What may well be the single most influential prewar Cadillac originated
during the most difficult period in the marque's history. The year was
1934, and General Motors' prestige outfit stood at the crossroads. The
luxury-car market had all but disappeared in the chaos of the Depression,
and Cadillacs weren't selling very well. Production that year stood at only
about a fifth of what it had been back in record-setting 1928, and the
operation had been a consistent money-loser in the intervening years.
Worse, the division's medium-price companion make, LaSalle, wasn't doing
much better, yet its sales volume was looming ever more crucial to
Cadillac's survival. To be sure, Cadillac was protected from the economic
upheaval of the Thirties in a way its rivals were not: by the great size and
financial strength of its parent company. But clearly, even Cadillac would
have to change if it hoped to return to prosperity. Indeed, GM management
had already instituted a number of measures toward this end, such as
reducing the number of components unique to each car line. Into this sour
situation stepped a new general manager, the man who would lay the
foundations for the fabulous Sixty-Special.
Nicholas Dreystadt was certainly no stranger to Cadillac. Before being
promoted to the division's top post in late 1934, he had been manager of
Cadillac's Clark Avenue home plant for more than two years, and served as
general service manager for six years before that. Efficiency was his
stock-in-trade, and cost-effectiveness ranked high among his goals. As
Ernest Seaholm, Cadillac's chief engineer in those days, would later recall:
"Nick made us look closely at everything .... If someone else made a part
for two dollars, why did ours have to cost three or four?"
Dreystadt knew better than anyone at GM that Cadillac could literally no
longer afford to pursue the cost-bedamned practices that were by then
customary among "carriage trade" automakers, yet he was determined to
maintain the marque's standards of quality and engineering excellence.
Interestingly, an important development that would reconcile these
seemingly contradictory aims was already in the works at the time he took
over the helm. It was a new monobloc V-8, so-called because the cylinder
head was cast integrally with the block. Devised under the leadership of
Owen Nacker and, later, John E "Jack" Gordon, it was projected to be
much cheaper to build than Cadillac's existing 353-cubic-inch V-8, let
alone its mighty 368-cid V-12 and 453-cid V-16. Moreover, it was
expected to be quieter, thanks to hydraulic valve lifters, and to have better
performance and durability. As time would prove, this smooth, strong, and
refined powerplant was so good that it would be continued without major
change from 1936 through 1948. It also hastened the departure of the
V-12, which it rendered virtually obsolete.
Meanwhile, Dreystadt had been taking a close look at the market.
Inevitably, his attention was drawn to the $900 price gap between the new
straight-eight LaSalle, introduced for '34, and the least expensive Cadillacs.
What this amounted to was that a buyer could have both a LaSalle and an
Oldsmobile for the price of one new Caddy -- and still have enough money
left over to purchase a first-class living room radio. The difference was
even greater at Packard, still the leading U.S. luxury marque at the time,
where a fat $1325 separated that firm's new 1935 One Twenty series from
its least expensive senior models. It's not clear why it took so long for the
powers at Cadillac -- or Packard, for that matter -- to see that the market
was ripe for a car priced to bridge this gap. What is clear is that once he
recognized the problem, Dreystadt moved swiftly to solve it.
The answer was a new low-end offering for 1936. Designated the Series
60, it rode a 121-inch wheelbase, 10 inches shorter than the 131-inch
chassis used for the Series 70 and Fleetwood Series 80, and shared the
General Motors "B" bodyshell used by LaSalle, Buick, and Oldsmobile. All
Cadillacs this year featured GM's much-ballyhooed all-steel "Turret-Top"
construction for closed body styles, plus big duo-servo Bendix hydraulic
brakes, doubly effective on V-8 models because the new monobloc engine
weighed less than the previous V-8. Other changes included a more rigid
frame, a refined front suspension, and a handsome face-lift carried out by
GM's Art & Colour section under the direction of Harley Earl. Marked by
a stylishly tall, narrow grille and a divided vee'd windshield, it suited the
new Series 60 especially well. Lean and trim in appearance, the "budget"
Caddys were arguably the best-looking models in the '36 line. Best of all,
they were the lowest-priced cars to wear the Cadillac crest since 1908,
listing at $750 less than the cheapest 1935 V-8 Series 10, a savings of
more than 30 percent.
