We owe a lot to the ’49 Cadillac. It brought us tail fins and a high-compression V8. Harley Earl came up with those trendsetting rear rudders, and John F. Gordon the performance motor. Between them they created the basic grammar of the postwar American car.
In 1949 the one millionth Caddy rolled off the production line, and the stunning Series 62 was born. Handsome and quick, it was a complete revelation. Even the haughty British and Italians nodded sagely in admiration and, at a whisker under $3,000, it knocked the competition dead in their tracks. As Cadillac ads boasted:
“The new Cadillac is not only the world’s most beautiful and distinguished motor car, but its performance is a challenge to the imagination.” The American Dream and the finest era in American cars began with the ’49 Cadillac.
1948 was the year of the fin and the year of the crème des Cadillac. Cadillac designers Bill Mitchell, Harley Earl, Frank Hershey, and Art Ross had been smitten by a secret P-38 Lockheed Lightning fighter plane. Cadillac also had Ed Cole’s OHV V8, some 10 years in the making. With a brief to reduce weight and increase compression, the end result was an engine with more torque and better mileage than any other at the time.
Curved windscreen was a novelty for a 1949 car.
The “V” emblem below the crest denoted V8 power; the basic badge design remained unaltered until 1952.
UNDER THE HOOD
While styling was similar to that of the ’48 model, the new OHV V8 in the ’49 was an innovation.
The plane-inspired rear fins became a Caddy trademark and would reach a titanic height on ’59 models.
Fuel cap was hidden under taillight, a Cadillac trait since 1941.
The cabin was heavily chromed and oozed quality. Colors were gray-blue or brown with wool carpets to match, and leather or cloth seats. Steering was Saginaw, with standard four-speed auto transmission.
The classic 1952 Bentley R-Type Continental certainly bears a startling similarity to the ’49 Cadillac, and automotive academics have frequently hinted at plagiarism.
Among minor design changes from 1948 was the more squared-off rear.
Hugely influential body design was penned by Harley Earl and Julio Andrade at GM’s styling studios. Many of the ’49 features soon found themselves on other GM products such as Oldsmobile and Buick.
Trendsetting new OHV 331cid V8 developed 160 bhp.
Prototype engine was perfect after 541 hours’ testing.
BELIEVE THE HYPE
Cadillac advertisements trumpeted that the ’49 was “the world’s most beautiful car,” and the simple yet elegant styling caught the public’s imagination.
Grille was heavier on the ’49 than on the ’48.
Tires ran at only 24 psi, making unassisted steering heavy for the driver.
Chrome slashes were inspired by aircraft air intakes.
Glorious tapering roof line.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Cadillac Series 62 (1949)
PRODUCTION 92,554 (all body styles)
BODY STYLE Two-door, five-seater fastback.
CONSTRUCTION Steel body and chassis.
ENGINE 331cid V8.
POWER OUTPUT 162 bhp.
TRANSMISSION Four-speed Hydra-Matic automatic.
SUSPENSION Front: coil springs; Rear: leaf springs.
BRAKES Front and rear drums.
MAXIMUM SPEED 100 mph (161 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 13.4 sec
A.F.C. 17 mpg (6 km/l)