1941 Cadillac With Royal Roots Headed to Auction


  • 1941 Cadillac Picture

    1941 Cadillac Picture

    A custom-built 1941 Cadillac once owned by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, is headed to auction next month in New York. | October 29, 2013

5 Photos

Just the Facts:
  • A 1941 Cadillac limousine once owned by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor is expected to bring as much as $800,000 at auction next month.
  • Among other custom touches, the one-of-a-kind Cadillac features a gold-plated hood ornament, walnut-trimmed interior, jewelry cases and a humidor.
  • The Duke, then King Edward VIII, abdicated the throne of England in 1936 to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

NEW YORK — A custom 1941 Cadillac limousine once owned by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII and American socialite Wallis Simpson, is expected to bring as much as $800,000 at auction next month in New York.

RM Auctions and Sotheby's are hosting the auction, called Art of the Automobile, which they say will "celebrate the motor car and its place in the history of design." The event, taking place November 18-21, will feature such iconic marques as Duesenberg, Ferrari, Rolls-Royce and Stutz.

But one of the most fascinating vehicles in the auction catalog is the jet-black 1941 Cadillac limousine known as "The Duchess."

An American friend of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, General Motors Chairman Alfred P. Sloan Jr., presented the car to them late in 1941 for their use in New York. They loved the car so much that they bought it — reportedly for the then-princely sum of $14,000 — and would keep it for about 11 years, using it for everything from shopping to ticker-tape parades.

According to RM Auctions, not a single body panel on the custom-built vehicle matched those of any other 1941 Cadillac. The hood, trunk, fenders, roof and doors were all made by hand. And its appearance was so striking that a number of its styling cues were picked up by Cadillac and Buick designers for 1942 models.

The rear doors were emblazoned with the Windsors' official "W.E." monogram and crown, and the hood was adorned with Cadillac's classic Goddess hood ornament, plated in gold for this one-off creation. Most other exterior emblems and chrome trim were omitted, giving the car a particularly sophisticated and stately appearance.

RM Auctions says the car's mechanical components received special attention at the factory to ensure smooth, trouble-free operation. Not surprisingly, it was built with every advanced feature available at the time, including hydraulic brakes, independent front suspension, sealed-beam headlights, electric turn signals and automatic transmission.

Inside, the upholstery was rose-colored broadcloth, with floors covered in matching Wilton wool carpet. Doors and other interior surfaces were capped with rich walnut. For the Duke, there were a cigar humidor, pipe rack and three built-in lighters, while the Duchess could store her valuables in four brushed stainless-steel jewelry cases lined in velvet.

This limousine was one of the first Cadillacs to be equipped with power windows, including an electric center privacy divider, all featuring satin privacy curtains, which roll neatly out of the way when not in use. A copper-clad radio with vacuum-powered antenna served the rear-seat passengers.

The Duke was an auto enthusiast who liked driving himself quite often, so GM outfitted the driver's compartment with the same opulent level of trim as the passenger area. In addition to fine upholstery and carpeting, the front appointments included a separate AM radio with its own roof-mounted antenna.

All of this luxury and custom treatment befitted one of the most famous couples of the twentieth century.

Theirs is considered one of the great love stories of the day, but at the time it shook British society and the country's government to the core. King Edward VIII, who rose to the throne upon the death of his father, George V, in January of 1936, had fallen in love with American divorcee Wallis Simpson several years earlier, when he was still the Prince of Wales.

This may have been tolerated during the prince's youth, when he was considered something of a playboy. But after he became king and announced his intention to marry Wallis Simpson, the royal family and government officials blanched at the thought of the twice-married American socialite becoming queen.

Despite being sidelined by their own government, the Duke and Duchess were mobbed by adoring fans in the U.S., so it's not surprising that they spent a lot of time in New York, where they maintained a residence at the Waldorf Towers on Park Avenue. It was during this period that they enjoyed their beloved one-of-a-kind Cadillac limousine.

In 1952, the Duke traded in "The Duchess" (the car, not his wife) for a new Cadillac Series 75 and a Buick station wagon. The 1941 limo was resold by GM to luxury car dealer Charles Beswick of Springfield, Massachusetts. Beswick sold it to a local couple who then resold it 1964 to a collector from Fort Worth, Texas. It remained with him until 2009, when it was purchased by its current owner, Morgan Murphy, a Cadillac collector and food critic from Birmingham, Alabama.

During Murphy's ownership the car underwent a total restoration by an army of specialists and, according to RM Auctions, it now "operates as it did originally." The chassis and mechanical systems were completely overhauled. Electrical components were restored to the extent that lightbulbs even carry the correct period markings. And all interior features have been refurbished down to the last detail. In rare cases where original parts could not be reused, they were re-created from scratch by experts.

Naturally this one-of-a-kind vehicle will be sold with complete documentation, including a copy of its 1952 New York State title bearing the Duke's signature, and an extensive collection of historic photographs showing the car as it was delivered to the royals in 1941.

Edmunds says: It's no first-year Gremlin, but "The Duchess" would, nevertheless, make a nice addition to a historic automobile collection.

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