The 1948 and 1949 Cadillacs defined high-tech for their day. In those two years, the crest and wreath introduced styling and engineering innovations that would go on to influence the American auto industry for decades. Aircraft design inspired some of those innovations, but as we see from several renderings for the postwar Cadillac, planes could have had a much more prominent role in Cadillac design.
As Michael Lamm related more than 40 years ago in his story looking at the 1948 and 1949 Cadillacs for Special Interest Autos (issue #11, June 1972), Harley Earl gets credit for introducing the tailfin to GM’s designers when he took them on a field trip to Selfridge Field near Detroit to sketch the new Lockheed P-38 Lightnings. Whether legendary designer Frank Hershey was among that group, Lamm didn’t say, but it was Hershey’s advanced design studio within GM that got Earl’s assignment to design the postwar Cadillacs and in the process bring some of the P-38′s design elements into the automotive world.
Some of the renderings that Hershey provided to Lamm for the story look more like a fighter plane shorn of its wings than a Cadillac learning to fly. Along with the tailfins and side scoops (which Cadillac would incorporate in 1950), we also see the suggestion of the center of a propeller, the cowling for a plane’s engine, and the large airscoop underneath. As if the renderings – which Lamm attributed to Ned Nickles, who later went on to design cars for Buick and who apparently first tried out his fender-mount portholes while working under Hershey – didn’t have enough military connotations Nickles apparently wanted to use the Jeepster name for his design.
Even in these finless designs from about the same time, done by Nickles and one R.H. Wieland, we can still see the P-38′s influence in the prominent catwalks between the hood and front fenders.
Lamm wrote that the aircraft-inspired front-end designs did make it into production, in a way. “Nickles calls it the ‘interceptor’ or bullet nose that the fighter planes had in WWII. This theme was widened to become the rather delicate, arch-shaped grille of the ’48 Cadillac, taking its cue from previous Cadillacs at Harley Earl’s direction. An important, integral part of the front ensemble was the bumper, with its bullet guards and curved, wrapping ends. For 1949, the grille was widened and then got even wider as time went on.”
What Lamm didn’t have to point out is that the bumper guards remained integral on Cadillac front ends through 1958. While they grew bigger and gained the “Dagmar” nickname for their supposed resemblance to other prominent twin pokey-outie thingies, their origins are decidedly less prurient than most people believe.
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily, written by Daniel Strohl.