A 1951 Cadillac With A Le Mans Heritage Has A Royal Story To Tell And Visits A Car Spa For Treatment.


After WWII, the automotive industry resumed normal operations, however it took a few years for carmakers to introduce new models. Not newly constructed autos, but fresh-from-the-oven designs and engineering. The turning point for America came in 1948, when Detroit finally lifted the curtain on its prewar past and offered properly modern automobiles.

General Motors’ head of the Art and Color Section, Harley Earl, had envisioned the sleek lines of the fifties since before the war but had to settle for a long delay to see its dreams in metal shape. The relief came in the third generation of Cadillac’s series 62 and its 1948-introduced siblings. True to its motto of “Standard of the World,” GM’s top division led the charge to bring the automobile into the modern era.

The fenders were no longer separated from the hood, but formed a continuous unit that housed the recessed-mounted headlamps for an overall sleek, flowing appearance inspired by the world’s latest wonder, the airplane, at the time. The flying machines weren’t exactly revolutionary in the late 1940s, but the war spurred airplane development like nothing before. Carmakers took inspiration from this scientific feat and paid homage to it. Cadillac pioneered the style with tail fins on the third generation Sixty-Two. The rear fender design foreshadowed the P-38 fighter’s recognizable twin-tail-boom appearance, which would become a staple of the brand’s styling language in the coming decades.

Another great feature of the luxury automobile was the Hydra-Matic transmission with its four-plus-reverse configuration. Introduced in 1939 for the 1940 model-year Oldsmobile Series 60 and 70, the hassle-free gearbox landed in Cadillacs in 1941.

A decade later, the fluid-coupling transmission had already proven itself, so it didn’t take anyone by surprise when the postwar cars carried over the reliable assembly. However, in the third generation of the Sixty-Two, a new engine was mated to it. A two-barrel 331-cubic-inch (5.4 liters) over-head valve V8 accounted for 160 hp (162 PS) and 312 lb-ft (423 Nm).

The oversquare engine – ‘designed and precision-built by Cadillac’ – (3 13/16 x 3 5/8 – 96.8 mm x 92.1 mm) saw its baptism by fire in 1950. Cadillac could have chosen an indiscriminate number of ways to put the 331 CID V8 through all the imaginable stress. Still, GM went all in and crossed the Atlantic to France. Out of all the places in the world, the majestic American boat landed at Le Mans for the hell-bending trials of endurance racing.

Cadillac finished 10th and 11th overall, with two cars: a relatively stock Series Sixty-Two and a substantially modified racer (based on the same chassis as its colleague). Cadillac did not capitalize on the success of its vehicles, instead emphasizing ride quality above sportiness. As a result, the Le Mans incident was never mentioned in the next year’s sales brochure.

The seamless transition from forward to reverse on the 1951 powertrain was an innovation – the process could be completed while the engine was running. Cadillac marketed this in a very enticing way, claiming that it gave the driver entire flexibility to ‘rock’ the car in tough situations.


Apart from this mechanical innovation, the Series 62 offered other amenities like a heating and ventilation system with under-seat installed fans or hydraulically-operated power windows and soft-top (the latter for the convertible models). One survivor from the 6,117-unit production run of the 1951 Cadillac Series Sixty-Two Convertible Coupe is featured in the video below, getting a well-deserved detailing after a three-decade storage.

Amazingly, the six-volt-operated blower under the seats still runs, but the YouTubers from WD Detailing don’t reveal whether the engine is operational. That’s why the power windows can’t be raised – the engine has to run to actuate the pump for the windows. The metal piping on the car’s floor are the hydraulic fluid lines for the power windows and retractable top.

The mechanism, as innovative as it was in 1951, had a serious flaw: the seals corroded with time, and the fluid began to leak, eating away at the paint and rendering the lowering and raising of the side windows and ragtop unworkable. This Cadillac also had a retractable antenna radio (as shown in the movie, the telescopic rod mounted on the front left fender extended ten feet up) and enough chrome to make Hollywood appear like the Middle Ages. The owner’s identification card holder under the hood, in front of the radiator, is another interesting element of this GM luxury vehicle.

If the business card tells the truth, this particular example once belonged to a Horological Mechanician and Certified Master Watchmaker by the name of William P. Curtin from Indianapolis, Indiana. Either early 1950s Americans had a ‘money-no-object’ interest in the well-being of their timepieces, or Mr. Curtin was very highly prized by his customers because a car like this was anything but cheap.

With a starting price of $3,987, the convertible coupe was Cadillac’s second most costly vehicle in 1951, trailing only the $5,400 Series 75 Fleetwood limousine. That’s not much, but compare it to the $1,300 sticker price of a low-end Chevrolet Business Coupe from the same year. This convertible lavished its passengers with red leather seats that show no cracks or other symptoms of neglect or abuse after 72 years. The rich, vibrant color is brought out by the cleaning job, which is excellent. Cadillac had only three interior single-color options in 1951, along with two-tone combinations of green or blue.

When it was released, the 51 Cadillac Convertible was nothing short of royal. On their first official visit to Canada in October 1951, a Royal Princess and her husband rode in a specially outfitted Cadillac Series Sixty-Two droptop. A photo of the one-of-a-kind Caddy with a transparent plastic bubble to protect the crowned heads from the cruel Maple Leaf weather is included in the gallery. The one-off canopy also allowed the crowds to see the high-rank visitors up close. Elizabeth Dutchess of Edinburgh, and Phillip Duke of Edinburgh also rode on the back of the Cadillac, sitting on the retracted top and waving at the crowds in Toronto. Less than tow years later, the farytale princess would become Queen Elizabeth II.