The '41 Caddy was the first luxury automobile with a fully automatic transmission, four-speed Hydra-Matic, which had been pioneered by Oldsmobile in 1940. About 30 percent of production came equipped this way for '41, and that would double the next year, and more than triple postwar.
The '41 model year also saw the introduction of air conditioning as a Cadillac option. Truly, this was a big step from the classic era into the modem age -- even though only 300 cars were equipped with the bulky apparatus that occupied a considerable amount of space throughout the car. In fact, the unit had no automatic clutch and could be disengaged only by removing the belt in the engine compartment. By comparison, Packard had advertised its "Weather-Conditioner" as early as February 1940, and it was every bit as bulky and primitive as the Cadillac arrangement.
As noted above, Cadillac frequently used the word "economy" in describing its cars, and backed it up by pointing out that the '41 engine was 15 percent more economical than the 1940 unit. The brochure noted that "Strict tests prove the Cadillac Sixty-One capable of delivering fourteen miles to the gallon (16.8 L/100km)-- far and away the best proven economy record in its field." An illustration graphically showed that the same amount of fuel required for a '41 Caddy to travel from Los Angeles to New York would leave the '40 model stranded 644 km shy of the "Big Apple." The conclusion was that "Plainly -- a Cadillac is one of the thriftiest investments you can make."
Performance wasn't neglected, either. Cadillac claimed that its 5.678 Liters V-8 had undergone "hundreds of improvements," including a higher 7.25:1 compression ratio (up from 6.25:1 and 6.70:1 in 1940). The changes boosted output of the L-head unit to 150 horsepower at 3400 rpm, enough to propel the lightest models from 0-60 mph in about 15 seconds, and from 0-30 in about four. Safety wasn't overlooked either, as directional signals were standard equipment, unusual in 1941.
Styling was heavily emphasized for '41, and the new Cadillacs emerged looking quite distinctive. The prow-nose motif of the Thirties was gone, replaced by a blunter and more massive frontal design that was highlighted by a dramatic horizontal eggcrate grille -- a theme that has been continued to this day. That, plus the coffin-nose-style hood (evidence of the industry-wide effect of Cord styling), and the headlights integrated into the broader fenders, separated it from all Cadillacs that had gone before. Meanwhile, a three-piece front bumper guard (one horizontal) provided a cove to protect the license plate, and provision was made for extra-cost fog lights under the headlights (cars without them sported round emblems with a "V" in their center).
At the rear, fenders were more square, the left taillight hid the gas-filler cap, and on most models twin vertical bars divided the rear window into three segments. A large circle medallion on the fender skirts and three horizontal chrome "speed stripes" on the front and rear fenders of most models also set the cars apart from previous Cadillacs. The Sixty Special, however, lacked the last two decorative items as Mitchell deliberately avoided superfluous ornamentation on this model. Seeing the Sixty Special in a lineup of other Mitchell-designed cars, one can quickly sense his touch, which emphasized clean, smooth, youthful lines -- whether on a 1963 Corvette Sting Ray or the '41 Sixty Special.
The extensive styling changes of the '41 models, along with improving economic conditions, helped Cadillac set a production record in 1941: 66,130 units. Apparently Cadillac's moves to consolidate its range were bearing fruit. By 1941, the economy was recovering nicely, largely on the strength of stepped-up military production, which was already under way even though the United States had not yet been drawn into the widening Second World War. With inflation starting to make itself felt, Cadillac boosted prices for its all-new 1941 models. The Sixty-Special, which had listed at $2090 ever since 1938, went up to $2195, yet it was still a bargain. And with the demise of the massive Sixteen after 1940, it was now the flagship of the fleet, the cream of the crop that firmly established Cadillac as America's ultimate automotive status symbol.
Styling was again the keynote throughout the 1941 line, fastidiously derived from that of the original Sixty-Special but with deft touches that would be followed by the rest of the industry post haste. These cars reeked class -- so well-executed that even their heavy use of chrome didn't seem at all garish or inappropriate. The Special retained its crisply formal look, while "torpedo" styling was applied to most other models. Headlamps were now mounted in, rather than on top of, the front fenders. In between was a horizontal eggcrate grille, the first use of a Cadillac hallmark that's still with us. Fenders acquired squared-off trailing edges that harmonized nicely with both the torpedo bodies and the Special's foursquare contours. The Special's front fenders were swept back into the front doors, a forecast of 1942, and the new front-end sheet metal blended so well with the 1938-40 central structure that the '41 looked totally new and completely contemporary.
Cadillac's 1941 model lineup was considerably -- and shrewdly -- realigned. The companion LaSalle was discarded, and the Series 61 returned to take its place. The 62 remained the volume series, offering a full range of body styles, including convertible coupe and sedan. A bit further up the price ladder was a lone four-door under the new Series 63 designation. Wheelbase on the Sixty-Special was shaved 25mm, to 3200mm, to match that of the three lower-priced lines. At the top of the heap were the 3505mm-wheelbase Series 67 and 3454mm Series 75 models. Accessories abounded: radios, fender skirts, driving lights, mirrors, windshield washer, backup lamps, and new Hydra-Matic selfshift transmission were all available.
The Series 61 and 62 were priced substantially less than any Cadillac of recent memory -- as little as $1345 for the standard 61 coupe. Befitting its name, the Special was still at $2195 for the base four-door, and suffered a small production loss (about 500 units) from the previous year. Yet mainly due to the success of the two lower series, the division nearly doubled its production for model year 1941 compared to combined 1940 Cadillac/LaSalle volume. Interestingly, that was accomplished without major mechanical changes. The one significant under-the-skin alteration for '41 was a more rigid frame designed for a smoother ride on all types of roads.
1941 Cadillac back seat
1941 Cadillac front seat