General Motors called its 1949 body style a “hardtop convertible” because it had the open-air feeling of a ragtop without sacrificing the safety and security of a metal roof. Hardtops blossomed, and by the mid-1950s cars added four-door hardtops, too. Some station wagons even adopted the pillarless roofs.
If you guessed that this was the first year for the tail fin – barely visible as a bump at the rear of the fender in last week’s photo – you were off by only a year. The fin had been introduced the year before, in 1948, and it, too, spread across Detroit until fading out in the 1960s. The presence of the fin in the photo indicated the car was not the Buick or Olds.
We randomly picked a winner from the entries who guessed the 1949 Cadillac, but we have included all the answers because Cadillacs looked pretty much alike for several years and the replies show the wealth of our readers’ automotive knowledge and passion.
Chosen from the correct entries was Jim Williamson, of Evans, who told us: “The car pictured this week is a Cadillac Coupe de Ville, which was the first hardtop, pillarless convertible body style. You were tricky with the fishtail fins, but they came out in 1948. This ’49 also had an improved V-8 with the first overhead valves that gave it 160 horsepower. It was advertised as the “worlds newest engine for the world’s finest car.”
He wins a gift from The Augusta Chronicle. Other readers identifying the vehicle are:
AIKEN: Nancy Bolin wrote: “I think the car is a 1950 Cadillac 60 Series edition with special fins feature. I remember a lady in Wagener, S.C., had one when I was growing up. I was too young to realize that it was a very expensive car. I just remember it was big. Let me stop there you might guess my age. Thanks.”
Don Cook said it was “a 1948 Series 61 or 62 Cadillac sedan. The introduction of the tail fin was the design feature.”
AUGUSTA: John Hayes wrote: “Today’s auto is a 1949 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Harvey Earl first encouraged the use of tail fins, and the ’49 Cadillac Coupe DeVille was the first car designed with them. It was also the first car that used a high compression engine.”
Walker Mobley Jr. wrote: “This appears to be a 1949 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. This was the first year Cadillac introduced the two-door ‘hardtop’ body style; also, the first year for the 160-horsepower overhead-valve engine.
“The new Coupe de Ville might have been a mid-year introduction in that it was not shown in the 1949 Cadillac brochure. The photo shown in the 1949 brochure of the two-door body style is that of what we used to call the “torpedo back” style body (long, sloping top lines over rear seat and trunk area). As said earlier, keep these coming.”
Robert Hardy said it was the 1952 Cadillac and said “the gas tank cap was up under the taillight. You have to lift up the taillight to put gas in the car. I was going to Tubman Junior High, and my girlfriend’s dad had one, but I’m not sure if it was the Coupe de Ville.”
Willie Mae Jones identified the “1949 Series 62 Coupe de Ville Cadillac with hardtop and airplane-inpired tail fins.”
Jerry Delaigle saw it as the 1950 Oldsmobile Holiday Deluxe coupe: “I believe the design was called Futuramic.”
Bill Cashin said the 1949 Cadillac was the first General Motors car to have fins: “I had a fastback, but not quite like this.”
Lowell Fritsche said: “The 1949 Cadillac Coupe de Ville was the first year they began with the two-door hardtop convertible, where they did away with the pillars between the door and the back, front to rear. In later years they had a four-door hardtop.”
Dalton Brannen wrote: “The vehicle is a 1949 Cadillac Series 62 Coupe de Ville. The design feature is that this was the first of what was called a ‘hardtop convertible.’ While not really a convertibles, the windows were of the type of true convertibles such that when they were rolled down there were no supporting window pillars. Hence in profile they appeared as would a true convertible with the top up. When new they sold for about $3,500.”
Tom Rogers wrote: “This appears to be a 1949 Cadillac Series 62 Coupe de Ville, the car favored by Maybelline while motorvatin’ over the hill. The design feature is the tail fin.”
Carolyn Ogles wrote: “1949 Cadillac Coupe de Ville hardtop. I thought this would be easy because it obviously was a Cadillac, but it was not easy. Almost missed it by not going back from the ’50s. In 1948, the era of big fins started.”
BEECH ISLAND: Miriam Cato guessed 1933 Ford Falcon.
CANTON, GA.: David Anderson wrote: “1949 was a year of some fairly significant firsts for Cadillac. A new overhead valve V-8 engine putting out 160 horsepower was introduced and touted in a brochure for that engine as ‘the greatest automobile engine ever built.’
“The new pillarless hardtop coupe, Coupe de Ville, featuring that engine was introduced, and Motor Trend picked that Coupe de Ville as its very first Car of the Year. Cadillac also built its 1 millionth car in November 1949.
