1941 Cadillac Series 41 Towncar by DerhamSOLD
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Estimate: $150,000-$250,000 US

Offered Without Reserve

AUCTION RESULTS: Lot was Sold at a price of $198,000

150hp, 346 cu. in. L-head 90 degree V8, three-speed manual transmission, independent front with coil springs and rear semi-elliptic leaf springs, four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 126"

It is ironic that the greatest efforts of the fine carmakers were carried out during the greatest period of economic hardship the modern world has known. Increasingly sophisticated engineering feats were met with a dwindling market, resulting in the failure of some of the greatest names in the history of the industry.

In 1930, Cadillac stunned the fine car market with the introduction of its breathtaking new sixteen cylinder models. The cars instantly catapulted Cadillac - which until then had been a mid priced car - to the head of the luxury class.

Nonetheless, it was the V8 cars that carried the flag for Cadillac across America. For 1931, subtle styling changes increased their resemblance to the big sixteen, including hood vent doors that replaced louvers, and a pleasing swept coach sill. One of the sportiest bodies of all was the five-passenger phaeton offered here.

In the face of a declining luxury market, Cadillac managed to survive, thanks in large part to the financial support of General Motors. Nevertheless, the cars were brilliantly designed, and while the failing market meant that Cadillacs were produced in relatively tiny numbers, the few that remain offer us a glimpse into one of the most exciting automotive eras of all time.

For 1941, Cadillac redefined the standards by which refinement and sophistication would be judged. Extensive mechanical and visual improvements courtesy of the legendary Harley Earl combined to create a standout car that was simply unbeatable in the 1940s.

The new for 1941 design was the epitome of graceful and tasteful styling. The concept of styling the front of the car as a unit was new, and the result very modern to contemporary eyes.

A bright egg-crate grille widened the already imposing front end and would become a Cadillac trademark for years to come, while a modern clamshell hood improved access and provided a place for Cadillac’s distinguished Goddess of Speed. That she also served as a hood ornament was an unforgettable flash of inspiration.

Though the Cadillacs of 1941 delivered many firsts, it was also the last year for the handsome blind quarter design. Of these new Cadillacs, none was more visually pleasing than the Series Sixty Special which was the only car in the lineup to feature flowing front fenders which extended into the doors. Only 4,100 were built and those surviving are the most coveted Cadillac model from 1941.

Not only did the new 1941 Cadillacs look spectacular, they drove as if on air. To drivers accustomed to the heavy steering and handling of five or ten year old cars, the improved driving experience of the 1941 Cadillac was undeniable. Steering was accomplished with the palm of the hand, while the clutch action and shift mechanism were silky smooth. Cadillac’s legendary flathead V8 had been honed to perfection, providing abundant torque, plenty of horsepower, and virtually silent operation.

With the heyday of automotive custom coachbuilding already past, customers had far less selection than just a few years prior; in 1935 Cadillac offered over 60 different body style and chassis combinations, while in 1941 that number had declined to less than 30. Of course, if a customer had the will and the means, there was one coachbuilding firm who had managed to stay afloat during the Depression and was certainly looking for work.

The Derham Body Company was founded in Pennsylvania in 1887 and remained active until 1971. Their bodies became famous for their beauty, but their prices were only palatable to the rich and famous. Fit to a wide assortment of chassis from many different makes, Derham bodies routinely cost in excess of $15,000 and were constructed for such notables as Joseph Stalin, Pope Pius XII, King Farouk, President Eisenhower, Gary Cooper, and Raymond Loewy. In addition, Derham limousines were used in fifteen coronations around the world. They were also the longest-lived American body builder, and the only classic-era coachbuilder that survived the Depression.

In 1941, Fleetwood built only one Sixty Special Town Car, which was displayed at the New York Auto Salon with a white leather top. The same year Derham was commisioned to build similar cars, the Cadillac pictured here being one of them.

It is believed that the Derham bodied 1941 Cadillac Series Sixty Special Town Car offered here was owned by one of American cinema’s most celebrated leading actresses, Bette Davis; she acquired the vehicle at the height of her career, a fitting mode of transport for the legendary screen queen.

The Town Car was ushered into the McMullen Collection in 1995. After the purchase of the Cadillac, Mr. McMullen submitted it for restoration by the experts at Classic and Exotic Restorations. During this time Mr. McMullen managed to track down Bette Davis’ only son, Michael Merrill, who, although unable to find any pictures of his mother in the Cadillac, confirmed her ownership of the vehicle. After two hard years of work, the restoration of the Town Car was finally finished and in absolutely stunning overall condition. Upon its completion, Mr. McMullen was invited to show the Town Car at the 1998 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. The competition was fierce, but Mr. McMullen went home proudly bearing a second in class ribbon.

Not only is this example truly gorgeous, but it is also ready for the open road. The Cadillac is fitted with whitewall radial tires for safety and comfort, there is a tonneau cover ready to cover the driver’s compartment should the weather turn to rain, and all mechanical systems are fit and ready for a tour. Mr. McMullen reports that last July on a CCCA caravan, his Cadillac performed beautifully for over 1,000 miles. The Cadillac’s fabulous restoration, attested by its recognition on the concours showfield, the exceptional rarity of the Derham body, of which there are only two known surviving examples, and its celebrity provenance ensures that it would be a landmark addition to any collection.

Reference Number 8655

as of 4/17/2007

Car 1941 Cadillac Series 41 Towncar by Derham
VIN 6343167 
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