Cadillac Sixty-Special – 1938

In the period when American automotive design was evolving from stuck-in-the-Depression-era styles towards the very different cars of the late 1940s, no vehicle was more influential in setting a new agenda than the Cadillac Sixty-Special. This derivative of the Series 60 entry-level Caddie was designed by Bill Mitchell, newly appointed head of styling at Cadillac and LaSalle.

GM bosses were skeptical about his creation, so radical was its understated styling in a notoriously conservative marketplace. This daring yet elegant four-door sedan without running boards looked like a convertible with a low ride height, built-in trunk, large windows with narrow frames, no belt-line trim and little chrome embellishment. But Mitchell proved to be a man of vision when the Sixty-Special outsold every other Cadillac in its debut year.

In 1939 there was some cosmetic updating, plus new options like a sunroof and sliding glass panel to separate driver and passengers. There was major evolution in the final two years of the Sixty-Special’s first incarnation (the name would return on later models) when Cadillac’s Fleetwood operation started building the bodies, allowing four styles to be offered – the basic touring sedan, an Imperial sedan and two formal Town cars with different finishes that allowed the roof above the driver to be removed and a glass partition raised to protect passengers and guarantee their privacy.

It is generally agreed that the 1941 Sixty-Specials – with a revised front-end design and skirted fenders – were the most attractive of all, before being superseded by a completely new model for 1942. Nearly 18,000 Specials were manufactured before this change, making it a huge commercial success. It may have started as an innovative low-end product, but as the years rolled by the Sixty-Special steadily climbed the Cadillac pecking order and has become a coveted drive for 1930s car enthusiasts.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:

USA

FIRST MANUFACTURED:

1938 (until 1941)

ENGINE:

5.67I (346 Cid) V8

Performance:

Top speed around 90 mph (145 km/h)

YOU SHOULD KNOW:

The rarest Sixty-Specials were three one-offs dating from 1938 – two four- door convertibles owned by General Motors executives and a lone coupe, it is thought that there were no more than a dozen custom bodies fitted between 1938 and 1941.

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