Though it was very much a "junior edition," the Series 60 was no less a
Cadillac than its larger linemates -- which would prove to be an enormous
sales advantage. The engine was a smaller version of the one used in the
big Series 70 and 75 V-8 cars: 322 cid, 3.38 x 4.50-inch bore and stroke
dimensions, and 125 bhp, compared with 346 cid, 3.50 x 4.50-inch
bore/stroke, and 135 bhp. It drove through a redesigned transmission that
was so smooth, fast-shifting, and durable that it would become a prime
favorite among hot-rodders. "Knee-Action" independent front suspension
was still something of a novelty in 1936, even in the luxury field, but the
Series 60 had it, a noteworthy sales point for passenger comfort.
What Cadillac had here was an entirely new kind of automobile: a
high-quality, high-prestige package of compact dimensions, fast and
powerful, easy to handle, and priced within reach of many Buick and
Chrysler buyers. Predictably, the Series 60 brightened Cadillac's fortunes in
a way the LaSalle by itself could not. Sales went up by an astounding 254
percent, with the new line accounting for more than half of Cadillac's
model year production.
Another event took place in 1936 that would brighten the division's
fortunes even more: the arrival of 23-year-old William L. Mitchell to head
the Cadillac design studio. In January of that year, Mitchell's mentor
assigned him to create another new model using the Series 60 as its basis,
but roomier, more luxurious, and more stylish by far than any previous
Cadillac. The result was announced less than two years later. A predictive
design with features that would be quickly copied by the rest of GM -- and
the industry -- the Sixty-Special was a masterpiece that made everything
else on the road old-fashioned.
Naturally, corporate brass had a few apprehensions about this daring new
Cadillac. Don Ahrens, the division's sales director at that time, remembers:
"As the Sixty-Special took shape ... there were moments of uncertainty.
The feeling arose not because we were apprehensive of the car's beauty but
because, in its presentation, we were breaking with tradition .... The
Cadillac market is ultraconservative. The bulk of our business is conducted
with sound and substantial families. How would this revolutionary car
affect our position in the industry? Was it too startling for our price class?
Was it too rakish for our reputation?" In a word, yes -- which is precisely
why it had Harley Earl's enthusiastic endorsement. It was the sort of car
that could only come from a younger designer: sporty yet sober, advanced
yet appealing. It was an entirely new concept: the total car, with each
design element fully and tastefully matched to all the others.
The Sixty-Special's styling represented a major departure for Cadillac in
several respects. Presenting a smart, ultra-modern silhouette, it stood three
inches lower than any previous Cadillac, yet it had no less headroom
inside. Running boards were conspicuous by their absence, a trend-setting
move that GM chairman Alfred P Sloan observed "made it possible to
widen the basic body pattern to the full tread of the wheels, so that the
standard car became one that could hold six passengers." An extended rear
deck, a first for a U.S. production model, made the trunk an integral part
of the main body. All four doors of this elegant sedan were front-hinged,
an unusual arrangement then and one that would be widely imitated.
Fulsome pontoon fenders front and rear added to the illusion of extra
length, though it was really no illusion as the 127-inch wheelbase was three
inches longer than that of the Series 60. The bright belt molding that
traditionally separated the greenhouse from the lower body was eliminated.
No brightwork adorned the sides, a brave move in a day when lavishly
applied chrome was de rigueur for all but the cheapest cars. Equally
bold was the use of very slim roof pillars, which allowed the windshield
and doors to be wider than on any other car in the class for superior
visibility. Replacing the expected, bulky upper door frames were tall,
chrome-banded windows with thin-but-strong frames, a look clearly
patterned on the convertible sedan body style that was still very much in
vogue in the late Thirties. By combining closed-car comfort with the
suggestion of an open car, the Sixty-Special was the precursor of the
pillarless "hardtop convertible," the body style that would dominate the
American industry more than a decade later.
"There has never been a car like the Cadillac Sixty-Special," enthused the
ad writers, "a car with such definite modernity of line, yet so obviously
right in taste ... a precedent-breaking car prophetic of motor cars not yet on
other drawing boards, yet a car wholly devoid of freakish trappings."
