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The "Interceptor" proposal was the first design series to make use of
the 3/8-scale model concept and to incorporate some of the ideas developed
from the visit to see the P-38 Lightning. Some of the models sported an
early version of the tailfin, others did not. All of them, however, were
based on the single line flowing from the leading edge of the vehicle to the
rear bumper. Some of the Interceptor models were even triple-prowed like
the P-38, and otherwise borrowed heavily from the plane's design.
Hershey remembers working on the clay models one day in the studio
in the GM engineering building and adding tailfins to a particular model of
that series. When Earl came in with Nick Dreystadt, one of the top
executives, he saw them and told Hershey, "Take those things off!" Being
the rugged individualist that he was, Hershey left the fins on and simply
covered them with a drape. Earl came back a couple days later and said the
same thing: "I told you to take those things off!" Hershey just covered the
Some time later, Dreystadt came into the studio, looked at the model,
and said, "Thank God, you left the fins on the car! The top brass loves
them!" Earl then encouraged Hershey to leave the fins on the models
wherever he wished. Tailfins had gained a secure foothold in Cadillac
The Interceptor series was an interesting offshoot of Cadillac styling
that was never introduced to the public. Actually, two full-sized running
versions of the Interceptor concept were built shortly after the war. Partly
due to their aerodynamic design, their performance on the GM test track
was spectacular, Hershey remembers. The engineers were especially
The problem was that when top management looked closely at the cars,
they finally concluded that their design was just too advanced for the
public. Harley Earl had once said, "A fundamental we have learned ... is
not to step too far at a time; but every now and then we take a risk." To
bring the Interceptor to production was deemed too great a risk. The
Interceptor design concept thus went no further than the two prototypes
that had been driven on the GM test track. Finally, they too were broken
The sad fact is that the Interceptor might well have become the 1948
Cadillac, but the design was judged to be too far ahead of its time. Earl
therefore directed Hershey, as the head of Cadillac Design, to take a new
tack -- to start over. Because the 1946 and '47 Caddys had been rehashes
of the '41 and '42, it was concluded that Cadillac needed a fresh new
beginning, one that would reinforce its leadership position of excellence of
At this crucial point, a significant event occurred. There was labor
trouble at GM and elsewhere in Detroit in the early postwar years, for that
matter -- effectively locking the design team out of its studio. During the
work on the Interceptor, however, Hershey had bought a 60-acre farm
about 30 miles outside Detroit to be near the General Motors test track. In
light of the lockout, he decided to move the Cadillac design team --
including his master clay sculptor, Chris Kline -- out to the farmhouse to
continue design work in the basement. One of the guys even made a sign
proclaiming this to be the Cadillac Design Studio (although the official
designation of the team was "Special Car Design Studio"). Fortunately,
there was much camaraderie in this makeshift facility -- and even more
Thus did Hershey's farmhouse become the birthplace of the befinned
1948 Cadillac. Franklin Q. Hershey, the man who just seven years later
would give us the classic two-seater Ford Thunderbird, was also the man
who gave us the '48 Caddy -- his boyhood dream of designing a Cadillac
had come true. But it was more than that, for the '48 would set a design
standard that would influence Cadillac for years.
When most car buffs talk fins, they have a specific treatment in mind
and point to the '48 Cadillac as having the first. However, Bill Mitchell
claimed that, strictly speaking, the '48 was not exactly the first year for
Cadillac tailfins. For example, he said, you can look at the 1937 Fleetwood
Series Seventy-Five convertible sedan and see that there was a "fin-like"
projection on the rear fender -- even though that projection was fully
chromed and was obviously a separate and distinct lamp housing attached
to the fender.
But true fins are a sweep of the fender itself; sometimes the taillight is
housed within it, sometimes not. The success of the '48 Cadillac tailfin was
how Hershey incorporated what Mitchell himself learned from the '38: The
fin was a continuation of the flow of the bodyline from the front to the
rear of the car. It was as simple and as elegant as that, but Hershey alone
had the talent and insight to put it together.
The '48 Cadillac was an instant success with buyers. When dealers first
saw it, however, they were apprehensive, and some were downright scared
the public wouldn't like it. But any negative opinions the dealers had were
soon overshadowed by the public's instant and massive demand for the car.
