The front line Cadillacs of WW II
I always admired heavy American pre-war machinery. Thinking of the liberation of France (and later Germany), it was not only Willys Jeeps, Dodge WC-52 weapon carriers or M4 Sherman tanks that came over from the US into Northern Europe, mostly through Omaha beach and Cherbourg.
Recently, I found photos of very interesting staff cars at the front line, some of which were large Cadillac Series 62 or Series 75 Sedans or even Convertible Sedans.
Above: A 1939 Cadillac Series 75 being delivered to Cherbourg harbour in 1944 for future use as a general’s staff car.
Above: Big Cadillacs were first choice for American generals.
Above: Pictured left is a 1942 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 alongside a 1938 Cadillac Series 62. The 75 is the longer version with additional seats. Both models were huge, but very easy to drive.
As fate would have it, I recently found just such a car abandoned in a workshop in Austria. I always wanted to try out an early flathead V8 Cadillac but never had the opportunity. So I negotiated a fair price and simply exchanged it against my 1957 VW Beetle.
I found out, to my utmost surprise, that the 1940 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible Sedan is a rare bird. Chassis number 8324292 is one of only 75 built. According to the Cadillac Club register, only five survive today.
Above: Found abandoned in an Austrian workshop, this 1940 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible Sedan is one of 75 built. Only five have survived.
You wouldn’t think they were so rare, but wartime manufacturing efforts meant that just about all production of civilian cars was halted, even before the attack on Pearl Harbour.
Cadillacs were always very impressive machines in terms of style, presence and design. This one was the work of William L. ‘Bill’ Mitchell and it was designed under the mentorship of the great Harley Earl. Visual assessments are always subjective but standing in front of it, I can only say it is a thing of beauty, much better in the metal than in pictures.
Above: Drawn by Bill Mitchell under his mentor Harley Earl, this became the definitive design of the 1940s for GM.
The engine provides imperious performance from its 5.7-litre flathead V8. It absolutely revs like a turbine. Power is sent to the rear axle through a clever, tall-geared manual gearbox operated by a ‘three-on-the-tree’ column shift. Relaxed power delivery and independent front suspension translate into a lovely, surprisingly nimble yet relaxing drive. It’s an amazingly cool car, something you can easily imagine driving with a cigar between your lips!
Plus, compared to its equals, it’s uncomplicated and reliable. Even after having been abandoned for umpteen years, it ran faultlessly. The old Caddy feels so much more agile and faster than a contemporary Mercedes-Benz 540K or a Rolls-Royce Phantom III.
The flathead V8 engine is pretty much the same as in the M5A1 Stuart tank and the M3 light tank. This would have only added to the Cadillacs’ suitability as staff cars in the Second World War.
My Austrian Cadillac Series 62 four-door Cabriolet is a real survivor. I believe it might have been in France during the war. Still in its partly original battleship grey paint it’s possibly an old warrior too.
I am sure it must have been in Europe during hostilities because it carries a red CD (Corps Diplomatique) enamel sign, which I found under the seat. And it wears some very early French repair shop plaques in the engine compartment, and an enamel Cote d‘Azur badge on the back.
After the war, I assume it was shipped back to the US because it was discovered in San Francisco by a Czech enthusiast who then shipped the car to Austria where a restoration was started but not completed.
Famous Cadillac war stories abound. It’s interesting to know that the big 1940s Cadillacs had not been seen in Europe before the Allied invasion in 1944. People must have been in awe when these huge cars appeared in the streets around Paris during liberation. Used mostly by Generals, the Cadillacs followed the front line closely, always heading in the direction of Paris and later towards Berlin.
Some stayed on for years in France, Belgium or Germany as staff cars for US Consulates. A few were lost forever – casualties of the war.
General George Patton, the commander of the US Third Army was fatally injured in 1939 when his Cadillac Series 75 Sedan was hit by a 2.5-tonne military truck while on duty in the Mannheim area. Patton is said to have predicted his own death. Needless to say, rumours soon began to circulate that the accident that led to Patton’s death was no accident.
