1949 CADILLAC MODEL 75 IMPERIAL LIMOUSINE WOODIE
COACHBUILT BY MAURICE SCHWARTZ (EX-BOHMAN & SCHWARTZ)
FOR MGM STUDIOS

In the sixties we still had plenty of interesting junk yards in Southern California, often including Classics in sad condition. I was a surfer and often searched junk yards for parts to keep my woodies running. I found one of the seven 1949 Cadillac Model 75 limousines that had been custom built for MGM Studios with wooden doors and panels for chauffeuring their stable of western cowboy stars. The first had been rolled and looked to me to be beyond my teenage restoration abilities. However, twenty years later I bought it and continued my junk yard search for straight body parts to restore it. I also found a second example in a Fontana junk yard, it was it better shape, had better design lines and I acquired it, too. My first idea was to combine the two, but it was still an overwhelming challenge. I sold the first, kept the second and over the years located rust free parts cars and an expert wood worker.

My forty+ year project started and continued as I put other restoration projects to the front and this one aside. The sheet metal and wood sides was pretty banged up and along the way I found a very straight rust free parts car moving my restoration efforts along. The engine and transmission were rebuilt and are on a test stand ready for installation today. In the meantime, I had found an exceptionally talented woodworker, John Risdon (a Pasadena Art Center graduate in sculpture), who had restored the ash body frame on my J409 Rollston Convertible Victoria Duesenberg before well known fabricator Maurice Delay re-clad it in new metal. John did such a great job on the Duesie (it won Best In Class at Pebble Beach) that I asked if he would restore the Cadillac wood. He advised it was beyond restoration, but it was okay as patterns. He would take it on as a side project. He spent years matching new wood to the disintegrated original wood. The donor chassis offered a straight frame, rust free sheet metal and all the extra bits and pieces needed to insure its completeness and authentic restoration.

The Cadillacs produced following World War II benefited from the company’s wartime experience producing defense material. When passenger car production resumed in October 1945, advertising boasted that cars were “Battle Powered” with “Victory” engines. Cadillac had built M5 tanks powered by two V8s with Hydra-Matic transmissions, one driving each track. In all, the division produced six types of tanks and gun carriers, some 12,000 fighting vehicles in all by the time hostilities ended in 1945. Of even greater benefit was the real world stress-testing of engines and transmissions in combat. Although the 1946 Cadillac engines were of the same 346 cubic inch displacement as the prewar power plants, and were rated at the same 150 horsepower, many internal parts had been re-engineered for greater strength and reliability as a result of the wartime experience. The Hydra-Matic had been beefed up as well. Bodies, however, particularly on the top-of-the-line Series 75 Fleetwood cars, were carried over from 1942 and this 75 Series remained in production until 1949, by which time all-new bodies had been adopted for all other Cadillac series. Production was fewer than 900 seven-passenger sedans, of which this car is an example, were built that year. All Series 75 Cadillacs featured Hydra-Lectric window lifts. All 1949 Model 75 Cadillacs are “Full Classics” as defined by the Classic Car Club of America.

On the advice of a well-known Cadillac enthusiast and classic car judge, an internally superior 1953 Cadillac V-8 and transmission were acquired and rebuilt. The 1953 engine is externally identical to the 1949 versions, but were extensively updated internally by Cadillac to produce a much improved and reliable drive train. The engine and transmission are restored, painted and on a stand ready for installation.

Movie stars are well known for exceptional, custom-built motor cars, but it’s often forgotten that the film studios themselves made use of local coachbuilders for both utility vehicles and distinctive conveyances for cast and crew alike. Between 1947 and 1949, MGM Studios ordered six or more Model 75 Cadillac chassis from Hillcrest Cadillac, the Beverly Hills dealer. Most had the standard 136-inch wheelbase, as used on the sedans and Imperial sedans (as Cadillac called the limos), but at least one had the 163-inch wheelbase of the Business and Commercial cars, the latter being used for ambulances and other “professional” vehicles. The chassis were sent to Maurice Schwartz for special, wood-framed bodies. Schwartz was an Austrian-born craftsman who had learned his craft as an apprentice in his native country. He immigrated to the United States in 1910 and worked for the Fisher Brothers and Willoughby & Company before moving west to Los Angeles in 1918. There he joined the Earl Automobile Works (soon to become Don Lee Coach and Body Works) under the eye of the then relatively unknown Harley Earl. In 1924, Schwartz went to the Walter M. Murphy Co. in nearby Pasadena, where he met Christian Bohman. Murphy closed in 1932 as the custom body business waned. Schwartz and Bohman decided they could continue in the business on a limited basis, and they were very successful, delivering custom Duesenbergs for Clark Gable, Ethel Mars and Barbara Hutton. Bohman & Schwartz also built the Phantom Corsair for ketchup heir Rusty Heinz, the “Topper” movie car, and many other vehicles for film stars and movie studios.

After World War II, even that limited custom business faded, but Schwartz continued fulfilling orders for special cars, often on Cadillac’s long-wheelbase commercial chassis. Among these were a fastback six-door woody for cowboy star Gene Autry, a similar car with conventional trunk for one of the studios and a 1949 station wagon for President Miguel Aleman of Mexico. Several customs were also built on the normal 136-inch wheelbase Series 75 chassis for MGM Studios. Bohman & Schwartz as a company was closed in 1947, but Maurice Schwartz continued in the business alone, ending as a classic car restorer, principally for Bill Harrah, until his passing in 1961.

The wood trim stopped on the first one at the rear door edge, however, the second one (the subject) continue the wood surround between the upper rear window and the rear fender giving it a more finished streamlined look. I know of only one other, a 1947 version with this extended detail and include a photograph of that restored example so my words can be visualized on a completed car.

The original custom metal roof rack likely a Coachcraft creation is complete and is included with the Cadillac Woodie. A parts car and all parts are included to insure plenty of parts and spare parts to finish this restoration in your color choices. The parts car is a rust free California car and is complete, except engine, and could be restored separately.

My key restoration manager, Don Gaboury, of 30+ years recently passed away from Covid. Circumstances now dictate this opportunity pass on to someone wanting a very drivable CCCA Full Classic.

A detailed limited edition metal scale model of this style Cadillac Woodie limo was created by Conquest Models in the United Kingdom and is included as well.

A sister car was sold in 2011 at an RM Auction for $297,000. I have invested over $100,000 and 30+ years in this worthwhile Classic. While I must retire from the restoration hobby, I will still attend cruises and an occasional show. Serious offers considered. Restored interesting trades may be considered.

The Cadillac is located at my Irvine, CA office adjacent to John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Irvine, California and can be viewed during the week by appointment.

Bill Patton
Off: 949-474-2000, ext. 222
wrpatton@pacificnewport.com.