The '48 was the spirit of the P-38 Lightning on wheels -- and it was there
to be bought in any Cadillac showroom. With that beautiful line flowing
through the body panels, climaxing in the elegant tailfins that gave the
effect of making the car look longer, the sheer beauty and simplicity of the
car's body took many an onlooker's breath away. The rounded bumpers and
curved windshield only added to the car's sleek styling. In 1948, Cadillac
was the luxury car to own.
Everyone wanted to copy the Caddy in whatever way they could. Mail
order houses did a brisk business selling tailfins that could be mounted on
the rear fenders of Fords or Chevys. Design studios around the world
adopted various forms of the fin for whatever car was being facelifted.
Eventually one could see fins on everything from the Henry J to a
Even the grille of the '48 was new, although it continued the distinctive
wide cross-hatch theme. A delicate bow of chrome defined the top line of
the grille, while the two inside horizontal bars ran outboard to become the
upper and lower borders of the parking lights. The forward-sloping hood
provided greater visibility, enhancing the low lines of the car, while the
front fenders blended smoothly into the bodysides, becoming an integral
part of the bodywork (rather than being "tacked on").
In spite of its fresh new look, the '48 Cadillac maintained much that
was distinctive of the marque. The name in script, the goddess on the
hood, "V" emblem with crest up front, eggcrate grille, massive "sombrero"
wheel covers, distinctive body moldings, hardware and mascots by Chris
Kline, and embryonic "Dagmar" bumper guards all shouted "Cadillac" loud
The Series Sixty-One and Sixty-Two, actually a bit shorter than the
same models of the previous year, each offered a two-door fastback club
coupe, or "Sedanet." The almost-a-boattail coupes of 1948-49 were
arguably the most beautiful postwar fastbacks ever built. The Sixty-Ones
and Sixty-Twos differed only slightly in trim -- no chrome rocker panel
moldings or front fender stone shields for the Sixty-One, for example --
but shared the same sheetmetal and 126-inch wheelbase. Hershey had
indeed wrought some magic, because the two-inch-narrower cars were two
inches wider inside, where buyers really appreciated it.
The limited-production Fleetwood Series Seventy-Five conservatively
carried on with the '46 sheetmetal, amortizing the prewar 1941-42 dies
used in the manufacture of this impressive 136-inch-long-wheelbase
vehicle. Available in models which carried five people, to the
nine-passenger Imperial, the Seventy-Fives were luxuriously finished both
inside and out, striking awe into those who witnessed one lumbering down
the boulevards of postwar America.
The design flagship of the line was the Sixty Special -- the cream of
the '48 lineup. Hershey points out that the treatment of the stone guards
ahead of the rear wheels on this model was a direct carry-over from the
Prestone side radiators situated to the rear of the twin booms of the P-38.
This inspired chrome treatment, the distinctive set of five chromed
hashmark strips on the sail panel, the more elegant interior, and longer
133-inch wheelbase made the Sixty Special a much desired automobile, as
it is even today.
Though retaining a narrow center pillar, the two-piece windshield on
all models except the Seventy-Fives was curved, quite a novelty in 1948.
And because the various models differed in height, Cadillac had to produce
four different windshields for the model year.
Inside the '48, instruments were clustered quite functionally in a deep
pod under the dashboard line that carried through almost to the floor on
both sides. Some automotive enthusiasts have called this a "rainbow"
instrument panel because of its generous sweep. Functional ducts in the
front doors circulated air to the side windows and the windshield, a
forward-looking feature at the time.
Despite all the new styling features, the 150-horsepower L-head V-8
and Hydra-Matic automatic transmission were carried over virtually
unchanged from 1941-47. The V-8 was tough, with a distinguished record
for smoothness and longevity, and as good or better than anything offered
by the competition. On the minus side, it was bulky and heavy. Maurice D.
Hendry, in Cadillac, Standard of the World: The Complete History,
described the engine's performance and economy as "adequate." The figures
quoted were a top speed of 93.3 miles per hour, 0-60 mph in 16.3 seconds,
and fuel economy of 14 miles per gallon at 60 mph (all figures with
The '48 Caddy didn't get into production until late February 1948, and
went on sale in dealer showrooms in March. The model year thus spanned
a short nine months. Demand was higher than supply, but there was only
time to build 52,706 cars for the '48 model run.
May 12/00; March 8/03
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