By the time General Motors acquired Cadillac in 1909, Henry M. Leland’s company had already established itself as a leader in innovation, mechanical sophistication and luxurious quality. That spirit continued under the auspices of General Motors as it is Cadillac that brought consumers the first electric starter, the first electric lamps, the first synchromesh transmission, the first dual-plane crankshaft V8 and even the first V16 engine. From their earlies models, Cadillac was renowned for their exceptional build quality and elegant style and General Motors proudly placed them at the pinnacle of their product line where they remain to this day.
Cadillac was riding a wave of success going into the 1930s. A wise decision to include a “junior” brand (LaSalle) kept the company afloat as the economy faltered. They entered the decade with a heady confidence that spawned the incredible V16 and V12 models. But Cadillac’s mainstay for the 1930s was the 355 series; an 8-cylinder model manufactured between 1931 and 1935. It was available in variety of standard body styles that ranged from a formal limousine to a sporting 2 door roadster. Cadillac’s model naming system meant the model name coincided with the engine size, but for some reason that changed in 1931 as the 355 carried over the Series 353’s 5.8 liter, 353 cubic inch V8 L-head engine. Output was a stout 95 horsepower, plenty enough to give the big Cadillac very respectable performance for its day and earn Cadillac strong sales, with more than 10,000 examples built for ’31.
1930s elegance abounds with this fine 1931 Cadillac 355A Convertible Coupe. This CCCA Premier Award-winning example has been fully restored to its original colors of Viceroy Maroon over black fenders and chassis, as indicated on the original build sheet. It is finished to a high standard and remains in excellent condition today. It is a lovely machine with fine quality paintwork and detailing. Of the eleven standard body styles available, the Convertible Coupe by Fleetwood ranks among the most desirable on the 355 chassis. Its sporting, elegant appearance recalls carefree playboys enjoying the trappings of their wealth as the roaring twenties came to a close. The convertible coupe combined the style and open air experience of the roadster, but with the additional comfort provided by roll up side windows and a more substantial folding roof and more luxurious trim. As with most 355-series Cadillacs, our example is well-equipped with dual sidemount spares topped with Cadillac mirrors, a mesh radiator stone guard, Goddess mascot and a pair of Senior Trippe Light driving lamps. While the restoration is approaching two decades old, the exterior cosmetics remain very strong, and this example presents very well indeed.
The interior is trimmed in beautiful tan leather in excellent condition on the front seat, rumble seat, door cards and kick panels. Woodgrain trim caps the doors and dash, and the instrument fascia features a beautiful Art-Deco sunburst pattern that is the signature of the 355 Series. Original instruments remain in excellent order and all switchgear and controls function as they should. Fitment and quality of the detailing is exemplary, as one would expect from a former CCCA award winner. The convertible top is trimmed in tan canvas, with excellent fit and easy, smooth operation of the frame.
Cadillac’s venerable 353 cubic inch V8 is very nicely presented in the engine compartment. It is correctly finished in porcelain-like black with correct hardware, hose clamps and detailing. This should rank as one of Cadillacs greatest engines, as it provides smooth, reliable running and outstanding performance for the era. In fact, the 355-V8 offered performance that was nearly on par with the headline-grabbing V12 and V16 cars, thanks in large part to much lighter weight when compared to its multi-cylinder stablemates. Likewise, handling and braking were more predictable as there was less weight over the front axle. The three speed synchromesh transmission makes for easy operation and strong four wheel brakes provide peace of mind in virtually all conditions. Our example is a fine running machine, needing nothing to be enjoyed on the road.
There is a good reason why the Cadillac 355-series is such a highly collectible motorcar. It combines the grand elegance of the early 1930s in a mechanical package that is unintimidating and approachable for even the novice enthusiast. Our example has been treated to a very high quality restoration and has been carefully tended to since and has benefited from some light recent freshening. It remains attractive enough for show, yet is well-sorted for CCCA CARavan touring. This is a fabulous all-rounder; a beautiful restoration on a beautiful automobile.