduced it a year earlier, this excellent automatic transmission would remain an option for all Cadillacs through 1949, after which it fast spread throughout the line as standard equipment.

Also new for 1941 was higher compression that lifted the V-8 to 150 horsepower. This combined with revised axle ratios to permit most '41 Caddys to reach a genuine 100 mph and scale 0-60 mph in about 14 seconds, impressive for the day.

Improved performance, the new Hydra-Matic, and a still-broad price span ($1,345-$4,045) pushed Cadillac production to a new high for the 1941 model year: 66,130 cars. That was only some 6,700 short of Packard, which was selling a much higher proportion of less-costly cars.

Bullet-shape fenders were one of the highlights of the 1942 lineup, which included this 1942 Cadillac Series 61 coupe.

Most of Cadillac's gain was owed to the revived Series 61, which was every inch a Cadillac despite simpler furnishings and lower prices. But sales of the Series 62 also were up dramatically, the Sixty Special scored a healthy 4,100 sales, and a new Series 63 four-door sedan attracted some 5,000 customers all by itself.

The 1942 lineup was mostly the same but had a new look. Chief highlights were big bullet-shape fenders front and rear, plus a fastback roofline (continued from the '41 Series 61) for a Series 62 coupe named "sedanet."

Unfortunately, this year's Sixty Special was more like other Cadillacs, and far less "special." Cadillac built a total 16,511 of its '42s before war halted production in February 1942. The division then turned out tanks, aircraft engines, and munitions until V-J Day 1945, an impressive output of vital weapons that helped win the war.

Resuming civilian operations took several months, so Cadillac managed only 29,194 cars for model-year 1946, of which 1,142, all Series 62 sedans, were built before the end of calendar 1945. All models were only slightly changed from the 1942 versions, but postwar necessity dictated dropping the Series 63, 67, and division-window Sixty Special models. What remained were fastback 61s, fastback and notchback 62s, a lone Sixty Special, and five regal 75s.

This 1947 Cadillac Series 62 coupe fastback has "sombrero" wheelcovers, a new design element for that model year.

Few changes occurred for 1947: round instead of rectangular parking lights (except with the large optional fog lamps), script instead of block letters for fender nameplates, a five-bar grille theme in place of the six bars used the previous year, and distinctive "sombrero" wheelcovers.

Galloping postwar inflation swelled prices by $150-$200, but production regained its prewar stride, nearing 62,000 units for the model year. As before, the Series 62 accounted for most of it with just under 40,000 units.

Read on to learn how Cadillac's postwar style innovation brought about its hallmark design feature.

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.
  • 1930-1939 Cadillac: Cadillac asserts its luxury leadership with magnificent V-16 and V-12 models that were among the greatest cars of an era of great cars.
  • 1950-1959 Cadillac: Cadillac symbolizes the optimism of a swaggering America with soaring tailfins and Elvis-era glamour.

1948 Cadillac

Cadillac's hallmark tailfin design is the crowning glory on this 1948 Cadillac Series 61 coupe fastback.
Cadillac's hallmark tailfin design is the crowning glory on this 1948 Cadillac Series 61 coupe fastback.

Cadillac for 1948 ignited a styling cue that would come to symbolize post-war American automotive exuberance and, by extension, the post-war optimism and confidence of America itself. Call 1948 "The Year of the Tailfin."

Before World War II, designers Harley Earl, Bill Mitchell, Franklin Q. Hershey, and Art Ross had glimpsed the then-secret Lockheed P-38 "Lightning" pursuit fighter aircraft.

During the war, a skeleton crew of GM designers played with ideas for postwar styling inspired by some of this airplane's design elements: pontoon front fenders, pointed nose, cockpitlike curved windshields -- and tailfins.

This influence would also be seen at other GM divisions. Olds, for example, adopted the P-38's engine air-scoop motif for the headlamp bezels on its 1949 "Futuramic" models. But the fin had the most lasting impact. As Mitchell later said: "From a design standpoint, the fins gave definition to the rear of the car for the first time. They made the back end as interesting as the front, and established a longstanding Cadillac-styling hallmark."

Tailfins were the crowning touch for Cadillac's masterful 1948 design, which was executed by a small team working under Hershey at his farm in suburban Detroit. The traditional Cadillac grille became more aggressive via larger eggcrates, complemented by a more-shapely hood. Roof and fenderlines were curvaceously beautiful from every angle.

Inside was a new dashboard dominated by a huge "drum" housing gauges and controls. This lasted only a year, however, as it was complex and costly to produce. The '49s used a simpler instrument board that echoed the grille shape, a theme that would persist for the next eight years.

