In an innovation-driven industry like the auto business, there are vehicles that stand out as truly watershed vehicles – cars that set the style or trends for the next 10 or 20 years or vehicles that brought new twists on technology into the business that last through today.
- There’s the industry’s first assembly-line made car, the Model T, built at the River Rouge Plant where workers earned $5 a day (a princely sum in 1915)
- There’s the Ford Model A and its advances including the first V-8 engine (you can find its basic technology in Ford’s engines even today)
- There’s the front-drive Cord
- There’s the Stanley Brothers’ Steamer
- There’s Baker prophetic Electric Roadster
- There’s Wankel’s Rotary
- There’s the 1949 Cadillac Series 62, a vehicle that featured a number of firsts and pointed the way to the future
Just looking at the lines of the 1949 Cadillac Coupe deVille Series 60 shows where innovation can take you. Of course, it was designed as a vehicle for people who could afford the almost $3,000 that this hardtop convertible cost (in 1949, the average week’s wage was about $45, but bread cost 20-cents a loaf and you could send a kid to the store with a $1 for a quart of milk, loaf of bread, 2 packs of cigarettes – no one knew in that innocent time after the war of the ravages smoking wrought – and a couple of bulkie rolls and the kid would still have enough left for a soda at the drugstore next door). No, the Series 62 wasn’t for everyone but it did sport some innovations that were to trickle through the rest of the industry.
Offered as a corporate model, the Cadillac Coupe deVille Series 62 was the first vehicle to be offered as a convertible hardtop as the design team dropped the B-pillar and included windows that could be opened to provide an almost open-air feel ride without dropping the top.
However, when it came time to drop the top, the Series 62’s cover lifted up and away into storage as the rear deck raised to receive the hardtop and then close. Of course, this did limit the amount of trunk space available, but if you could afford the Series 62 then it was likely to be your “weekend car,” anyway. Buick picked up on the technology in its Roadmaster Riviera and Oldsmobile offered the same technology in its 98 Holiday.
In 1949 this was quite a feat, however, by the middle of the next decade, even midline cars like the Ford Fairlane Convertible hardtop – quite pedestrian by the exalted standards of Cadillac – were offering similar convertible/hardtops.
For 1949, though, this was a real achievement and it put the Cadillac Coupe deVille Series 62 out in front of the market. It was one of the developments that set the Series 62 apart from the crowd. Another was the overhead valve engine. It was the result of 10 years of development work. It replaced the L-head engine that was standard in Cadillacs until that time. The overhead valve engine (OHV) was not only lighter than the powerplant it replaced by 200 pounds – even though both were cast iron, it was capable of handling a wide range of compression from the standard 7.5:1 that Caddies were running at the time to as high as 12:1.
The powerplant required some real engineering to make it work the way the developers had intended. The engineering team had to rearrange the entire valve train and the engine itself was an overbore in that the stroke was shorter than the bore. Further, the engineering team found that the best shape for the combustion chamber was – like the famed Chrysler Wedge – wedge-shaped. Then there was an addition to the crankshaft, a device called a “slipper” piston. The whole purpose of the “slipper” was shortened connecting rods so the engine’s mass was lower.
On delivery, the new OHV was only 331 cubic inches and yet it put out 10 more horsepower than the 346 L-head it replaced. Quite a feat of engineering prowess that did take a long time to perfect.
Paves the Way to the Future
Aside from these major automotive milestones, the Series 62 – which borrowed and refined the tailfin from the 1948 Coupe deVille – pointed the way to the sedan of the future. It just looked more modern. And while the hood and fenders still were discrete units with differing heights, you can see that designers were beginning to see that the fender-hood-fender line should be more integrated. The hood, as a unit, slopes down to meet the line established by the fenders. However, the fenders, themselves, were just slightly lower than the hood and sloped down.
Perhaps it was the placement of the fared headlamps in the leading edge of the fenders and the bright grille work that sets it on the modern path or possibly it was the chromed bumpers that extended about a foot in front of the grille that set the style, it’s when you look at the overall vehicle sitting there that you begin to see the use of more glass in the greenhouse; a subtle beltline that is low and is established by a bright stripe.
The real giveaway that this pointed to the future was the way the design was sculpted to fit together. For example, although the roof was rounded and sloped, the rear sail panels and quarters – admittedly ballooning from the point where the B-pillar would have been and the design team then worked the tiny fins into the design that culminated in the rounded trunklid. It as quite a pleasing design and looked modern as Detroit moved away from the jellybean look that had typified the cars of the 30s and 40s.
One More Feat
Fate wasn’t through with the Series 62, either as Briggs Cunningham fielded an almost stock model for the 24 Hours of LeMans. Driven by the Colliers, Same and Miles, the factory Series 62 came in 10th overall which was quite an achievement for a luxury factory car. Indeed, Cunningham was driving a highly developed Caddy of the same make, but with lots of extra work and though it did lose its top end, the Colliers still placed ahead of the the Cunningham Special. They averaged an unheard of 81.5 mph for the entire race.
The 1949 Cadillac deVille Series 62 Hardtop Convertible was a landmark vehicle as you can see. Like other watershed vehicles, the designers and engineers had no idea of what they were putting together when they turned the final bolt, but history does.
The top-of-the-line Bel Air, that offered the 380, was available as a convertible or a coupe.