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Unique '41 Cadillacs

There’s a reason they refer to it as riding in "Cadillac style." In 1941 Cadillac lived up to that adage.
Howard A. “Dutch” Darrin’s Packard convertible victorias, with their cut-down doors and lack of running boards to create sporty flair, were all the rage in the Hollywood during the late 1930s. Clark Gable drove one of these Packard Darrins, as they were known, and other stars soon followed suit. Constance Bennett, an actress with an established taste for coachbuilt cars herself, drove this unique 1941 Cadillac in the 1945 film “Paris Underground.” The Cadillac convertible’s unique features appear to have been inspired by the Packard Darrin, from the cut-down doors to the car’s deleted running boards. It also features unique front fenders that blend into the doors for a fade-away effect. The builder of this highly individual 1941 Cadillac is not clear; it could have been the creation of Darrin’s shop, or Coachcraft, Ltd., which was formed in California by former Darrin employees in 1940. This car or its twin has survived.

Howard A. “Dutch” Darrin’s Packard convertible victorias, with their cut-down doors and lack of running boards to create sporty flair, were all the rage in the Hollywood during the late 1930s. Clark Gable drove one of these Packard Darrins, as they were known, and other stars soon followed suit. Constance Bennett, an actress with an established taste for coachbuilt cars herself, drove this unique 1941 Cadillac in the 1945 film “Paris Underground.” The Cadillac convertible’s unique features appear to have been inspired by the Packard Darrin, from the cut-down doors to the car’s deleted running boards. It also features unique front fenders that blend into the doors for a fade-away effect. The builder of this highly individual 1941 Cadillac is not clear; it could have been the creation of Darrin’s shop, or Coachcraft, Ltd., which was formed in California by former Darrin employees in 1940. This car or its twin has survived.

One of the most beloved cars in the hobby is the 1941 Cadillac. With more than 450 examples among 32 different styles owned by Cadillac & LaSalle Club members alone, it competes with only the ubiquitous 1959 Cadillac for the club’s “Miss Popularity” title. So beloved is the 1941 Cadillac that it’s also the most popular year and make of car among all of the Full Classics recognized by the Classic Car Club of America. In layman’s terms, it’s the ’57 Chevy of prewar cars.

When put into perspective, it’s clear why the 1941 Cadillac was and is so popular. The United States’ was well on its way to complete economic recovery from the Great Depression, so there was once again money for luxury cars. The 1941 Cadillac was stylish and innovative, and it offered cars in a wide range of styles and prices. There were six Cadillac series in 1941, and most of those series offered a choice of body style and/or interior configuration.

Coachbuilder Brunn & Co. of Buffalo, N.Y.

Coachbuilder Brunn & Co. of Buffalo, N.Y.

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Coachbuilder Brunn & Co. of Buffalo, N.Y., went out of business in 1941, but not before turning out this unique fastback. Based upon a production Series 61 coupe, a five-passenger fastback, Brunn’s work amounted to modifications rather than extensive coachbuilding. The coachbuilder covered the rear side windows and entire roof with a padded top and landau bars, extended the front fenders into the doors and added a unique beltline molding. The two-tone treatment is not standard Cadillac.

Coachbuilder Brunn & Co. of Buffalo, N.Y., went out of business in 1941, but not before turning out this unique fastback. Based upon a production Series 61 coupe, a five-passenger fastback, Brunn’s work amounted to modifications rather than extensive coachbuilding. The coachbuilder covered the rear side windows and entire roof with a padded top and landau bars, extended the front fenders into the doors and added a unique beltline molding. The two-tone treatment is not standard Cadillac.

However, this variety wasn’t quite enough for a handful of buyers with the financial means and the desire to own a personalized new Cadillac. These buyers turned to custom coachbuilders or General Motors itself in order to have built for them uniquely styled or outfitted 1941 Cadillacs. While 1941 Cadillacs aren’t rare on the show field, the unique, custom-built versions were very rare and hardly, if ever, seen — then or now. Photographs exist of some of these custom creations, so to display the rarely seen side of such a popular car, we have assembled this selection of custom, coachbuilt 1941 Cadillac images. If you can provide additional details or additions, please contact the Old Cars staff.

One of the many interesting cars credited to actor Clark Gable is this modified 1941 Cadillac Series 62 coupe. The car has a chopped top and a windshield that has been raked, both highlighted by a non-standard padded top covering. The source of the modifications is reported to be Cadillac’s famous distributor Don Lee, of California. This individualized 1941 Cadillac is sometimes displayed at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles.

One of the many interesting cars credited to actor Clark Gable is this modified 1941 Cadillac Series 62 coupe. The car has a chopped top and a windshield that has been raked, both highlighted by a non-standard padded top covering. The source of the modifications is reported to be Cadillac’s famous distributor Don Lee, of California. This individualized 1941 Cadillac is sometimes displayed at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles.