Models, body styles, and wheelbases stood pat for '48, though Series 75s wouldn't get their own redesign until model-year 1950 (low production precluded early amortization of their prewar dies).

After years of research and development, Cadillac introduced two dramatic changes in 1949. We'll discuss these next.

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.
  • 1930-1939 Cadillac: Cadillac asserts its luxury leadership with magnificent V-16 and V-12 models that were among the greatest cars of an era of great cars.
  • 1950-1959 Cadillac: Cadillac symbolizes the optimism of a swaggering America with soaring tailfins and Elvis-era glamour.

1949 Cadillac

The overhead-valve V-8 engine, in models like this 1949 Cadillac Series 62 convertible, was one of two major developments introduced in 1949.
The overhead-valve V-8 engine, in models like this 1949 Cadillac Series 62 convertible, was one of two major developments introduced in 1949.

Following up on the launch of its landmark styling element, the tailfin, for 1948, Cadillac made more history with two stunning developments for 1949.

One was the Coupe de Ville, a $3,497 addition to the Series 62. It shares honors with that year's new Oldsmobile 98 Holiday and Buick Roadmaster Riviera as the first modern "hardtop convertibles" offered as regular factory models. Cadillac sold 2,150 of the first-year Coupe de Villes, a higher percentage of its total '49 production than either Buick or Olds.

Like most soft-top convertible coupes, the hardtop had no fixed central roof post, the "B-pillar" in stylist's lingo. Lowering the front and rear side windows thus provided a breezy convertible motoring experience, but with a fixed metal roof maintaining traditional coupe/sedan comfort and structural rigidity. This idea proved enormously popular, starting a trend that would dominate Detroit by the mid-1950s. (Cadillac also built one 1949 Coupe de Ville on the 133-inch Sixty Special chassis, strictly as an experiment.)

The 1949 Cadillac Series 62 Coupe de Ville quickly became a popular choice among luxury car buyers.

No less revolutionary was Cadillac's exciting new 1949 overhead-valve V-8, the second blow of a potent one-two punch delivered directly to Packard, Lincoln, and Chrysler's Imperial.

The product of 10 years' research and development, this engine was designed by Ed Cole, Jack Gordon, and Harry Barr, who aimed for less weight and higher compression (to take advantage of the higher-octane fuels promised for after the war). This dictated rearranged valves, a stroke shorter than bore, wedge-shape combustion chambers, and "slipper" pistons. The last, devised by Byron Ellis, traveled low between the crankshaft counterweights to allow for short connecting rods and, thus, low reciprocating mass.

Sized at 331 cubic inches, the new V-8 arrived with 160 horsepower, 10 horsepower more than the old 346 L-head despite less displacement, testifying to the design's efficiency.

The overhead valve V-8 had other advantages. Though a cast-iron job like the L-head, it weighed nearly 200 pounds less, thanks to advances in manufacturing techniques pioneered during wartime. Compression was just 7.5:1, yet could be pushed up to 12:1; the L-head couldn't stretch that high.

This 1949 Cadillac Series 62 sedan could go from 0 to 60 mph in under 15 seconds, a remarkable feat at that time.

The ohv V-8 also delivered more torque and 14-percent better mileage. Yet it was no less durable nor reliable. And it had room enough to be greatly enlarged, as indeed it was. A relatively light 1949-1950 Series 62 could do 0-60 mph in around 13 seconds and an easy 100 mph, which was vivid performance in those days.

Further proof of this V-8's prowess was provided by sportsman Briggs Cunningham, who entered a near-stock 1950 Cadillac in that year's Le Mans 24-Hour race in France. Driven by Sam and Miles Collier, it finished 10th overall, an achievement unmatched by any other luxury car. It tore down the track's Mulsanne Straight section at around 120 mph and averaged 81.5 mph for the race.

Cunningham himself drove a streamlined Cadillac-powered special the French called Le Monstre. He went even faster than the Colliers, but lost top gear and finished right behind them.

With its brilliant V-8 and best-in-class styling, Cadillac reached the top of the luxury heap by 1950, and would stay there for the next 40 years. To learn why, check out the next installment in our story, Cadillac 1950-1959.

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.
  • 1930-1939 Cadillac: Cadillac asserts its luxury leadership with magnificent V-16 and V-12 models that were among the greatest cars of an era of great cars.
  • 1950-1959 Cadillac: Cadillac symbolizes the optimism of a swaggering America with soaring tailfins and Elvis-era glamour.