Indeed, Mitchell's avoidance of "freakish trappings" was laudable, and the
Sixty-Special was a sensational launch to his career. It can lay claim as the
first Detroit "specialty" car, the sort of high-style, premium-price product
that would appear from a number of manufacturers in the years that
followed, cars like the 1940 Lincoln Continental and, much later, Mitchell's
own 1963 Buick Riviera.
The performance of the engine was impressive. Cadillac had settled on the 346-cid version of the monobloc V-8
for all its eight-cylinder models except LaSalle beginning in 1937. Rated at 135 horsepower at 3400 rpm, the
346 had five more horses than the 1935 V-8 and 10 more than the one-year-only 322-cid monobloc. The
Sixty-Special arrived weighing only some 230 pounds more than a
comparable 1938 Series 60 sedan, so its power-to-weight ratio was less
than 31 pounds per horsepower, quite good for the period. By contrast, that
year's Packard Super Eight -- which, incidentally, cost $700 more than the
Special -- carried nearly 35 pounds per horsepower.
For 1938, Cadillac fielded five models. The first four (Series 38-60, 38-60S, 38-65, and 38-75) were eight
cylinders and the 38-90 was a V16. The V12 series 85 was dropped this year. Also the Series 70 and Fisher
bodied Series 75 Specials were dropped, but a Convertible Sedan was added to the Series 65 line. The styling
bonanza for 1938 was the sensational new Sixty Special Sedan.
Series 60 was restyled with a squared off grille made up of horizontal bars extending around front and sides of
the nose. Three sets of four chrome bars decorated the side panel louvers. Hood was front opening alligator style
and headlights were fixed to the sheet metal between fenders and grille. Sixty Special had much the same nose as
the Sixty, with one less bar in the grille assembly. The body was entirely new and unique, on a double dropped
frame three inches lower than the Sixty. There were no runningboards, the floor being at normal runningboard
height. Large side windows in chrome frames were flush with the sides of the body. The convertible-shaped top
featured a thin roof section and a notched back.
Series 65 (Custom V-8) and Series 75 (Fleetwood) shared a new front end style featuring a massive vertical
three sets of horizontal bars on the hood sides, alligator hood, and headlights on the filler piece between fenders
Optional sidemount covers were hinged to the fenders. Quarter windows were of sliding rather than hinged
Rear of bodies had rounder corners and more smoothly blended lines; trunks had more appearance of being an
of the body. Bodies were all steel except for wooden main sills.
New chassis details included:
Column gear shift
horns just behind grille
battery under right hand side of hood
transverse muffler just behind fuel tank
wheels by different manufacturer (not interchangeable with 1937)
"Synchro-Flex" flywheel hypoid rear axle on all series
deletion of oil filter
Compression ratio on Series 75 was raised to 6.70: 1, necessitating use of high octane fuel.
I. D. DATA
Serial numbers were on left frame side bar, at the rear of the left fron motor support.
Starting: Same as engine number.
Ending: Same as engine number Engine numbers were on crankcase, just behind left cylinder block.
Starting Engine No.:
Series 38-60 = 8270001
Series 38-60S = 6270001
Series 38-65 = 7270001
Series 38-75 = 3270001
Series 38-60 = 8272052
Series 38-60S = 6273704
Series 38-75 = 3270001
Series 38-65 = 7271476
Series 38-75 = 3271911
Fisher Series 30-60, 124" wheelbase
Fisher Series 38-60S, 127" wheelbase
Fisher Series 38-65 132" wheelbase
Fleetwood Sedan 38-75, 141" wheelbase, Business Cars
Business Transformable Sedan
Business Transformable Imperial
Fleetwood Series 38-75 141 in. wheelbase
Cast iron block (blocks cast enbloc with crankcase).
Bore & Stroke: 3-1/2 in. x 4-1/2 in.
Displacement: 346 cu. in.
Series 60, 60S, 65 = 6.25.1
Series 75 = 6.7:1
Brake Horsepower: 135 (140 on 75) @ 3400 rpm
SAE/Taxable Horsepower: 39.20
Main bearings: Three
Valve lifters: Hydraulic
Carburetor: Stromberg AAV-25.
7.00 x 16
7.00 x 16
7.00 x 16
7.50 x 16
Selective synchro manual transmission.
Speeds: 3 Forward, 1 Reverse
Left Hand Drive; Gearshift on column; handbrake at left (RHD opt.).