Cadillac didn’t build a sporting two-seater for 1941, so someone took it upon themselves to have this unique example built. The New Cadillac Database, an online source of Cadillac and LaSalle information, credits the car to industrial designer Raymond Loewy, although it doesn’t make clear whether he designed and/or built it. The two-seater’s unique features are plentiful, from the front fender line that extends through the doors to the rear quarter panels, to the door-top saddle trim, to the rear deck design. The vertical front fender louvers are also unique, and replace the thinner horizontal trim pieces standard on all 1941 Cadillacs but the Sixty Special. There are also unique, round ornaments on the doors and hood. This car is not known to still exist.

Cadillac didn’t build a sporting two-seater for 1941, so someone took it upon themselves to have this unique example built. The New Cadillac Database, an online source of Cadillac and LaSalle information, credits the car to industrial designer Raymond Loewy, although it doesn’t make clear whether he designed and/or built it. The two-seater’s unique features are plentiful, from the front fender line that extends through the doors to the rear quarter panels, to the door-top saddle trim, to the rear deck design. The vertical front fender louvers are also unique, and replace the thinner horizontal trim pieces standard on all 1941 Cadillacs but the Sixty Special. There are also unique, round ornaments on the doors and hood. This car is not known to still exist.

In 1941, there were still a few Old World hold-outs for the snobbish, open-front town car, and Cadillac built at least one based upon the Fleetwood Sixty Special. That car is pictured while on display at the Waldorf Astoria lobby when new, and still exists. It was originally painted a specially mixed maroon color with a tan-colored top covering. It’s worth noting that independent coachbuilder Derham Body Co. also built a few town cars upon the 1941 Cadillac chassis, and other coachbuilders may have, too.

In 1941, there were still a few Old World hold-outs for the snobbish, open-front town car, and Cadillac built at least one based upon the Fleetwood Sixty Special. That car is pictured while on display at the Waldorf Astoria lobby when new, and still exists. It was originally painted a specially mixed maroon color with a tan-colored top covering. It’s worth noting that independent coachbuilder Derham Body Co. also built a few town cars upon the 1941 Cadillac chassis, and other coachbuilders may have, too.

A few additional coachbuilt custom four-door 1941 Cadillacs are known to have been built by Rollson, Inc., of New York, and Derham Body Co. of Pennsylvania. This illustration for a convertible coupe based on the 1941 Cadillac Sixty Special sedan is not known to have been built. The illustration shows front fenders extended into the doors, as on a Sixty Special, and the Sixty Special-only rocker trim. The rendering also lacks the horizontal trim bars on the fenders, which are also absent on a production Sixty Special. The rear deck shape may have differed from the production Series 62 convertible coupe, indicating the body would have been entirely custom built.

A few additional coachbuilt custom four-door 1941 Cadillacs are known to have been built by Rollson, Inc., of New York, and Derham Body Co. of Pennsylvania. This illustration for a convertible coupe based on the 1941 Cadillac Sixty Special sedan is not known to have been built. The illustration shows front fenders extended into the doors, as on a Sixty Special, and the Sixty Special-only rocker trim. The rendering also lacks the horizontal trim bars on the fenders, which are also absent on a production Sixty Special. The rear deck shape may have differed from the production Series 62 convertible coupe, indicating the body would have been entirely custom built.

One of the most spectacular custom 1941 Cadillacs has to be the unique sedan originally built by Cadillac for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who regularly used the car in New York City. It was constructed under the supervision of Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., chairman and CEO of GM, in the company’s Art & Colour Section. The special car, later named “The Duchess,” utilized the 136-inch wheelbase of the Series 75, and had cues from future General Motors cars. The full-body, “fade away” fender line through the doors would appear on 1942 Buicks, and the roof design appeared on the 1942 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special. The car was loaded with features: front and rear radios, power windows, Hydra-Matic, a division between the front and rear, compartments for the royals’ jewels, special interior materials and more. After falling off the map and into decay, “The Duchess” was awoken with a spectacular restoration completed by 2013.

One of the most spectacular custom 1941 Cadillacs has to be the unique sedan originally built by Cadillac for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who regularly used the car in New York City. It was constructed under the supervision of Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., chairman and CEO of GM, in the company’s Art & Colour Section. The special car, later named “The Duchess,” utilized the 136-inch wheelbase of the Series 75, and had cues from future General Motors cars. The full-body, “fade away” fender line through the doors would appear on 1942 Buicks, and the roof design appeared on the 1942 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special. The car was loaded with features: front and rear radios, power windows, Hydra-Matic, a division between the front and rear, compartments for the royals’ jewels, special interior materials and more. After falling off the map and into decay, “The Duchess” was awoken with a spectacular restoration completed by 2013.

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