Classic Cars

Meet the “Duchess”: A 1941 Cadillac built for a King

This custom-bodied Cadillac is now part of the Plunkett collection near London, Ontario

This 1941 Cadillac, called the “Duchess,” is a custom-bodied limousine, built by General Motors for England’s King Edward after he’d abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson. 

The “Duchess” is a custom-bodied limousine, built by General Motors for England’s King Edward after he’d abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry American socialite Wallis Simpson.

It now resides in the personal museum of car collector extraordinaire, Steve Plunkett, near London, Ontario, where it shares space with more than 70 other vehicles – mostly rare and/or special interest Cadillacs dating back to 1907.

 “I love to get cars that have a story,” Plunkett explained, and this unique Cadillac had quite a tale. It was commissioned by the royal couple to serve as their personal vehicle while they were living in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. Its construction, by Cadillac, was personally overseen by Alfred Sloan, the CEO of General Motors at the time.

The royals owned the car, which cost $11,000, for 11 years and fondly referred to it as the “Duchess.” All the body panels were hand formed and were different from the 1941 production models. Plunkett noted that the flowing body lines of the Duchess would later influence the styling designs of Buick models, as well as the legendary British luxury brand, Rolls Royce.

Plunkett’s passion for Cadillacs stems from his appreciation of the innovative, leading-edge technologies the brand has introduced to the automotive world – and the Duchess is a prime example.

Its advanced features included an automatic transmission, power windows – a first in the industry – fully chromed wheels, dual automatic heating, power privacy window behind the front seat, two clocks and 11 courtesy lights, three lighters, a pipe rack and a cigar humidor, dual radios, two illuminated vanity mirrors, foot rests, four jewelry cases, satin privacy window shades and an under-seat umbrella holder.

According to Plunkett, it’s the only American-built car ever used by British Royalty – although they were chauffeured in custom-built Canadian McLaughlin-Buicks on several occasions.

The “Duchess” had her coming out to the public at the recent ‘Fleetwood Country Cruize-In’ held at Plunkett’s estate.


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