Arnie Civins didn’t have a good experience with his first collector car. It proved to be a lot more trouble and provided more headaches than he bargained for.
The second time around, the Scotch Plains, N.J., resident made sure he got it right. After mulling over his purchase for several months, Civins let it snap and bought his dream car — a 1941 Cadillac Series 62 four-door convertible sedan — restored and in near-perfect working order. The rare Cadillac needed a new home, and Civins was happy to oblige. He’s never regretted it since.
“I’ve always liked the Cadillacs, but the 1941 Cadillac is a very unique car. It’s very special,” he said. “It was designed by Bill Mitchell and Harley Earl … and was just an amazing car.”
It was just what Civins needed to satisfy his urge to have a classic hobby car and remove the bad memories left by his first collector car. “I bought a 1951 Fleetwood, which was an absolute disaster,” he said. “Nothing worked, I had nothing but problems with it … Something always needed to be fixed. It was a learning experience.
“I always wanted to have an old car that I could drive around in, and not being very mechanically inclined, it had to be something that didn’t need a lot of fixing up.”
The car also had to have an automatic transmission, which narrowed the list of possibilities. “1941 was the first year Cadillac offered automatic transmission,” he said. “I never learned how to drive standard, and I wasn’t going to take an expensive car out and learn, so this was perfect for me.”
Convertible four-door sedans are rare in any era, and Civins’ car is especially unique. It was the only four-door convertible in Cadillac’s extensive 1941 lineup and marked the last time the marque cataloged a four-door droptop. Only 400 examples were built that year, and “there are probably only about two dozen left,” Civins said.
Cadillac executives and designers probably never pondered the idea that the ’41 convertible sedan would be the last one the company would produce for 72 years and counting, but then again, the 1941 model year was a time of big change at the company. The LaSalle name was discontinued after 1940, prompting Cadillac to revive the Series 61 models to take LaSalle’s place in the pricing hierarchy. A new touring sedan made up the single-model Series 63, and a pair of huge 139-inch-wheelbase Fisher body sedans were also unveiled and given the Series 67 designation.
Also gone was the company’s famed V-16 (Series 90), whose popularity had fallen considerably over the years. Instead, the company decided to offer one engine for all its models — the 346-cid L-head V-8 rated at 150 hp.
All the models for 1941 were redesigned and Cadillac reached new sales heights with its new look as nearly 60,000 cars found new owners. Buyers clearly liked the new Cadillac appearance, which included a one-piece hood that came down lower in front and extended sideways to the fenders, and a new rectangular, tombstone-shaped grille that was wider and protruded forward in the middle. A rectangular panel of louver trim was found on each side of the hood, and rectangular parking lights were integrated into the upper corners of the grille. Gone were the old bullet-shaped headlamps. They were now built into the front corners of the fenders, right above the round turn-signal lamps. Three chrome spears ran horizontally on all four fenders, and fender skirts were standard on most models.
Series 60, 61, 62 and 63 Cadillacs were all built on the 126-inch-wheelbase chassis. The Series 62 offerings included four basic body styles. The coupe and touring sedans could be had in either standard or deluxe trim; open cars carried deluxe equipment.
With a hefty $1,965 price tag, sans options, the convertible sedan was by far the most expensive member of the Series 62 lineup. It was also the heaviest at about 4,230 lbs. It stretched 216 inches from nose to tail. Slotted 15×7-inch steel wheels were standard, as were hydraulic drum brakes at all four corners. A three-speed synchromesh manual transmission was standard, but for an extra $110, buyers could get the new Hydra-Matic, which went in about 30 percent of all Cadillacs that year.
Civins found his automatic-equipped car back in 2009 in Scottsdale, Ariz. The car belonged to Leo Gephart, a restorer and dealer who was on his second stint owning the car. “I went on the Internet in May of 2009 and I saw it and kind of put it away for a while, because at that point, I didn’t want to spend the money to buy it,” Civins said. “That fall I decided to pursue it and they sent me some photographs … My wife and I took a trip to Scottsdale to see it and the car looked 10 times better in person than in the photos….
“Leo is a tough negotiator and I couldn’t really get him to come down in price, but he agreed to pay for the transportation back to New York.”
The car had been restored back in 1995 or ’96, according to Civins. “I don’t have any of the papers because they disappeared with a [previous owner] who died… Leo had fixed it up, got a [Classic Car Club of America] first prize with it, then sold it. Then the guy who bought it died, and his wife died, too, so Leo got it back to sell again ….”
Since he’s owned it, Civins has done some electrical work on the engine and some routine maintenance such as plugs, battery and tires. “One thing that’s interesting is these cars ran on a 6-volt battery!” he noted. “This big monster runs on a 6-volt battery. The battery is just this huge black box.”
He’s replaced the convertible soft top once and had a new top boot made. The tan convertible top on Civins’ car operates manually, but Cadillac convertibles for 1941 were offered with power tops. The rich-looking Valcour Maroon paint was one of 16 body color choices available that year.
When Civins brought the car back to the New York/New Jersey area, it was actually a homecoming of sorts for the big convertible. According to the original build sheet that Civins purchased, the car was originally sold in New York before eventually heading west.
The Cadillac shows about 11,500 miles on its odometer since being restored in the 1990s. Civins has put about 1,000 of those rounds on the clock, many involving activities with his Raritan River Region Cadillac & LaSalle Club. “The members have just been fantastic. They have really helped me so much,” he said. “Very nice people. I go to their shows and support their functions in exchange for what they do for me … I take the car out to parades and charitable functions. We have a lot of fun with it.”
Though the 1941 Cadillac was a state-of-the-art machine for its time, packed with technology and comfort amenities, it can still be a handful to drive, even without a manual gear shift to worry about. “You have to drive it with a sense of anticipation,” Civins noted. “There is no power anything and it’s all manual and you have to leave yourself a lot of latitude in terms of space. Turns are tough. It requires a lot of elbow grease to make those turns. Once it’s running, it’s fine. The hard part is turning when you’re stopped.
“Another interesting thing about this car is if want to go in reverse, you have to drive car forward about six inches before you can get it into gear, so you have to be careful how you park it. You need to leave yourself room to go forward or you’ll be stuck.”
Of course, the Caddy’s stunning looks attract plenty of attention wherever it goes. That part never gets old for Civins — even though most people don’t realize how rare it is to see a ’41 Cadillac four-door convertible. “Some people know what it is, some people don’t,” he laughed. “I like talking about it. I don’t mind if people come up and touch it or whatever. I’m not overly protective of it. It’s fun to watch the old-timers and people a lot older than me and their reaction to the car when they see it.”
Civins added a little hint about the car’s age when he mounted a “Remember Pearl Harbor” topper to the rear license plate. “That’s an authentic sign,” he said. “That’s a real sign from [the World War II era].”
Civins affectionately refers to his lovely Cadillac as “Lady Evalyn” in tribute to his late mother-in-law, who he says encouraged him to get into the car hobby and buy a Cadillac. “Her brother was a Cadillac salesman … and she lent me money one time to buy [my first Cadillac] and she never wanted me to pay her back,” he said. “She was a wonderful, wonderful woman, and she was always encouraging me to do this.”
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