Saturday, February 2, 2008

100 Year History of Cadillac

After posting my last blog post, I became even more curious as to the history of Cadillac. I found this informative article online and hope I'm not breaking any copywrite laws by reposting it here. The article was original written for the January 1992 issue of Popular Mechanics by Michael Lamm

1903 Cadillac

You'd be hard-pressed to find an automaker as consistently innovative as Cadillac. For 100 years now, from the electric starter to V8s and 16-cylinder engines, automatic transmissions and tail fins, Cadillac traditionally led the parade.

The marque started in 1902, when Henry Ford's latest auto venture went bust. Ford's shareholders called in master machinist Henry M. Leland to catalogue and sell the defunct company's assets. Leland came in, looked things over, and a light bulb flashed on. Why not combine Ford's latest chassis with a single-cylinder engine developed by Oldsmobile? So in August 1902, Leland and Ford's former backers founded the Cadillac Automobile Co.
Meanwhile, Henry Ford started yet another motor company, one that finally succeeded. The 1903 Ford and the first Cadillac looked very much alike, the biggest difference being that the 1903 Ford had an opposed twin while the 1903 Cadillac used the Olds-engineered one-lunger.

1912: Charles F. Kettering with the first electric starter.

Henry Leland introduced the $850 Cadillac at the 1903 New York auto show. Within a week, he'd taken 2286 orders. Cadillac built nearly 2500 cars that first year--a huge number at the time.

Cadillac went upmarket in 1905 by adding a four-cylinder model at $2800. And in 1907, Henry Leland, always a stickler for precision, ordered a set of Swedish Johanssen gauges. These made it possible to manufacture precise, identical parts. As a result, Cadillac won the prestigious Thomas Dewar Trophy in 1908. The prize was awarded each year by the Royal Automobile Club of London for the most important advance in automotive technology. Three Cadillacs were disassembled and then put back together from mixed parts. All three drove away.
In 1909, General Motors bought Cadillac, bringing along Henry Leland as president. Three years later, Cadillac offered the world's first successful electric starter, developed at Delco by Charles F. Kettering. The auto industry had seen many engine self-starters come and go--pneumatic, spring-loaded and electric--but it was Kettering's that caught on. The Delco starter used a combined generator and electric motor that cranked the engine flywheel. The same electrical system contained a storage battery and breaker-point ignition. Kettering's breakthrough earned Cadillac another Dewar Trophy, and the auto industry scrambled to catch up.

For 1915, Cadillac fielded a 90° flathead V8, an engine boasting 70 hp at 2400 rpm and 180 ft.-lb. of torque. The V8 gave Cadillac a top speed of 65 mph--faster than most roads of that era could accommodate. Detachable cylinder heads followed in 1918, by which time Henry Leland had left GM to found Lincoln, a marque Henry Ford bought in 1922. Lincoln, of course, became one of Cadillac's prime rivals. And for 1923, Cadillac pioneered the dual-plane V8 crankshaft. This meant that the crankpins were set at 90° instead of 180 as in all previous V8s. The dual-plane crank plus the addition of counterweights eliminated most "rocking couples" and resulted in infinitely better balance, thus a smoother-running engine.
In August 1928, Cadillac introduced the first clashless Synchro-Mesh manual transmission. In this, internal clutches automatically made gears spin at the same speed before they engaged. Prior to Synchro-Mesh, a driver had to do a lot of fancy clutch work to shift without crunching gears.
And in January 1930, Cadillac launched one of the most powerful, smoothest, gorgeous and quietest engines in America: the V16. The V16 marked Cadillac's serious bid to join the upper-crust makes of the day: Packard, Rolls-Royce, Duesenberg and Pierce-Arrow. Cadillac's overhead valve 45°, 452-cu.-in., 165-hp V16 used an aluminum crankcase with cast-iron cylinder blocks and heads. It pioneered hydraulic valve-lash adjusters and had separate intake and exhaust systems. The V16 and its V12 spin-off didn't sell in great numbers, but they did help make Cadillac the undisputed "Standard of the World."

Cadillac helped pioneer no-draft ventilation in 1933, independent front suspension for 1934 and introduced the Turret Top for 1935. GM's all-steel roof quickly made fabric-top inserts obsolete.

In 1938, Cadillac developed a totally different V16. This was a flathead design with a 135° vee angle. But the big news that year was a smaller series, the 60-Special. This sleek sedan had a coupe trunk plus thin chrome side-window frames. It set the style throughout the industry--as did the 1941 Cadillac, with its "tombstone" egg-crate grille. The egg-crate continues as a Cadillac hallmark even today.
In 1940, Oldsmobile began offering GM's Hydra-matic automatic transmission, and Cadillac made it an option for 1941. Twin Cadillac flathead V8s and Hydra-matics powered M-24 tanks in World War II, and the Hydra-matic's reliability and robustness were greatly improved through lessons learned in combat duty.
After the war, the 1948 Cadillac kicked off America's passion for tail fins. And the next year, 1949, saw the introduction of the division's revolutionary overhead-valve V8. This compact, lightweight, high-compression, 331-cu.-in. 160-hp V8 set the pattern for the entire American auto industry. Cadillac led in styling, engineering and performance. Again, competitors rushed to catch up.

Cadillac helped pioneer another trend with the introduction of the 1949 Coupe de Ville. Cadillac didn't invent the pillarless "hardtop" coupe, but it and other GM divisions led in popularizing it.
Cadillac was now Detroit's undisputed luxury leader. Nothing came close in terms of prestige, quality, styling and technical innovation. In 1950, thanks to Briggs Cunningham and Bill Frick, a virtually stock Caddy coupe finished third at Le Mans. In 1953, the semicustom Eldorado convertible boasted a wraparound "panoramic" windshield, and in 1957 Cadillac released the stainless steel-topped Eldorado Brougham pillarless sedan, a car that rivaled Rolls-Royce in appointments and price ($13,075) but with much more style. It had air suspension and a tri-power V8.

Cadillac grew ever larger over time, culminating in the 500-cu.-in. V8 and the fwd Eldorado series of the late 1960s and '70s. In 1976, the downsized but luxurious Seville became an immediate success and once again changed America's styling direction toward the "sheer," folded-paper look.
The 1980s provided Cadillac with three major disappointments: the ill-fated V8-6-4 engine of 1981, the Cimarron J-Car also introduced in 1981, and the Allante convertible of 1986. The timing couldn't have been worse. For a decade or so, the American buying public saw European and Japanese vehicles as better built than domestic cars, and Cadillac's problems merely confirmed that view.
In the late 1980s, Mercedes-Benz, through a combination of good design, great quality and higher pricing, effectively knocked Cadillac out of its leadership position. If you saw a Cadillac in one driveway and a Mercedes next door, you had to conclude that the Mercedes buyer owned a more prestigious car, partly because he'd been willing to pay more for it.
But Cadillac began staging a comeback in the 1990s. The sleek Seville STS arrived for 1992, with the aluminum twin-cam Northstar V8 added for 1993. The division still isn't back in the dominant position it held throughout most of its history, but from all indications, it seems well on its way toward the top tier.