1947 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible. Click image to enlarge
Story and photo by Bill Vance
At the end of the Second World War in 1945 the automobile industry found an entirely different social environment than it had faced for many years. The Depression and the 3-1/2 year war-time interruption in car production had depleted the stock of good, roadworthy cars.
Newfound prosperity, combined with a pent-up demand for cars from the Depression and the war, resulted in a seller’s paradise. All dealers had long waiting lists for new cars. Few enjoyed this prosperity more than Cadillac, which due to events of the 1930s and early ’40s had gradually moved to the American auto industry’s pinnacle of prestige.
The Depression had swept away many of Cadillac’s luxury competitors, including Marmon, Pierce-Arrow, Peerless, Cord and Duesenberg. Lincoln had survived with its smaller, less expensive Lincoln Zephyr, whose V12 engine had unfortunately developed a somewhat tainted reputation. Due to dwindling sales Lincoln dropped its big, classic V12 K models in 1940. The Zephyr, which became the Continental, would carry Lincoln until it was able to produce new models for 1949.
Packard had followed the same route as Lincoln, introducing its lower priced 120 model in 1935. It saved the company, but in the process diluted the great Packard name, a condition from which Packard would never fully recover.
Chrysler had made a bold statement with its 1931, eight-cylinder Chrysler Imperial, but suffered in the market with its revolutionary but unpopular Airflow models in 1934. They were discontinued in 1937.
Cadillac, on the other hand, had made no serious missteps. And besides, it had the full might of General Motors behind it. Neither its lower priced LaSalle “companion” model produced from 1927 to 1940, nor its medium priced 1936 Series 60 Cadillac, had undermined the Cadillac reputation. Its mainstay V8 engine, a Cadillac hallmark since 1915, had served it well. And its big V12s and V16s of the 1930s, although never selling in large numbers, had placed it at the peak of engineering achievement.
Thus the end of the Second World War found Cadillac’s reputation for prestige intact. Its image had been further enhanced during the war by the extensive use of Cadillac V8 engines and Hydra-Matic transmissions in the military tanks it built. This had allowed continued improvement in the Cadillac V8 right through the war.
Cadillac produced its first post-war car on October 17, 1945, only a few months after the armistice, and less than two months after tank production had ceased. Like other manufacturers, its 1946 models were little more than mildly revised 1942s. A wraparound bumper here, a slightly modified grille there, a new hood ornament, but basically they were ’42s.
Fortunately for Cadillac it had a good base because it had restyled its ’42s, except the big series Seventy-Five. The most significant change was the long, oval-shaped, “pontoon” front fenders that swept back into the front doors. Their shapes were echoed in the rear fenders, and this fender treatment made a very pleasing and popular styling statement.
Under the hood was the war-proved 5.7-litre (346 cu in.) side-valve 150 horsepower V8, Cadillac’s third generation V8 (after 1915 and 1924) that had been introduced for 1936.
With the start of post-war production, Cadillac reduced the number of series by eliminating the pre-war series 63 and 67. While it would later reinstate the series 60, 61, 62, and 75, due to start-up organization and shortages of such materials as steel, not all series would be offered immediately.
During the 1946 model year, despite a United Auto Workers strike that lasted from December 1945 to March 1946, Cadillac managed to build 17,900 cars. This would jump to 59,299 1947s.
Cadillac’s 1948 models, which were all new (except the carry-over series 75 Fleetwood which retained its upright 1941 styling) didn’t arrive in showrooms until March of that year. But when they did they set a new trend in styling with their startling “rudder-type” raised taillights. Soon dubbed tailfins, they were quickly embraced by the public, much to the relief of worried Cadillac dealers.
Cadillac’s tailfins had been inspired by the twin tail-booms of the Lockheed P-38 fighter plane, and they would be imitated by the American industry, and even some foreign makers. They would reach grotesque heights in the 1959 Cadillac, before receding into oblivion in the 1960s.
Cadillac would startle the industry even more in 1949 with its trend-setting, short-stroke, overhead valve V8 engine. It was based on the work of GM’s brilliant research chief Charles Kettering’s work in developing high compression engines and anti-knock gasoline.
With its advanced styling and ground-breaking engineering, Cadillac consolidated its lead in the American luxury car field following the Second World War. It was a position it would not relinquish among American automakers, although it would eventually be surpassed by such foreign nameplates as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus. At the turn of the 21st century it was fighting to restore its past glory.