Bill Mitchell’s 1938 Sixty Special set standards for Cadillac and the rest of GM for the next 10 years. It was a stunning design that looked like a convertible hardtop, with flat roof, large side windows with chrome frames, and no running boards. It was the first of Mitchell’s landmark designs. He would go on to style the 1963 Corvette Stingray, 1963 Buick Riviera and front-wheel drive 1967 Cadillac Eldorado.
The 1938 Sixty Special rode on a 127-inch wheelbase, which was three inches longer than other Series 60 Cadillacs. The new X-frame was raised at each end so that the car was three inches lower than the other models, but still had plenty of headroom. It was only available as a five-passenger sedan, but outsold all other Model 60s with 3,703 delivered. The basic shape would continue through 1941, with restyled front end treatment.
The Sixty Special evolved in the postwar years with mainstream GM cues, long flow-through fenders and the addition of fishtail fins with raised taillights in 1948. A new 331 cubic inch OHV V-8 made its debut in 1949, and the entire Cadillac line was redesigned for 1950.
Cadillac hit a high point in 1950, selling more than 100,000 new cars for the first time in its 48-year history, and outselling arch-rival Packard at last. The division’s final total was 103,857 units, with the 100,000th car coming off the production line on November 16 1950.
Cadillac offered nine models in four series on four wheelbases. All were powered by the 160 bhp, 331 cubic-inch OHV V-8 and Hydra-Matic transmissions were optional. Every model was redesigned, from the base Series 61 Coupe to the luxurious Fleetwood Seventy Five limousine. Gone were the fastback models, replaced by pillarless hardtops and heavy sedans with bulbous bodies, enormous chrome egg-crate grilles, big bumpers, and sweeping rear fenders with fishtail fins. Cadillacs gained curved windshields for 1950, rear windows wrapped around to C-pillars and hood and trunk carried heavy “V” emblems.
The Series 61 used the GM “B” body, on a four-inch shorter, 122-inch chassis, shared with Buick and Oldsmobile. The Series 62 used the “C” body, with 126-inch wheelbase, with a two-door coupe, a pillarless coupe, a four-door sedan and a convertible. The Fleetwood Sixty Special was only offered as a four-door sedan on a 130-inch wheelbase. It used a stretched “C” body with the trunk extended another nine inches, and could be recognized by the eight vertical chrome louvers on the rear door. A record 13,755 Sixty Specials were sold, and Hydra-Matic transmission and power windows were standard.
Cadillac joined the Korean War by restarting tank production in June 1950, but automobile production continued at full speed. In fact, 1951 production actually increased to 110,340, and Sixty Specials kept pace with the Cadillac sales surge, with 18,631 finding new owners. Most changes were mechanical, but 1951 models could be recognized by bullet-shaped bumper guards.
Cadillac celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1952. Design changes were few, though dual range Hydra-Matic transmissions were offered and power was increased to 190 bhp through a four-barrel Rochester carburetor. The Sixty Special continued to use eight vertical louvers on the back door, but now sported Fleetwood script on the trunk. A total of 16,110 were sold at $4,720 each.
The big new for 1953 was the Eldorado convertible, which had been teased as a show car the year before and cost a staggering $7,750, $3,500 more than the Sixty Special. The body remained basically the same for the fourth year, but grilles were heavier, with massive bumper guards, and headlights now had an “eyebrow” design. The Sixty Special recorded an even 20,000 buyers and gained a full length chrome strip along the rocker panels and fenders. Cadillac sales rebounded from 90,259 units in 1952 to 109,651.