Cadillac Series 75 Custom Limousine
Movie stars are notorious for exceptional, custom-built motor cars, but it’s often forgotten that the film studios themselves made use of the local coachbuilders for both utility vehicles and distinctive conveyances for cast and crew alike.
Between 1947 and 1949, MGM Studios ordered six Series 75 Cadillac chassis from Hillcrest Cadillac, the Beverly Hills dealer. Most had the standard 136-inch wheelbase, as used on the sedans and Imperial sedans (as Cadillac called the limos), but at least one had the 163-inch wheelbase of the Business and Commercial cars, the latter being used for ambulances and other “professional” vehicles. The chassis were dispatched to Maurice Schwartz for special, wood-framed bodies.
Schwartz was an Austrian-born craftsman who had learned his craft as an apprentice in his native country. He emigrated to the United States in 1910 and worked for the Fisher brothers and Willoughby and Co. before moving west to Los Angeles in 1918. There he joined the Earl Automobile Works (soon to become Don Lee Coach and Body Works) under the eye of the then relatively unknown Harley Earl. In 1924, Schwartz went to the Walter M. Murphy Co. in nearby Pasadena, where he met Christian Bohman.
Murphy closed in 1932 as the custom body business waned. Schwartz and Bohman, however, were capable and energetic craftsmen and decided they could continue in the business on a limited basis. This they did quite successfully, delivering custom Duesenbergs for Clark Gable and Ethel Mars, the candy heiress. Barbara Hutton, whose money came from Woolworth’s, was another customer. Bohman & Schwartz, as their company was called, also built the Phantom Corsair for ketchup heir Rusty Heinz, the “Topper” movie car, and many other vehicles for film stars and movie studios. Bohman & Schwartz as a company was closed in 1947, but Maurice Schwartz continued in the business alone, ending as a restorer of classic cars, principally for Bill Harrah, until his death in 1961.
At first glance, this car, the final one of the six MGM orders, looks like an “ordinary” Series 75 sedan or limousine. Closer scrutiny, however, reveals that the wood is more than a simple appliqué and that many of the contours differ from the Fleetwood-bodied production car as well. Schwartz clearly took the bare cowl-and-chassis from Hillcrest Cadillac and created a masterpiece from scratch.
Inspiration may have been taken from a six-door wood-bodied fastback limo that Schwartz constructed for cowboy star Gene Autry in 1947. While shorter than the Autry car and with different rear contour, it does have similar fenders and a hallmark roof rack. Like the other MGM cars, it was used for transportation of actors and support staff to and from location shoots. Some time in the 1950s, while on a trip to Big Bear Lake in the mountains near San Bernardino, it missed a turn and left the highway, rolling over and damaging the top. It was apparently simply abandoned and sat in the brush for a decade or more, its wood body deteriorating.
It was eventually purchased by Los Angeles collector Dennis Mitosinka. He transported it back to the city, with intentions of restoring it, as by now it was believed to be the only survivor of the “MGM six.” Work had not progressed very far, however, by the time a consortium of five Sacramento men bought it in the early 1980s. Al Robbins, who headed the group, was a skilled craftsman with wood. Using much of the original body for patterns, he fashioned new ash framing and mahogany panels. With the assistance of a parts car, the metal body was repaired, the roof rack reconstructed and the car painted red, rather than the original black.
One by one, however, Robbins’ partners dropped out, leaving Robbins with insufficient means to finish the job. In the late ’80s, the car was purchased by John White’s Ramshead Collection in Sacramento. The restoration was completed by technician Bob Doyle and others on the Ramshead staff. This involved repainting the dashboard in metallic beige and fitting a complete new interior of Bedford cord with alligator trim. Hogshead carpeting was used, and final touches included MGM logos on the interior of the rear doors.
Mechanically the car was treated to a complete rebuild by Ramshead staff, including an engine overhaul and full renovation of the Hydra-Matic transmission. This was the first year for Cadillac’s groundbreaking short-stroke, overhead valve V-8 and marks a singular year for the Series 75, in which the older chassis and sheet metal were used with the new engine. Other Cadillacs had received new bodies in 1948. The new engine was instrumental in Cadillac’s choice for the first Motor Trend Car of the Year Award in 1949.
The car was acquired by the current owner, a prominent New England collector, from the Ramshead Collection in the mid-1990s. Since that time, it has been well maintained, the wood receiving the appropriate upkeep on a regular schedule. The metal portion was repainted from red to the attractive dark green it now wears. All mechanical systems have been serviced as necessary, and the car runs and drives exceedingly well. It was honored at the Meadow Brook concours a few years ago and turns heads wherever it goes.
Tinseltown is famous for special cars, from conservative to the outrageous. This Cadillac, with traditional wood heritage and Maurice Schwartz craftsmanship, is one of the nicest of the genre, and as the sole survivor of its MGM stable-mates, it comes with a most intriguing provenance.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in January of 2011 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix, Arizona.
160 bhp, 331 cu. in. ohv V-8 engine, four-speed Hydra-Matic transmission, coil spring independent front suspension, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 136.25"
Source: RM Auctions
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