Cadillac Briggs-Cunningham Coupe DeVille

From GM press: From Research on high-performance aircraft engines during World War II paid a peace dividend when high-octane gasoline became available. Cadillac engineers designed a new high-compression engine that took advantage of the power-enhancing properties of this new fuel. In 1949, Cadillac introduced the first modern mass-produced overhead-valve V-8. Rated at an astounding 160 horsepower, the 331-cubic-inch Cadillac V-8 featured a short stroke and lightweight construction. It weighed 200 pounds less than the flathead V-8 it replaced.

Racers quickly recognized the advantages of the new Cadillac powerplant. Famed Indy driver Paul Russo won the 1949 Milwaukee 100 stock car race in a Cadillac, and Red Byron finished third in the 1950 NASCAR Southern 500 in Darlington, S.C., Gober Sosebee took the pole position and finished second in a 100-mile NASCAR Grand National race on a half-mile dirt track in Columbus, Ga., in June 1951.

In 1952, Buck Baker won a 250-mile race in NASCAR’s Speedway division in a Cadillac-powered Indy-style car, and Tom Deal’s Cadillac finished second in the La Carrera Panamericana road race in Mexico. Cadillac engines powered Briggs Cunningham’s limited-production sports cars and made the English-built Allard J-2 the car to beat on road courses from Watkins Glen, N.Y., to Pebble Beach, Calif.

Cadillac even traveled the long and winding road to Le Mans, France, the home of the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. Briggs Cunningham, a well-heeled sportsman and racing enthusiast, led the way. His American-based team brashly entered a pair of Cadillacs in the 1950 edition of Europe’s classic road race. The first was a stock-bodied 61 Series coupe and the second a stunning rebodied chassis that was affectionately named “Le Monstre” by the astonished French fans. Cunningham’s fresh-from-the-showroom Cadillac finished 10th; his aero-bodied creation posted a respectable 11th-place finish in spite of an excursion into a gravel trap. A Cadillac-Allard J2 entry, driven by Tom Cole and Sydney H. Allard, finished third overall and first in the over-8000cc class.

In addition to engineering excellence, expressive styling was a lynchpin of Cadillac’s image. The custom-built coachwork of the classic era gave way to extravagantly sculptured sheet metal. GM introduced the industry’s first curved windshields in 1948, and the first tail fin made its modest debut on a Cadillac. Inspired by the twin rudders on Lockheed P38 aircraft, the tail fin would become a defining characteristic of Cadillac automobiles for decades.

The exuberance of the ’50s found expression in Cadillac’s ultra-luxurious 1957 Eldorado Brougham, a memorable automobile that introduced the quad headlamp system, a brushed stainless steel roof panel, a power seat with memory, automatic door locks, low-profile tires, forged aluminum wheels and air suspension. Like other Cadillac models, the Brougham featured a foot-operated parking brake that automatically released when the transmission was shifted into gear. The tail fin reached its apogee on 1959 models, which sported the tallest fins in Cadillac history.

Gallery: Cadillac Briggs-Cunningham Coupe DeVille