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Cadilla History

In 1902, the Henry Ford/Detroit Automobile Group was being reorganized by The Murphy Group. Henry Leyland approached that group with a design for a new one-cylinder engine which featured fully interchangeable parts. Oldsmobile had previously rejected that engine as too powerful for their Curved-Dash model. By contrast, The Murphy Group was impressed by Leyland’s engine and decided to adopt it for use in a new car and reorganize as the Cadillac Motor Car Co. That name was chosen to honor Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac who had founded the city of Detroit in 1701.

In 1908, three Cadillacs were shipped to England where they were driven around the Brooklands Race Circuit for 500 miles at an average speed of 34 mph. Then their engines were disassembled, their parts shuffled, placed randomly into bins (with some new parts thrown into the mix), re-assembled, and the cars driven another 500 miles around the racetrack. The rebuilt engines started and ran flawlessly! As a result, Cadillac was awarded the very prestigious Dewar Trophy for “mechanical excellence”.

In 1913, Cadillac won yet another Dewar Trophy — the only auto manufacturer to be so honored. This time it was for their innovations in electric starting, lighting and ignition. For this, Cadillac was awarded the title “Standard Of The World” by the Royal Automobile Club of Great Britain, and the company quickly adopted it as its motto. No other automobile company has ever earned that title.

Focus on Technical “Firsts”

In its early years, Cadillac became noted for its many innovations. In 1905, it produced its first 4-cylinder engine (which was offered concurrent with the single-cylinder until 1908, when the smaller engine was discontinued). In 1906, the first fully enclosed coupe was introduced – an innovation not copied by other car manufacturers for many years. In 1912, the electric starter was introduced — no more hand cranking! In 1915, Cadillac introduced its first production V8, replacing the 4-cylinder engines, and has never looked back. In 1927, Harley Earl joined Cadillac and established the “Art and Color Department” — another first for any auto manufacturer.

In 1928, safety glass and synchromesh transmissions were introduced. By 1930, Cadillac had introduced the OHV V16, and a few months later, the OHV V12 engine. The V16 was changed to a flathead engine in 1938, which continued until it was discontinued in 1940. The V12 engine continued unchanged in design until 1937 when it too was dropped.

In 1948, Harley Earl developed the legendary “Cadillac Tailfin” which was continued in one form or another until 1964. The iconic 1959 tailfin reached the epitome in size and design.
Later in the post-war years, the “firsts” continued unabated. In 1964, Cadillac introduced analog computer control for automatic climate control (both cooling and heating), “Twilight Sentinel” automatic lighting and automatic headlight dimming, in 1965, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, in 1966, variable-ratio power steering, in 1980, digital fuel injection — and the list of automotive firsts continues to this day!

LaSalle — Companion Car to Cadillac

In January 1926, Harley Earl was packing up to leave Southern California for Detroit. He’d been the key designer for Don Lee Custom Body Works since 1919. Now Harley had been commissioned by GM to move to Detroit and come up with a new design for Cadillac’s companion car for the 1927 model year. In just four months, he combined some of his Don Lee designs together with styling cues gleaned from the Hispano Suiza. The result of this blend was the 1927 LaSalle, which became an overwhelming and instant success. This concept introduced the automotive world to an entirely new aspect of automobile design, namely style! Over the ensuing years, virtually every other American auto manufacturers initiated its own styling department. Another feather in the cap for Cadillac!

The LaSalle was produced side-by-side with the Cadillac from 1927 until 1940, when car buyers finally realized the LaSalle was really a Cadillac in all respects, but at a much lower price. Only the front clip (fenders, hood and grille) and wheelbase (which was somewhat shorter than the Cadillac) were different.

The LaSalle had a V8 engine from 1927 thru 1933. From 1934 to 1936, it used an Olds-inspired straight-8 engine and truly spectacular Deco styling. In 1937, and continuing until 1940, the last production year for the LaSalle, it virtually shared the same V8 as used in the Cadillac. Despite many erroneous recollections, the LaSalle never, ever had a V12 or V16 engine.

As you’d expect, both Cadillac and LaSalle automobiles have been preferred by many Presidents, heads of state, other dignitaries and leaders, kings and queens, Popes, pop stars (remember Elvis and his pink Cadillacs?) and countless other celebrities. Even today, if you watch the news concerning official happenings around D.C., you will see Cadillacs in proud and prominent use.

It seems that just about everyone has yearned for and loved the Cadillac, and they continue to do so. We no longer drive the huge “land yachts” of the 1950s, ’60s, and ‘70s, but now have more efficient, stylish automobiles with the latest technical innovations available.

Engine Design Comes Full Circle

Here’s an interesting aside in closing. In 1902, when Henry Leyland developed his single-cylinder engine, it did not have a true carburetor or a throttle body, as we know it from the recent past. The fuel simply dripped by gravity onto a screen in the mixer, and was drawn into the cylinder. The speed of the automobile was controlled by varying the lift of the intake valves mechanically via a lever on the steering column, and simultaneously adjusting the spark timing via an adjacent lever. These controlled the fuel entering the cylinder and the timing, and thus the speed of the automobile.

Interestingly, the latest engine models from manufacturers like Nissan and Audi, 100 years after Mr. Leyland’s design, also eliminate the throttle body entirely while controlling the lift of the intake valves and engine timing via a computer. So once again, what went around in 1902 is still comes around in 2010.

Cadillac, since it’s beginnings in 1902, has never ceased its quest to bring automobile buyers the latest in styling and technical innovation.The Cadillac Division of General Motors is once again in the lead, on an international scale, with auto body designs and technical advances focused on reclaiming its right to use the honorary title, “Standard Of The World”