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Me and My Motor - The Mysterious Madame X

PUBLISHED: 12:36 01 April 2011 | UPDATED: 19:07 20 February 2013

Me and My Motor - The Mysterious Madame X

Me and My Motor - The Mysterious Madame X

This beautiful car can be found at the biggest motor museum in the country. But who was Madame X? Words by Sarah Ford

This beautiful car can be found at the biggest motor museum in the country. But who was Madame X? Words by Sarah Ford



When Haynes Motor Museum opened in Sparkford 26 years ago, there were just 29 cars on display. Today, this Somerset attraction is the largest international motor museum in Britain, boasting over 400 motors in its collection.
Surrounded by the greatest cars from around the world, the museums Curatorial Director, Michael Penn, has a job many would envy. When Somerset Life asked him to choose just one car from this breathtaking collection to bring to our attention, he chose a striking example with an intriguing name: the Madame X Imperial Cabriolet.
The body style of this 1931 Cadillac, with its V16 engine, was designed by Harley Earl of General Motors, who was so enchanted by an actress that he promised to name the next Cadillac after her.
Ruth Chatterton was playing the lead role in a theatre opposite General Motors in Detroit, explains Michael. Her name did not really trip off the tongue so Harley Earl named it after the play she was in Madame X.
The car was created in the middle of the Depression by Cadillac, who new they had to make something special. They wanted to create an impact and decided to make a V16 engine with 165 brake horse power. There were about 3,000 of the V16s made but only 49 were designated Madame X, and today only 11 out of the 49 still exist.
This is an imperial faux cabriolet. It has dumb irons in the back which make it look as if the roof can be folded back, but it cant. And what makes this car different is the 18 degree rake in the windshield, says Michael.



With its shiny chrome trims and metallic dark blue over black paintwork, this is certainly a stunning vehicle, and one which attracts the attention of visitors



With its shiny chrome trims and metallic dark blue over black paintwork, this is certainly a stunning vehicle and one which attracts the attention of visitors. It has pride of place next to the museums most valuable car the Model J Duesenberg. Together, these opulent motors provide the backdrop for civil wedding ceremonies at Haynes.
Couples who have taken the opportunity of getting married in this unique venue include a bride and groom who were both British Racing Marshalls and they wore their bright orange overalls for the ceremony.
These cars are often referred to by visitors as Al Capone cars because they relate them to the American films of the 1930s, says Michael. People tend to think that all cars look the same today but if you take any moment in time, cars look similar. For example, the Edwardians all copied each other like mad.



Michaels role here includes the day-to-day running of the museum. This is a working motor museum, and the cars polished by a hard-working team of volunteers are taken out in the summer to be exercised around the track. On special days the public can even get to experience a ride in some of the models.
The Haynes International Motor Museum is an Educational Charitable Trust and much of its role is concerned with promoting the appreciation of the history of the motor vehicle.
Michael tells me he was lucky enough to travel to California to buy Madame X for the museum. It was being sold by Christies and he stayed overnight in a hotel owned by Clint Eastwood.
We had it shipped over and the American History Records now have this car down as being owned by Haynes International Motor Museum.



Haynes International Motor Museum is at Sparkford near Yeovil, just off the A303. For further information call 01963 440 804 or visit www.haynesmotormuseum.com

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