As the austerity of the initial post-war period faded in the late 1940s, the Detroit auto industry was humming again with fresh designs, new models, and rapid innovation. General Motors may not have been the first to hit showrooms with an all-new post-war design (that honor went to Studebaker) but the work of GM’s prolific Art and Colour Section, led by the legendary Harley Earl, was arguably the most influential of the period.
For the 1948 model year, Harley Earl and stylist Frank Hershey struck gold with their design for the new Cadillac line. Overall, it was modern and elegant, but with one detail that set it apart from everything else in the market: The tailfin. The inspiration for the subtle kicked-up fin at the end of each rear fender came from the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. With its unmistakable twin-rudder treatment, the P-38 is of the most instantly recognizable aircraft in history and earned iconic status as one of the fastest and toughest heavy fighters in WWII. General Motors played a critical role in P-38 production, building a significant portion of the more than 10,000 units built throughout the war, lending genuine substance to Earl and Hershey’s stylistic hat-tip. The Cadillac fin was an overnight sensation, and car designers from the world over jumped on the bandwagon, turning the tailfin into one of the most widely copied and design themes of all time.
With such an overwhelmingly positive response to the 1948 models, Cadillac limited styling tweaks to a lower, wider grille and subtle reshaping of the hood for the new model year. The big news for ’49 lay under the hood, in the form of an all-new, 331 cubic-inch, overhead-valve V8 engine. The new high-compression V8 transformed Cadillac into a performance leader, and the versatile 331 went on to power everything from limousines to Le Mans racers. The new engine was enough to earn the 1949 Cadillac the very first Motor Trend Car of the Year award. The 60 Special Fleetwood returned as the flagship production model, boasting an extended 133-inch wheelbase (up from 126 inches) and additional luxury equipment like an adjustable seat, hydraulic window lifts, and high-end trim by the master craftsmen at Fleetwood. The Series 60 Special encapsulated what made Cadillac the pinnacle of post-war luxury, with understated elegance, exceptional build quality, and refined V8 power.
This 1949 Series 60 Special was delivered in October 1949 through the legendary California dealer, Don Lee Cadillac in Los Angeles to Edward B. and Kathleen Suddarth. Little else of its earlier history is documented but, by the 1990s, it received a comprehensive restoration. In the early 2010s, the then-owner handed it over to Tired Iron Works of Monrovia, California, who refinished it to a high standard in the period-correct shade of Madeira Maroon. They also incorporated several upgrades to prepare the car for effortless long-distance touring. The first among those updates is an air conditioning system with period-style rear-mounted vents, neatly integrated power steering, and 12-volt electrics with an alternator for reliable running in various conditions. The modifications are discreet and don’t detract from the car’s authentic appearance. In 2011, it was shown at the Winter Park Concours d’Elegance, taking a well-earned Best in Class against a strong field of Cadillacs in the featured marque category. The following year, this Fleetwood 60 Special joined the world-famous Wayne Davis Collection, where it remained for several years and continued to receive meticulous care and maintenance.
Today, this Series 60 Special is in outstanding condition thanks to years of continuous care. The Madeira Maroon paintwork is beautiful, laid down atop straight and properly aligned panels. Brightwork is likewise in excellent order, revealing the high standard of the car’s initial restoration. It features proper “Sombrero” wheel covers, wide-whitewall Firestone bias-ply tires, correct Fleetwood trim, and dual outside mirrors.
The interior is trimmed in tan broadcloth with burgundy leather accents and tan carpets, all presented in excellent condition, with just the slightest signs of character in the leather. One of our favorite features of the ’49 Cadillac is the lovely dash, with the large instrument cluster mimicking the shape of the grille set into a beautiful body-color fascia with understated chrome detailing. This car features an original radio, deluxe heater, and hydraulic window lifts. Controls for the air conditioning are discreetly mounted under the dash, while the vents are integrated into the rear parcel shelf, as was common practice in the early days of automotive aircon. The gorgeous cabin is a highlight of this superb car, and the extended wheelbase affords generous passenger space for all aboard.
Cadillac’s superb 331 cubic-inch overhead-valve V8 is very nicely presented with the original style oil-bath air cleaner, correct dark blue engine paint, and period-correct clamps and fittings. The later additions of A/C compressor, alternator, and power steering pump do not detract from the otherwise authentic presentation. In keeping with this car’s superb condition, everything is clean and orderly under the hood, and the engine runs beautifully, sending power through a Hydramatic transmission as equipped from new.
This beautiful Series 60 Special is possibly one of the finest of its type available today. The sensible upgrades enhance the joy of the driving experience and make it an absolutely superb, family-friendly collector car for long-distance touring. Luxurious, finely crafted, and gorgeously styled, this Series 60 Special Fleetwood is a marvelous representation of why Cadillac was the king of luxury motoring in the mid-century era.
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