Cadillac history

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Cadillac history

The Smithsonian

Cadillac was formed with the remaining team members of the Henry Ford Company. The company dissolved when Henry left, taking key members with him. The financial backers of Ford, Lemuel Bowen & William Murphy, were unwilling to let the plant go, and asked Henry M. Leland to visit and appraise the former Ford plant and equipment within. Leland saw the plant as a great opportunity and persuaded them to carry on, with the proviso that they use Leland's 1-cylinder engine, which already had a proven track record. The departure of the previous owner required a new name...
On August 22, 1902, the Cadillac Automobile Company was born, deriving its new name from the French explorer Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, the founder in 1701 of Detroit, Michigan.
1903 Carving the future
The new company then got busy establishing a future and its first car was completed in October 1902, and was capable of producing 10 bhp (7 KW) and was similar to the 1903 Ford Model A. Many sources say the first car rolled out of the factory on October 17 , however there is other dates saying the car was released on both the 16th and the 20th.
The brand new Cadillac was showcased at the famed New York Auto Show in January of the following year, called the Smithsonian. It impressed crowds so much that over two thousand orders were placed for the car. The one thing the US company counted on as its biggest selling point was its precision manufacturing and reliability, in a word they boasted it was better than all its competitors.
With the staggering success of the Cadillac Smithsonian, the car company decided to compete in an annual Royal Automobile Club's Standardisation Test, from February to March 1908. To do this they used three Model K cars from the stock of Frederick Bennett (Cadillac - London UK).
The Cadillac K's were driven 25 miles to Brooklands racing track, in Weybridge, where they completed another 25 miles, then all the cars were put safely under lock and key until March 2, 1908 - a Monday when all the cars were dis-assembled completely.
All of the 721 components were piled into one heap; 89 of the specialist parts requiring extreme accuracy were taken from the pile, and locked away and replaced with brand new parts from showroom stock. With the use of only spanners and screwdrivers, the 3 Cadillac cars were re-assembled and on March 13, a Friday, all the cars completed a 500 mile run. When the run was completed, one of the model K cars was placed under lock and key until the beginning of the 2,000 mile Reliability Trials, to come over the following months. The K came in as the R.A.C. Trophy winner. The interchangeability of the cars parts could not have been demonstrated any better.
The Cadillac Automobile Company was also awarded 1908 The Dewar Trophy for winning these awards. This award was only ever presented to the most important car industry advancement of the year, allowing the car to speak for itself.


Cadillac was bought by a General Motors conglomerate in 1909.
Meaning General Motors' prestige division was the new US company, this division concentrated on producing large luxury vehicles. It was used as GM's Commercial Voice, with production of a "commercial chassis", limousines, ambulances, hearses, and funeral cars. The last 3 of these were custom built by aftermarket manufacturers.
In 1911, Cadillac was the first petrol engine manufacturer to add an electric start, rather than the traditional crank start. The electric start was favoured as a convenience device for female drivers, and the starter was developed by Charles Kettering, and was mass produced and added to cars from 1912 onwards. Also pioneered were many great achievements and innovations including an automotive V8 engine in mass production by 1915. Other great innovations included the introduction of shatter-resistant glass in 1926, and a fully synchronized gearbox in 1928. These boxes were soon seen as very robust, smooth and ideal gear ratios for use by the blingsters of the day.
A popular modification of the day was to add a Ford or Mercury V8 engine to a recycled Cadillac or LaSalle transmission. In 1928, car stylist Harley Earl, a new art & design specialist, came up with a new, smaller "companion" car called the La Salle. This too was named after another French explorer, René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, and was in production until 1940.
Many Pre war Cadillac motor cars were powerful, robust and were mass-produced luxury cars, for upperclass markets, e.g. ultra-exclusive Pierce-Arrow and Duesenberg.
The 1930s brought the Cadillac V12- and V16-cylinder engines with custom coach chassis's.

1932 - what now?

It now appeared that the goodtimes were over, for in 1932, the company suffered a new record of low sales and unfortunately managed to pick up a record of discrimination against black customers. Alfred Sloan panicked and formed a committee to think over the idea of stopping production on Cadillac. The problem was worse than they realised, due to rigidity of the separatist movement. The president Nicholas Dreystadt, found out that the legendary boxer Joe Louis couldn't even enter a Cadillac dealership to buy a new car, due to him being black, however Joe Louis loved the cars, so had a white friend buy the car for him.
Dreystadt was humiliated, and decided to give the General Motors Board of Directors a speech about the importance of advertising the cars to black customers. The GM Board completely agreed and gave him 18 months to prove his worth.
Thanks to the company's President, the manufacturer had regained its profitability, and they were the only US car manufacturer to continue earning a profit during the Great Depression.
1940 saw Cadillac sales increase 1,000% compared to 1934, giving them a new lease of life.

Philips head screw

1934 brought a new power to the Cadillac assembly line. One Henry F. Phillips introduced the Phillips screw head and screw driver into the market. Phillips met with General Motors, and convinced the company his revolutionary screw types would reduce assembly time and therefore increase profits.
It was agreed & the automobile company became the first car manufacturer to adopt Phillips screw technology, by 1940 his idea was used widely.

Postwar production

After the war Cadillac started to adopt ideas from GM Styling Chief Harley J. Earl. This guy was a genius - dreaming up many new styling features relative to classic American cars. His ideas included tailfins and wraparound windscreens. It was these first tailfins that inspired Lockheed to add twin rudders to the Lightning P-38 in1948! The epitome of tailfin crazy cars was seen as the 1959 Cadillac - the cars had the recognisable tailfins of any American classic.
Dagmar bumpers or simply 'Dagmars', made the classic Cadillac . The classic artillery shell shaped bumper became a major sellin point, coupled with the complicated front grille and bumper assembly. As the 1950's progressed, so did the Caddy , and design was placed higher in the front end , this made the design more of an icon than bumper guards. The design was likened to the 1950s television personality Dagmar.