“It was the tail fin of either a late ’40s or early ’50s Cadillac parked in a neighbor’s side yard with tall grass quickly obscuring it from view that sparked my interest in the Cadillac brand 50-plus years ago. I am now the owner of four of them from 1959 to 2010 and a longstanding member of the national and local Cadillac & LaSalle Club. Sadly, I have only two of them in running condition at the moment but am working to remedy that situation in time to do some summertime cruising in the 1966 drop-top Caddy. The mantra of the club is that if you’ve got ’em, drive ’em, because that’s what they were built for!
“Excluding the all new Coupe de Ville, the 1949s are visually indistinguishable from the 1948s to nearly all but the 1948-49 experts. In fact the Peach State chapter is home to one of the most knowledgeable, if not the most knowledgeable 1949 expert.
“I would urge every car guy and gal to drive it if you’ve got it and if your brand is Cadillac, I would also encourage you to check out www.cadillaclasalleclub.org/ and become a member if you are not already one. Events and gatherings are scheduled year-round, and believe me, this group knows how to enjoy some good eats along with admiring some fine rides.”
DURHAM, N.C.: Charles Cato said: “I think the car in question is a 1949 Cadillac Sedan de Ville, and it was the first year with fins.”
EVANS: Wayne Wilke wrote: “The March 14 (1 day before the Ides of March) vehicle is a 1949 Cadillac Series 62 Coupe de Ville. The automotive design feature first seen is that it is a ‘hardtop convertible.’ That is, that there is no pillar between the door and the body/window behind it.
“Those not being aware and not heeding the Ides of March might have been seduced into thinking that the design feature is the tail fin that designer Harley Earl’s team copied from the P-38 Lightning Fighter aircraft. The ’49 had that tail fin design that had been introduced in 1948. The 1948 two-door model was call a Sedanet, which was fastbackish and rather ugly.”
Bill Harding wrote: “Harley Earl and Frank Hershey styled the upswept tail lights of the 1948 Cadillac to resemble the Lockheed P-38 Lightning World War II fighter plane. This was the beginning of the tail fin era.
“What set the 1949 Cadillac apart from the 1948 was the pillarless two-door hardtop coupe, a style that debuted on Buick’s 1949 Roadmaster Riviera, Cadillac’s Coupe de Ville and Oldsmobile’s 98 Holiday. Another 1949 Cadillac innovation was the overhead-valve V-8 engine, whose Charles Kettering design was shared with Oldsmobile.”
Paul Perdue wrote: “This week’s vehicle is a 1949 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, which is the first pillarless hardtop.”
Jerry Paul wrote: “The car of this week is a Cadillac 1949 Coupe de Ville. The design features that were first seen are: a one-piece curved windshield, the first OHV V-8 engine, chrome wheel arch trim and many convenience items in the cabin.”
Larry Heath wrote: “1949 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. The new design feature was the introduction of the ‘convertible hardtop.’ The doors had no window frames so that when all four windows were rolled down there was an unobstructed opening on the side. This was like a convertible when the top was up. This feature was also introduced by Buick and Olds at the same time.
“The other significant change for 1949 was the introduction of an OHV V-8 engine with 331-cubic-inch displacement. This allowed Cadillac to become well-known for its high performance as well as luxury. In the small Georgia town I grew up in, Cadillacs were not common. It was an event during the early ’50s to even see someone in a Cadillac. Thanks for the old-car nostalgia.”
Also, Pete Schiffbauer.
GIRARD, GA.: Henry Glisson said “1949 Cadillac Series 62 Coupe de Ville hardtop convertible.”
GROVETOWN: Jack Williams said 1948 Coupe de Ville: “You could get it with an automatic transmission and the new body style.”
Gerald Wren said: “I think this week’s vehicle is a 1949 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. I believe the design feature is the grille Cadillac used that year.”
HEPHZIBAH: Leo Bennett guessed it to be a 1955 or ’56 Coupe de Ville two-door hardtop.
John Williams said the 1949 Coupe de Ville “has the top of a ’50 Chevrolet. The top is made just alike. The 1950 Chevy was the first Chevrolet two-door hardtop. I owned one once upon a time.”
KEYSVILLE, GA.: Glenn Widner said: “The 1949 Cadilac Coupe de Ville was one of the first pillarless hardtops. The big news was an all-new overhead-valve V-8 engine, making 160 horsepower from 331 cubic inches.”
LINCOLNTON, GA.: Donnie Reid guessed the 1952 Cadillac.
LOUISVILLE, GA.: Jimmy Marsh guessed 1953 Cadillac Fleetwood.
Bob Holbert said: “The featured car is a 1948 Cadillac. With two doors it was known as a Sedanette. The design feature are the tail fins, the first Caddy to show them, although compared to later models they were not quite as pronounced.”
MCBEAN: Robert Lamb said: “That looks to be a 1949 Cadillac two-door. The design element is side scoops and tail fins were first started. It also had a new 331-cubic-inch overhead-valve V-8.”
