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AUTO ICON: The most spectacular Cadillac ever built?

Custom-built 1937 Cadillac featured in classic car exhibit at the 2019 Toronto Auto Show

Published: February 6, 2019, 8:05 AM
Updated: February 13, 2019, 9:42 PM

1937 Cadillac Series 90 Cabriolet with Coachwork by Hartmann - Is this the most spectacular Cadillac ever created?

Cadillacs were among the best-selling American luxury cars through much of the Grand Classic era. But unlike Packards and other premium marques, which typically sold bare chassis for custom coach-builders to provide the bodies for their most exclusive models, most Cadillacs were sold as complete cars.

As a result, few Cadillacs were sheathed in the custom coachwork that graced many of their prestigious competitors. A spectacular exception is this one-of-a-kind 1937 Series 90 Cabriolet, which was custom-built for a wealthy Swiss playboy, Philippe Barraud, by a relatively unknown local body-builder named Willy Hartmann.

The car will be featured in the ‘Art and the Automobile’ classic car display at the 2019 Canadian International Auto Show, in Toronto, which is open to the public from February 15 through 24.

It is also the subject of original poster-art for the event, painted by internationally renowned Canadian automotive artist, Jay Koka.

1937 Cadillac Series 90 Cabriolet with Coachwork by Hartmann - Commissioned event poster art by internationally-renowned Canadian fine automotive artist Jay Koka.

Called ICONS, the fifth-annual iteration of ‘Art and the Automobile’, like its predecessors, is organized by the Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance. The Cadillac is just one of 15 iconic models comprising the exhibit, ranging in origin from the 19-teens to the 1970s.

In 1937, Cadillac built just 50 of its most expensive Type 37, Series 90 chassis, powered by 452 cu-in (7.4-litre) overhead-valve V-16 engines. All but two were bodied in-house by Fleetwood, the former coach-building firm that had been acquired by GM’s Fisher Body division. While elegant in their own right, the Fleetwood bodies were variations of production designs – not unique creations.

One of the two chassis not routed to Fleetwood was delivered to the Edelweiss Garage, the local Cadillac dealer near Lausanne, Switzerland, where it had been ordered by young Mr. Barraud, heir to a fortune based on red bricks and roofing tiles.

Barroud commissioned Carrosserie Hartmann to design and build the car of his dreams – an outrageous, bespoke creation to suit his lavish lifestyle. And to outdo the flashy Delahayes, Delages, and Talbot-Lagos of his peers, who populated the Swiss Riviera on the summertime shores of Lake Geneva.

1937 Cadillac Series 90 Cabriolet with Coachwork by Hartmann - Original owner, Philippe Barroud and his dog Lila with the car he had created by Carrosserie Hartmann to his specifications. (Original photo © 1937, Paul Lüthard, aka “Bouboule”, Lausanne, Switzerland.)

Not surprisingly, given that copying of styling features was common among coach-builders of the time, the Hartmann/Barroud design borrowed heavily from contemporary models shown by the renowned firms of Erdmann & Rossi, in Berlin, and Figoni & Falaschi, in Paris – particularly with respect to their fully-enclosed fenders.

It looks very similar, in fact, to the Delahaye 135MS Roadster built for the 1936 Paris Auto Show – subsequently agreed to be a collaboration between Figoni and the famous illustrator “Geo Ham,” after the latter sued the former.

The Barroud car trumped all others, however, with its unique vestigial centre tail-fin, as well as its sheer size. It was 22-feet (6.7-metres) long, on a 154-inch (3,912-mm) wheelbase – the longest ever offered by Cadillac. And, of course, its V-16 engine!

1937 Cadillac Series 90 Cabriolet with Coachwork by Hartmann - Dual winner took Best-in-Class (American Classic Open) and Most Elegant Convertible awards at Pebble Beach 2018.

Given the size and thirst of its engine and the scarcity of gasoline, even in war-neutral Switzerland, the car was soon parked for 10 years, after which it spent 20 more in and out of use. Since then, it has changed hands at least eight times, been crashed and repaired and modified and finally restored to as near its original form as is possible to discern.

Now owned by the elite Patterson Collection, of Louisville, Kentucky, it made its public debut at the 2018 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it won both Best-in-Class (American Classic Open) and Most Elegant Convertible awards.

1937 Cadillac Series 90 Cabriolet with Coachwork by Hartmann - Flowing fender lines emulate the style of contemporary Parisian coach-builders such as Figoni et Falaschi.

It is a rare treat for Toronto show-goers to be able to see this rare and spectacular car at the CIAS.