Fully Featured Website Hosting!!!
Having produced a blockbuster for 1948, no one expected much
in the way of new excitement from Cadillac for the 1949 model year. They
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.
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.
Not only did the new engine give the car unequalled
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
May 12/00; March 8/03
Fully Featured Website Hosting!!!