Sold for $415,000 at 2013 RM Sothebys
Harley Earl worked as a coachbuilder in California before Lawrence Fisher was able to persuade him to move to the Motor City, where Alfred P. Sloan (the head of GM), created the industry's first Art and Colour Section and named Earl as its director. Establishing this new department set GM apart from its competition, as car companies that produced motor cars en masse did not give much attention or thought to in-house body design.
Harley Earl was a proponent of clay modeling to forecast future production car designs, and he introduced the modern concept car as a tool for testing and gauging the industry reaction.
This particular vehicle was created by Earl's Art and Colour Section for Edward VIII, King of Great Britain, Ireland, and the British Dominions, and also the Emperor of India. However, he abdicated his throne on December 11th of 1935 to marry Wallis Simpson, an American socialite from Baltimore. Henceforth, the couple became known as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
In late 1941, while the couple was staying at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, they received a car from one of their society friends, Alfred P. Sloan Jr., the chairman and CEO of General Motors. It was dubbed 'The Duchess' and it was a one-off, coachbuilt Cadillac. Not a single body panel on the Windsors' car matched any other 1941 Cadillac.
Although the car had the general appearance of a Cadillac, the hood, fenders, fender skirts, roof, trunk, and doors were all hand crafted. The interior appointments were equally unique and hand-fitted. The streamline design with gentle cresting body flow forecasted future designs that would later be seen on future products including Hooper-bodied Rolls-Royces. The basic style would be seen on Buick vehicles for their 1941 production line. The custom roofline of 'The Duchess', which dips between the windows to form a wide center post, would be incorporated into the production 1941 Cadillac Series 60 Special.
Unique features found on the car include the Windsors' 'W.E.' monogram and crown to the rear doors, unique stainless steel rocker moldings and drip rails, blacked out headlight and fog light trim rings, and the deletion of most chrome and excess emblems. The iconic Cadillac Goddess hood ornament is plated in gold.
Interior luxury accoutrements and design details include upholstery entirely in rose-colored custom broadcloth, which includes the headliner and sun visors. The floors were covered in Wilton wool carpet, which were custom-dyed to match the broadcloth. There are custom-finished walnut cappings for the doors, cabinetry, and divider window. Four brushed stainless-steel jewelry cases, each of them lined in velvet, served to carry the Duchess's prized jewelry, and two custom lighted mirrors were hidden in the cabinetry. The Duke had no fewer than three cigar lighters and two ashtrays, as well as a humidor and a custom rack for his favored Sasieni pipes.
Along with its style and amenities, it was a modern technological marvel. It was one of the first Cadillacs to be equipped with power windows, with the side glass hydraulically operated, and an electric center privacy divider. All windows were equipped with satin privacy curtains, which rolled away when not in use, and the door handles and vent window cranks were crafted of Lucite.
Even though this was a Limousine, Cadillac expected the Duke to drive this vehicle on occasion. So the front compartment was detailed to be as elegant and opulent as the rear. The front was given its own radio, with a manually controlled roof-mounted antenna and buttons preset to New York City AM stations of the era. The custom rear radio, shrouded in solid copper, employed a vacuum-powered antenna, which could be raised or lowered with the touch of a chrome knob on the rear seat armrest.
The car was given nearly every advanced features that General Motors could offer in 1941. There were sealed-beam headlights with body-color lenses, safety glass, fully automatic heating, directional signals, power windows, power antenna, hydraulic brakes, independent front suspension, automatic thermostat shutters, ride stabilizers, and a fully automatic Hydra-Matic transmission.
It is believed that the Duke of Windosr paid $14,000 for this incredible, one-off creation. The couple would use this Cadillac for 11 years. In 1952, the Duke traded the Cadillac in for a new Cadillac Series 75 and Buick station wagon. It was resold by General Motors to Charles Beswick, a dealer of luxury cars in Springfield, Massachusetts. Springfield Daily News reported on the transaction in its July 17, 1952, edition, stating that the car showed 19,246 miles.
Beswick sold the Cadillac to Vernon and Bevline Bradley, of Springfield, who added around 50,000 miles before selling it through a New York Times advertisement in 1964. William J. Edmonds III of Fort Worth, Texas, was the car's next owner. He maintained the car in storage until its acquisition by Morgan Murphy in 2009. At that point, a restoration of the 'Duchess' began. It was a nut-and-bolt restoration that brought the vehicle back to its original splendor. The chassis and mechanical components were finely detailed, the wheels were shod in Firestone wide whitewall tires, and the interior was brought back to its ornate splendor. Even the light bulbs have period-correct markings, and the electrical components, which are properly serial-numbered, have cloth-covered wire. The clocks, radios, windshield washers, heating systems, fans, and lighting all use original mechanisms and bulbs.
In 2013, RM Sotheby's was commissioned to auction the vehicle at their 'Art of the Automobile' sale. The car had a pre-auction estimated value of $500,000 - $800,000.By Daniel Vaughan | Mar 2017