Americans are fascinated by royalty, particularly British royalty—even more so now that one of our own is a member of the family (let’s hear it for the Duchess of Sussex!). When it comes to royal cars, the 2019 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance is holding a royal flush. A fleet of one-off cars for dignitaries will make up a special Heads of State class at the 24th annual concours on March 10.
In a press release, the concours says the cars “are as eclectic as the men and women who used them for transport, as a throne room and refuge, and sometimes as a badge of rank.”
Among the highlights are a trio of Cadillacs:
1941 Cadillac Custom Limousine “The Duchess”
At center stage is the 1941 Cadillac Custom Limousine that transported British King Edward VIII and his wife, Wallis Simpson, an American socialite from Baltimore, while they lived in the U.S. Edward famously abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry Simpson, twice divorced and deemed an unsuitable mate by the royal family. Henceforth, the jet-setting couple became known as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
[Edward’s brother, Prince Albert, ascended the throne and became King George VI in a story that was famously depicted in the 2010 film The King’s Speech. The movie won four Academy Awards in 2011, including Best Picture.]
During the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s first stay at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel in late 1941, they were greeted by adoring crowds and were given “the ultimate luxury car” from one of their high-society friends, Alfred P. Sloan Jr., chairman and CEO of General Motors. The new 1941 Cadillac, delivered in the waning days of the coachbuilding era, was known as “The Duchess.” A true one-off, the car’s hood, trunk, fenders, fender skirts, roof, and doors were all crafted by hand, and all interior appointments were hand-fitted.
Pope Pius XII was also a Cadillac man, and his luxury car of choice was the Bill Mitchell-styled V-16 Cadillac Limousine Town Car. A throne was installed in the back of the gigantic automobile, and it remained in the Vatican motor pool for years before being sold to Nicola Bulgari, where it remains part if his superb collection of American classics.
Decades after creating the custom 1938 Caddy, GM also provided Pope John Paul II with a custom 1998 Cadillac DeVille parade car for his visit to Mexico, complete with a throne that was hydraulic raised and lowered. John Paul II never got to use it, however. Without armor plating and bullet-resistant glass, the Pope’s security team deemed it unsafe. (The Pope blessed it anyway, so it has that going for it.)
1956 Cadillac Series 75 Presidential Limousine
GM sent two 1956 Cadillac Series 75 convertibles to Ohio car conversion company O’Gara, Hess & Eisenhardt, and the cars were completely rebuilt for use by President Dwight Eisenhower. Dubbed Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Mary II—since they replaced a pair of 1938 Cadillacs nicknamed Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary—the cars were used in presidential motorcades for Presidents Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson.
When a new Lincoln convertible came on board during JFK’s presidency, the ’56 Cadillacs were demoted to secret service chase duty. One was following Kennedy’s Lincoln when he was assassinated in Dallas on November 22,1963.