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Cadillac Index

beige 1949 Cadillac 2-door left front view Having produced a blockbuster for 1948, no one expected much in the way of new excitement from Cadillac for the 1949 model year. They were wrong.

1949 Cadillac 4-door right front view Shortly before the war, engineers at General Motors had realized that the old Cadillac V-8 needed to be replaced. Engineering was rapidly reaching the limits of what could be extracted from the reliable, but aging, L-head V-8 design. In fact, engineering had attempted a redo of the heads on the old engine to yield an 8.0:1 compression ratio. But the point of diminishing returns had been reached. Despite pushing the ratio this far, engineers saw no substantial increase in economy or performance, and there was a breathing loss. It was time to move on.

1949 Cadillac 2-door fastback left side view Ernest W. Seaholm, who had been in charge of Cadillac engineering for 20 years, came to this conclusion long before his retirement in 1943. Indeed, he had directed that work he started on a new powerplant shortly before Pearl Harbor, but the ensuing war had halted progress on the new engine's development. After the war, the top engineers at GM, now under the direction of Harry F. Barr, Edward M. Cole, and John F. Gordon, tackled the problem. Their final creation set the pace for engine design and performance for years to come -- and it powered the 1949 Cadillac.

1949 Cadillac flip-up fuel filler Not only did the new engine give the car unequalled performance and ability, but it did so at a substantial gain in fuel economy. The engine weighed in nearly 200 pounds less than the old L-head, but because it was cooler running it required less radiator mass, making the savings in weight even greater (220 pounds). Cadillac was able to offer all this, plus an engine which allowed for sleeker styling due to the fact that it was five inches shorter and four inches lower than the L-head. And even though the compression ratio was just 7.5:1, the new powerplant was designed to take full advantage of higher-octane postwar fuels because it could tolerate a compression ratio of 12.0:1 or more. By 1948, 88-octane premium fuels were reaching the pumps, and higher octanes were promised by the oil companies, so this was important in looking toward the future. So was the fact that there was ample block space for cylinder enlargement, and indeed displacement would be increased to 365 cubic inches in 1956. Also featured in the new V-8 were wedge-shaped combustion chambers and advanced "slipper" pistons. The latter, devised by Byron Ellis, traveled low between the crankshaft counterweights to permit short connecting rods and thus reduced reciprocating mass, meaning the engine could run more smoothly at higher rpm without undue wear or damage.

1949 Cadillac2-door fastback left rear view The engine was a sensation, so much so that it was rushed off to race tracks across the country. Almost-stock Caddys with big racing numbers plastered on their sides were seen roaring down race track straightaways within a few short months after the '49 models bowed. The cars were so hot that famed Briggs Cunningham took the Caddys racing, even to the 24 hours of Le Mans in France. There, a near-stock Coupe de Ville finished tenth overall against the world's finest racing machinery. The British Allard Company even used the engine in its new J-2 sports/racing car.

1949 Cadillac 4-door right front view Out on the street, buyers could tell the difference, too. Though road test magazines were few in 1949, "Uncle" Tom McCahill reported in Mechanix Illustrated that "With this engine, Cadillac, despite its large size, out-performs just about every car being made." He backed that up by posting a 0-60-mph romp of 12.1 seconds (with stick shift) and a top speed of around 105 mph. No other car he tested that year did better. Author Hendry quoted slightly more conservative figures of 100 mph tops and 0-60 in 13.4 seconds. Either way, probably only the lighter-weight Olds 88 could keep up.

1949 Cadillac 2-door right side view Introduction of the new engine helped erode a consumer problem Cadillac Division had faced since the close of the war. Cadillac had advertised heavily during World War II that M-5 and M-24 tanks were powered by Cadillac engines, so some consumers tried to get hold of the military engines and modify them for domestic use. Of course, such attempts at modification were more often than not fraught with a host of technical problems. Cadillac had tried every way it could to discourage such modifications, but it was the arrival of the new overhead V-8 that made the L-heads seem far less attractive.

1949 Cadillac 2-door right front view In retrospect, the new Cadillac V-8 arrived on the scene just when it was needed. The L-head had served its era well, including the emergence of the automatic transmission. But now roads were getting better -- there were already a few limited-access roads and talk of many more to come -- and gasoline octane ratings were climbing. The new V-8, under constant development even after introduction, could handle these, so the first major redesign wasn't deemed necessary until 1964.

1949 Cadillac convertible right front view Sheetmetal surfaces on the '49 Cadillac remained the same, except that the hood was made a bit longer. Shortly after production was underway a larger decklid was phased in on notchback models. The grille, now with just one horizontal bar, was given bolder lines and the parking light housings wrapped around the fenders.

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Caddy Index

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