When Lawrence P. Fisher took over the leadership of General Motors’ flagship in 1925, Cadillac was locked in an intense battle for the coveted position of America’s premier luxury car manufacturer. Under Fisher’s guidance, Cadillac clawed back much of its chief rival’s advantage. One of his first orders of business was to hire a talented young designer named Harley Earl away from Don Lee Coachworks, and tasking him with styling Cadillac’s new mid-price companion car, LaSalle. After the overwhelming success of LaSalle, Larry Fisher rewarded Harley Earl with a new position as the first head of styling for all of GM. Cadillac strode into the 1930s flush with cash and confidence, but even with the financial might of GM behind them, they could not outrun the looming economic depression.
While their sensational V16 stole headlines in 1930, the mainstay of Cadillac’s line was the eight-cylinder 355 series. The 355 series featured the 353 cubic-inch L-head V8 engine carried over from the Series 353, although continual improvements boosted horsepower and refinement throughout the 1930s. For the 1932 model year, the 355B featured revised styling by Harley Earl, along with an improved chassis for better handling and ride quality. Earl’s design language crept slowly toward streamlining, with the removal of the fender tie bar, bullet-shaped headlights, new radiator grille, and an overall lower and wider stance. Undoubtedly a beautiful and capable machine, the 355B nonetheless struggled in a challenging market. In a dramatic shift in fortunes, Cadillac sold just 2,693 examples of the 355B – compared to over ten thousand in the previous year, making these among the rarest of the 355 series.
Rare, beautiful, and exquisitely restored, this 1932 Cadillac 355B is one of two or three known survivors originally equipped with Fisher’s gorgeous 2/4-passenger roadster coachwork. 1932 Cadillacs of all types are scarce, as production fell sharply due to dire economic conditions of The Great Depression. LaSalle’s price and positioning also did the 355B no favors in the sales charts. While official production figures are not broken down by body style, marque experts suggest just one in every one-hundred Series 355B Cadillacs received this stylish and sporty Fisher coachwork. Records obtained from GM’s archives confirm this as one of the original Fisher roadsters, delivered new through Cadillac’s premier showroom in Detroit. Little is known of the car’s early history, but in 1981 it was purchased by Len Immke, a Columbus, Ohio Buick dealer. Immke ran several successful dealerships, but he is best known for providing the backing for his friend Dave Thomas to create Wendy’s Restaurants. Len was well-known in the Columbus area, and his extensive collection always included several significant classic era Cadillacs.
In the late 1990s, this car underwent a ground-up, nut-and-bolt restoration by respected expert Dale Adams of Dale Adams Enterprises. Not long after, Ed & Pam Rittenhouse of Mercer Island, Washington, acquired the Cadillac and showed it at the 2002 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. It traded hands again in 2003, joining yet another significant collection of rare American pre-war motorcars. It took a best in class at the Cincinnati Concours in 2004, scored 99.5 points at the CCCA National Meet in Detroit, achieving Senior Premier Status, and it is also a Cadillac-LaSalle Club Senior Award winner.
Presented in a striking livery of bright red with tan body sides, this Cadillac is in outstanding condition, benefitting from attentive care in the hands of the most recent owner. The quality of the restoration still shines through in the beautifully smooth bodywork, clean reflections, and exceptional panel fit. Fittingly for the sporty roadster, this car features numerous factory accessories, including dual Cadillac/Pilot-Ray driving lamps, heron mascot, twin covered side-mounts with Cadillac mirrors, and a pair of cowl-mounted search lamps. The plating on the accessories, bumpers, and various trim pieces is superb, reflecting the car’s exceptional restoration and subsequent care. Body-color wire wheels with stainless spokes add the final flourish to the marvelous presentation.
The same quality and attention to detail paid to the exterior carries over to the cockpit. Taupe colored leather covers the seats and panels, which is beautifully stitched and finished, as expected from a high-level concours car. The upholstery remains supple and shows only slight creasing coming from gentle use and care. Beautifully detailed, correct original instrumentation, a Jaeger clock, and even a rare factory accessory Cadillac/Elkon radio face the driver in the dash. The tan canvas soft top is in superb condition and includes a pair of matching side curtains. Upholstery in the rumble seat is excellent and appears virtually unused since the restoration.
Cadillac’s venerable L-Head V8 served the company well through the 1930s and beyond. For the 1932 model year, the 353 cubic-inch unit got a significant boost in power to 115 horsepower, up from 95 in previous years. As with the rest of this superb car, the engine is in excellent condition, featuring correct high-compression heads and authentic details, including proper clamps, wiring, and hardware. Slight crazing of the porcelain on the exhaust manifolds is apparent, although the overall presentation remains superb and still reflects this car’s previous history as a concours winner.
Harley Earl’s masterful styling and high-quality Fisher coachwork combine to create one of the prettiest and most desirable sporting Cadillacs of the period. This example benefits from a marvelous restoration and years of meticulous care in the hands of enthusiastic collectors. Having mellowed gently since its restoration, it remains in exceptional order and is suitable for continued enjoyment in regional concours events or on the road in CCCA CARavan tours.
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