Above: General Patton was fatally wounded in his 1939 Cadillac Series 75 Sedan when it was hit by a military truck.
General Omar Nelson Bradley, field commander for both D-Day and the Battle of the Budge, was photographed on 16 December 1944 crossing an icy river in a 1941 Cadillac Series 75 Sedan in Belgium during the Ardennes Offensive.
Above: General Bradley, in a 1941 Cadillac Series 75 Sedan, crossing a river near St. Vith during the Ardennes Offensive, better known as the Battle of the Bulge.
Surprisingly even Mercedes-Benz car-nut Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring drove a 1938 Cadillac LaSalle Convertible Sedan. He also owned a unique 540K Convertible, a Spezial Roadster nicknamed ‘Blue Goose’, which was found by the US Army in Göring’s garage in Obersalzberg near Berchtesgaden.
Above: Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring drove a 1938 Cadillac LaSalle Convertible Sedan. American G.I.s captured him near Kitzbuhel driving this car.
I found original photos of Göring arriving at Obersalzberg in his Cadillac LaSalle. Probably not much to the liking of the little man with a moustache, I would guess. He must have found it most unpatriotic to see his Reichsmarschall driving around in an American car during the war.
Anyway, something must have convinced Göring that the Cadillac was superior to the extremely heavy, thirsty, hard-to-manoeuvre and sometimes unreliable Mercedes-Benz Kompressor cars of the period. He also owned a Rolls-Royce Phantom II Hooper limousine, chassis TA135. I have yet to find this car.
Göring was captured driving his 1938 Cadillac LaSalle in May 1945 in Austria near Kitzbuhel. The American soldiers must surely have wondered why this strange, effeminate Nazi in a grey Marschall’s uniform was using one of their cars instead of his black, armoured 770K Cabriolet.
History reveals both his famous 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K ‘Blue Goose’ Spezial Roadster and 1939 Mercedes-Benz 770K armoured convertible were captured in May 1945 in Obersalzberg by Easy Company, 101st Airborne.
Above: 1st Sgt Floyd Talbert requisitioned a Mercedes-Benz 770 in Obersalzberg. According to the book, Band of Brothers, by Stephen E. Ambrose, Talbert shot at the armoured windshields to see if his armour-piercing ammo would do the job.
Another large Mercedes was deliberately ruined by a G.I. who decided to drain the radiator before driving up the long road to the Eagles Nest. Apparently, he simply wanted to find out if a Kompressor Mercedes could make it up the long, steep ascent without cooling fluid. Needless to say, the Merc’s engine overheated. They left the car in a ditch, until another G.I. showed more mechanical sympathy and took it back home to Texas, where it still is.
The armoured 770K cabriolet was requisitioned and put to good use for General Taylor, who was driven all over Europe in this car in 1945. A G.I. named Floyd Talbert shot at the windshield with his M1 gun to find out if his new armour-piercing ammunition would penetrate the glass. It did. Evidently, General Taylor was not amused. I found this very car about two years ago near the Croatian border with the shot-through windows still in place!
Speaking of the automotive period from 1937 to 1941, I would personally suggest the best cars were probably the V8 Cadillacs. (The V16 Cadillac was too scarce and troublesome).
And of course there were the Mercedes-Benz 770K and the magic Rolls-Royce Phantom III. These were both extremely advanced designs and were in many ways superior to anything else of the period.
I am lucky enough to have driven all of them at great length. Which one I would most like to own is very hard to say. The individual technical characters of these cars are so different. I would say it largely depends on personal mood and taste. They all are beautiful and excellent representatives for their countries. And they are all great drives, this I can assure you. In fact, I’d have all three of them in my stable.
Side note: A friend asked me why I didn’t consider the 12-cylinder Lagonda M45 in the list of best cars of the late 1930s. From a technical standpoint they’re up there for sure, but the driving experience, although perfectly acceptable, is nowhere near that of a Phantom III. A really good Phantom III is an astonishing animal – just like a modern car.
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