The Cadillac recovery

Cadillac suffered as much as many other car manufacturers from the 1970s to the late 80s. There were high points, one being the launch of the Eldorado in 1967, a simple, yet elegant car. The 1970s may have seen less chrome and tailfins, but it did see bigger engines, including the V8 [7.7 litre] that debuted with the 1968 Eldorado. Then an even bigger [8.2 litre] for the 1970 Eldorado. So popular, this engine and system was adopted across all the whole Caddy range in 1975.
The Seville was introduced 1975 as a 1976 model running an Oldsmobile 350 fuel injection system.

The Eldorado

Between 1973 and 1979 the company was forced to downsize due to the looming fuel crisis. The entire Cadillac De Ville and Fleetwood lines had been downsized by 1977.
By1985, the US car company was piking up, and launched a smaller car similar to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, called the Seville, it became an instant classic.
Due to the fuel crisis and looming shortages, a solution was developed by offering a Diesel Oldsmobile V8 engine, for its range of full-size cars from 1979 to 1981. However, they did suffer badly due to poor fuel quality even though the Diesel engines were uprated (diesel was extremely notorious for being filthy and water contaminated especially in the late 1970s), this initiated corrosion in the fuel pump, inturn creating high pressure. The uncompressible quality of liquids caused a hydro lock, this could snap pistons, destroy crankshafts and all other parts of the engine including connecting rods, this resulted in complete mechanical failure and irreversible engine damage.
Why did other GM diesel engines not suffer from this?
An effective water separating system was the culprit. The reasons were:-
1) A badly designed and setup fuel system.
2) An inaccurate sales to sell a Diesel as maintenance free as a gas engine.
3) Ill equipped and trained mechanics, forever using incorrect oils and lubricants, and no knowledge of Diesel servicing.
This sums up the failure and easy to see why it never succeeded.

The Cavalier Vs BMW 3 Vs Cimarron

To gain even more market share in the 80's the Cimarron was released, this car shared the same design platform as Chevrolet Cavalier it was and was built to rival the BMW 3-series. The car was pushed into production ahead of schedule by three years, due to this only a four-cylinder engine was available until 1985 when a V6 was made available, the car was seen as "warmed-over Cavalier" people recognised it from the much cheaper Chevy. Even though the Cadillac Cimarron came with many extras and option it never fully recovered from its initial rejection, this lead to production finishing in 1988.
The worst engine
An major low point in the 1980s was the release of the 4100 (4.1 L) V8 engine, this was widely used in man models through the late 80s. It was undoubtedly the worst engine ever built by Caddy. It suffered from coolant leakage, warped intake manifolds even warped heads. This engine cost Cadillac dearly and their customer loyalty suffered.
The 1980's brought the rebuilding of their damaged image. Competition from European and Jap imports and the fact that Honda was going to launch their American luxury division, Acura. New styles were applied to cars: the Seville was treated to rounded wheel arches and a splash of chrome. The main challenge for the import vehicles was the Pininfarina designed Cadillac Allante convertible, this cars other claim to fame was the fact it was made on the world's longest production line— the Allante was completely fabricated in Italy and imported by a Boeing 747 to the US then the shell and engine / box were built. The Allante never reached commercial success, however it is still heralded a modern classic next to the Mercedes-Benz SL its main rival. A new strategy was needed, a smaller car, enter the Cimarron and Seville.
The 1980s saw many American car makers downsize their popular car models, the late '80s, introduced the the Brougham Cadillac, the only car to keep its classic style and size of the 70's DeVilles and Fleetwoods.
Even this was discontinued after the 1996. The company needed new strategies quick...

The New direction - The SUV

The GMC Yukon Denali an SUV based on the Escalade, this was Cadillac's first attempt at a Sport Utility Vehicle, it was showcased in 1998 ready for sale in 1999 it featured constant all-wheel drive.
Cadillac had recognised the importance of the Lincoln Navigator and its market success, launched the previous year.
November 1998, saw Lincoln's year-to-date lead was 6,783 vehicles a decent lead in the SUV market, however Cadillac's sales for December were a reported 23,861, over 10,000 ahead of November sales. (However there had been grave error, where alledgedly they outsold Lincoln, however this was an error, kept quiet to a point). A large proportion of this lead was down to the Escalade's 960 sales in November to 3,642 in December. However Lincoln still had outsold them in 1998.
182,570 for Cadillac V's 187,121 Lincolns sold vs.
1999 May, saw a public apology and retraction issued by Jim Farmer a GM Spokesman, saying "a combination of internal control breakdowns and overzealousness on the part of our team members" was the reason for the error, plus there would be no celebrating to Jap & German imports knocking them from the top and 2nd place.

The Escalade

Cadillac's idea of keeping with big sedans such as the Eldorado were crushed with the intro of the Escalade, a large luxury SUV with an already marked market by the Lincoln Navigator, Ford Explorer & Range Rover. The Escalade was favoured by many rappers e.g. as Jay-Z, this boosted the image of the motor and saw many heavily modified SUV's becoming big business they reflected wealth and status. This 4x4 was the key to cracking a younger generation of affluent buyers, the Cadillac name has now been firmly established, yet again seen as luxury rather than geriatry.
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