The Udaipur Cadillac That Jackie Kennedy Rode In

Images: Makarand Baokar

I was reading just the other day that Jackie Kennedy (the wife of John F Kennedy who was the President of the US from 1960–63) did not care too much for India and was relieved to fly into Pakistan after her India visit, and how the Arab stallion gifted to her by the President of Pakistan then, Field Marshal Mohammed Ayub Khan, followed the cortege riderless at John Kennedy’s funeral.

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Upright and elegant, this Cadillac features restrained good looks

Apparently, the treatment given to her in India was not special enough. Yet during her state visit in March 1962, not only was the red carpet laid out for her but the erstwhile princely families from Jaipur and Udaipur went out of their way to make her feel at home. The princely family of Mewar, the titular maharaja then, Bhagwat Singh Mewar, and his wife Sushila Kumariji, pulled out all stops to host Jackie and take her sightseeing in the beautiful city of Udaipur.

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Big and imposing, the '39 Cadillacs were designed by Bill Mitchell

For very special transport—and perhaps to make her feel at home—the prince and the princess put at her disposal a large and elegant Cadillac seven-seater sedan, the one that Sushila Kumariji had received as her personal car from her father when she was getting married to Bhagwat Singh Mewar.

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Jackie Kennedy walking out of the Udaipur Cadillac

One of two Cadillacs gifted by the Maharajkumar of Bikaner, Sir Sadul Singh Bahadur to his daughter Bhanwar Baisaheb Sushila Kumariji on her marriage to Maharajkumar Bhagwat Singh Bahadur of Udaipur in 1940, this car was essentially for the use of the future Maharani. For the young bride, the Bikaner family chose a seven-seater formal sedan version with Fleetwood customizing the car with deep tinted windows that ensured ‘purdah’ privacy. Additionally, curtains were also fitted.

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It may be worth noting that this car is a right-hand drive

What makes this Cadillac special is that just 44 seven-seater formal sedans were produced (amongst a total of 97 formal sedans including the five-seater version) out of a total of 2,069 of the Series 75 made in 1939. I wonder whether Jackie was informed about that…

Powered by a state-of-the-art V8, the ‘39 Cadillac Series 75 seven-seater sedan was one of the most luxurious automobiles on sale in the US before the start of WWII. As Cadillac’s V16s (and the V12s) were very expensive and just too complicated for many who wanted straight-forward luxury motoring, the new family of V8s was proving to be more than adequate for the sybaritic wealthiest of the world.

By the end of 1937, the V12 had been dropped as sales had collapsed, and just 136 of the V16s were made in 1939 (the last year of production), but the V8s were going from strength to strength. Through the mid-1930s, Cadillac used a 5.7-litre V8 derived from the 5.6-litres that had been first offered in 1928. Replacing this from 1936 was an all-new ‘flathead’ design of 5670cc that developed 135bhp for the ‘smaller’ cars, and 140bhp for the bigger and heavier cars, with the latter powering this Series 75 seven-seater sedan.

These Cadillac V8s were handsome cars on long but not unwieldy wheelbases, and offered a broad selection of body styles, including semi-custom types by Fisher and Fleetwood, both of which were in-house coachbuilders. Designer William L Mitchell developed a square, yet crisply elegant car with chrome-edged windows, square-back fenders, concealed running boards and a much lower profile.

Topping the V8 line, the Series 75 was offered with a plethora of Fleetwood custom bodies on an extremely long 3.58 metre wheelbase. About nine different body styles were available, with a multiplicity of possibilities in terms of seats and limousine divisions that gave the buyer a choice of at least 15 models.

Powered by the more powerful 140bhp version of the engine, the car featured here has been used occasionally, essentially to ferry special guests, including the likes of Jackie Kennedy (as can be seen in the image). With just 26,293 miles (47,142kms) on the clock, this car is as original as it can get.

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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