John Samuels thought it was a 1948 Cadillac with a top like a 19050 Oldsmobile.
MARTINEZ: Jim Muraski wrote: “This week’s car is a 1949 Cadillac. The special feature is that it was the first year of the Coupe de Ville. which was an all-new two-door hardtop design. It was made to simulate the looks of a convertible with the top up, with no post between the front and back side glass.
“This was also the year Cadillac celebrated it’s 1 millionth car produced.”
Robert Jorgensen guessed it was a 1953 Coupe de Ville Fleetwood two-door hardtop with removable fender skirts to help in changing the wheel when you have a flat.”
Joe Bert guessed the 1949 Cadillac: “It brought out the tail fin design and high-compression engine. It looks like a two-door hardtop, but they also brought out a stunning 62 Series fastback, the Sedanette. The size of the engine was 331 cubic inches, guaranteed for a maximum speed of 100 mph. What a beautiful classic.
“They also brought out what they called the streamline art deco goddess hood ornament, after the war, which continued unchanged until 1956. It’s an awesome car. I wish I could have one today.”
Lloyd B. Schnuck Jr. wrote: “A 1949 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. It was originally a prestige trim level on the Cadillac Series 62 luxury coupe. A great model, Cadillac’s first pillarless hardtop, with leather upholstery and interior chrome headliner bows to simulate a convertible. Expensive for the time at $3,496, and a low production of 2,150 units.
“Last used as a model, the DeVille in 2005, renamed the next year, DTS standing for DeVille Touring Sedan.
“Trivia: Cadillac is the second-oldest American marque (after Buick), named by Henry Leland for Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, founder of the city of Detroit, and the Cadillac crest is based on his coat of arms.”
Cheryl Cook wrote: “OK, I think this car is a 1953 Pontiac Chieftain, maybe a precursor to the later Catalina?”
NORTH AUGUSTA: Robert Blake wrote: “The car is the 1949 Cadillac Series 62 Coupe de Ville hardtop. It was a late-in-the-year model that earned a lot of praise for its styling. The styling feature known as a tail fin was first seen on Cadillacs.
“There are several stories as to how the fins came about. The most interesting story being that GM designer Harley Earl sent his designers out to an airfield near Detroit to look at the new top secret P-38 Lightning fighter plane. It was a new sleek design with twin tails and the stylists came back to the studio and began utilizing those P-38 inspired ideas in their design sketches.”
Sara Batson said it was the 1949 Cadillac two-door hardtop.
Ted Wasserlein said: “This is a 1949 Cadillac Sixty-Two Coupe de Ville. I believe the design feature you are looking for is that this car, along with Buick and Oldsmobile, introduced the first ‘hardtop convertible’ body style, which meant that there was no post between the front and rear side windows. Very beautiful cars.”
PERRY, FLA.: Larry Anderson wrote: “The car is a 1949 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. The Coupe de Ville has been immortalized in pop culture in songs, movies, etc. I recall the song Maybelline by Chuck Berry. The line goes: ‘As I was motivatin’ over the hill, I saw Maybelline in a Coupe de Ville.’ But I guess I’m showing my age now.
“In 1948, Harvey Earl brought on the era of big fins. Cadillac and Earl were the first to do so, and everybody else copied them. In the summer of 1949, a new body style was introduced, the Coupe de Ville. The 1949 Coupe de Ville is strictly a hardtop (no center post) car. This was also the first year for the new high-compression engine, that everybody else in the car industry took notice, and then designed a similar version.”
THOMSON: Ken Richards wrote: “I think this is a 1948 Cadillac, which had the last 346-cubic-inch flathead engine. It was the first year of the tail fins. The idea came from the Army Air Corps P-38 twin-tail fighter aircraft. The ’49 model had the first overhead-valve 331-cubic-inch engine with 160 horsepower, which was 10 more horsepower with better mileage. I think the price range was in the $2,500 to $3,000, but who had that kind of money in 1948?”
TIGNALL, GA.: Gene Wilson guessed 1949 Cadillac two-door hardtop.
WRENS, GA.: Bill Newsome said: “The car is a 1949 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. The automotive design feature was the world’s first pillarless two-door hardtop body style. Also, Cadillac introduced their first overhead valve, high-compression V-8 engine with 160 horsepower from 331 cubic inches.”
NO CITY LISTED: Lloyd Graham said 1949 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.”
Larry McDonald said: “The car this past week is a 1952 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.”
William Johnson guessed a 1958 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.
John Wall said 1951 or ’52 Cadillac, when “tail fins were starting to come up. It could be an Olds.”
Pete Brodie said: “It could it be a 1953 Cadillac Coupe de Ville – three French words known by all early baby boomers and war babies! Tail fins …”
Also, Janet Pierce.