Going in style

There’s nothing like taking your family and friends for an ice cream in a 1934 Cadillac 7-passenger town car. That’s what David Mitchell of Geneseo, Ill., does every summer, much to the delight of his guests and all who see the car on its journey. Attendees at the 2018 Milwaukee Concours d’Elegance on Aug. 5 will no doubt be delighted too.

Describing himself primarily as “a Packard guy,” David says that this Cadillac is something special, in part because of its uniqueness but also because a good friend and long-time car aficionado asked him to take care of it after he died.

General Motors built just four of the 1934 V16, 7-passenger town cars. These were the most expensive that GM built, and the biggest too. It weighs 7,000 lbs. and has a wheelbase of 154 inches, beating by one inch the Duesenberg of that era.

The exterior is black and the interior in the front is black while the rear compartment features gray patterned wool. The sides and the headliner are a plain broadcloth.

Originally sold by a Cadillac dealer in New York City, the car spent its early life as transport for a diplomat who lived in a village on Long Island called Centre Island, which back in the 1930s was an exclusive area.

Mitchell’s friend bought it in 1954 after seeing an ad in Motor Trend magazine. It was advertised for $850; his friend offered $750 and took it home to Rock Island, Ill. He then wrote to Cadillac to learn more about the car. Cadillac confirmed that only two such models were still in existence. Marlene Dietrich owned the other one. Today that car is in New Zealand.

Mitchell has owned the car since 2000. Some parts of the car have been restored including a repainted front fender, which got “smooshed by a drunk driver who hit it,” Mitchell said. Most of the paint is all original as is the interior except for the surfaces on the front seat.

The car is open in the front and closed in the back, a carryover from the days of carriages. “You were really showing off if you had a footman and a driver,” he said. Accordingly, the car includes a compartment to store an umbrella under the driver’s seat, so the driver could hold the umbrella for his passenger as he or she entered or exited the vehicle.

A Cadillac historian reviewed the car for Mitchell and noted it was a special order.

The rear seat is adjustable, a rare feature in the 1930s. The bottom moves in and out while the back-rest tilts. Mitchell recalls the time he saw a spectator at a concours where the car was being shown looking keenly at the back seat. Mitchell invited the man to take a closer look. The man said he was an engineer with Recaro, a premium seat manufacturer, and he had never seen such an advanced design in a car that old.

The car also has a concealed compartment in the back for the radio, a $400 option. The car also features vanities in the back. You open a wool-covered door and find beveled glass mirrors that are mounted in walnut. These were $400 each – the price of a new Chevy or Ford back then. The rear seating area also features a clock, jump seats, and an intercom to speak with the driver. (More likely to give directions to the driver, not engage in chit chat.)

Other unique features include:

  • Knobs on all compartments, window cranks and escutcheon around the handles are made of amber and in perfect condition.
  • Shock-absorbing bumpers (first of their type) in the style of biplane wings are the hallmark of a 1934 Cadillac as they were only used that year
  • Art-deco tail lights and other deco design cues.

“As a premium luxury car built for the wealthy, it relies on its style and design for people to know what it is – in keeping with the desires of the ultra-wealthy – who didn’t want to advertise for the auto company. There is no place on the outside of the car where it says the brand ‘Cadillac’ and inside there is only a very small logo on the dash,” Mitchell said.

“It’s a big monster, an imposing car,” Mitchell said. He recalled when his friend, who was much older than he, would drive it to a park and sit in it, awaiting people who would stop by and strike up a conversation. “He kept a booklet in the glove box and invited people to write their name and address after he gave them a ride.” When Mitchell inherited the car, he found six books filled with names.

The car has competed at several regional and national concours.

“We’re delighted to welcome this 1934 Cadillac to our 2018 event,” said Carrol Jensen, co-chair of the Concours committee. “It clearly defines our theme of Premium Luxury and will no doubt attract crowds.”

Applications are still being accepted for some classes. Visit https://www.masterpieceltd.org/concours-delegance/ to learn more.