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Cadillac Model 30

Cadillac Model 30

By Jack Nerad

Cadillac Model 30 Ironically, the origins of Cadillac, the pre-eminent division of General Motors, revolve around the man who would become General Motors greatest rival. Even today, the Cadillac's official history intentionally keeps the connection murky, but the fact is that the first Cadillac was designed by none other than Henry Ford. The story is all part of the confusing maze of deals, incorporations and reorganizations that were part and parcel of the dawn of the American automobile industry.

By 1899 Ford, then chief engineer of the Detroit Edison Company, had proved his mettle as an automotive pioneer. In 1893 he had built his first internal combustion engine (and tested it on the kitchen counter of his Detroit home), and three years later he and his "Quadricycle," powered by another of his engines, were a common sight tooling around the outskirts of the city. After an 1899 article in the Detroit Journal, Ford's work came to the attention of Detroit mayor William C. Maybury, who, in turn, enlisted the financial aid of William H. Murphy to create the Detroit Automobile Company with Ford as its chief designer and superintendent.

The new company decided to offer a commercial van as its first product, and Ford helped engineer the bus-like conveyance, but then disagreements erupted between the principals. Ford wanted to build a racing car to help publicize the company, but the business people considered that a frivolous idea. Finally, all involved decided to go their separate ways, and, by the end of 1900 the Detroit Automobile Company was moribund, despite having built a prototype of the commercial vehicle and a prototype two-seat runabout.

Ford decided to go racing on his own, and on October 10, 1901 he defeated Alexander Winton, then the pre-eminent American auto manufacturer, in a 10-mile race at Grosse Point, Michigan. Ford's 26-horsepower two-cylinder machine put him on the leading edge of automotive technology and led directly to the creation of The Henry Ford Company, which, strangely enough, was the immediate precursor of Cadillac.

While Ford's racing victory led to the creation of the company, his investors again balked when he suggested that racing efforts continue. If that weren't enough, what really got Ford's goat was the hiring of Henry Leland as a consultant to the company as a hedge against Ford's departure. Ford certainly respected Leland's mechanical credentials, but the two men had vastly different views about the future of the automobile industry.

In early 1902 Ford had had enough and called it quits, taking a princely $900 settlement and his name with him as he left. Later that year, he would go on to found what would quickly become the Ford Motor Company, the manufacturing concern that is still with us today, with the financial backing of Detroit coal dealer Alexander Y. Malcomson.

With Ford out of the way, Leland was appointed chief engineer of what was formerly The Henry Ford Company, renamed Cadillac in honor of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the founder of Detroit. Leland had impeccable credentials for the job. Early in his career he was a key employee of Samuel Colt, the weapons maker who developed the concept of interchangeable parts, the concept that made mass manufacturing possible.

His work with Colt turned Leland into a fanatic for precision design and manufacture. This stood him in good stead when he founded his own machine works, Leland and Faulconer, in the late 1800's. This firm was a key supplier to Ransom E. Olds' automobile manufacturing company, delivering engines for the Curved Dash Oldsmobile.

Despite Leland's presence and Henry Ford's absence, the first Cadillac bore unmistakable signs of Ford's influence. It was a single-cylinder machine with a two-speed planetary transmission, virtually a dead ringer for the Ford Model A, the initial offering from Ford Motor Company.

Completed on October 17, 1902, the 10-horsepower Cadillac made its debut at the New York Auto Show and proved an immediate success.

With a price of $750, the two-seat runabout was certainly no luxury machine. But even at that low price, one sign of Leland's innovation was the use of "split-core" fasteners that locked nuts on their threads without the need for lock washers.

Leland wasted little time in moving his small manufacturing company "up market," which was where most of the smart money thought success in the auto business resided. In 1905 Cadillac introduced the Model K, a four-cylinder, 30-horsepower vehicle with a top speed of 50 miles per hour.

In an era when many cars failed to start nearly as often as they started, this car was built to an uncommonly high quality standard, thanks to the tireless efforts of Henry Leland. To prove his car's mettle Leland sent it off to England to compete for the coveted Dewar Trophy administered by the Royal Auto Club.

Three Cadillac Model K's were driven through the streets of London, driven on an RAC-sanctioned test track and then disassembled. Parts from all three cars were mixed randomly, and then three complete Model Ks were re-built from the mish-mash of parts. When they were re-assembled, two of the Cadillacs started on the first turn of the crank, while the third required two twists of the handle before it lit off. This unheard-of engineering precision won Cadillac the Dewar Trophy.

Henry Leland was certainly responsible for Cadillac's first Dewar Trophy, but the marque's second Dewar, which came in 1912, was largely the work of another engineering giant, Charles Kettering. A great deal happened in the interim. The most important event was the purchase of Cadillac by William Crapo Durant as one of the key building blocks of the budding General Motors.

With Cadillac under his wing, Durant was ready to pull out all the stops necessary to make the company the pre-eminent American luxury brand. One way to do this was to retain the engineering a manufacturing excellence that had been insisted on by Henry Leland. Another way was to continue to introduce technical innovations.

Charles Kettering gave Durant the biggest innovation in his career, and, arguably, in the history of the automobile, with U.S. Patents 1,150,523 and 1,171,055 Ñ the electric engine starter and the electric starting, lighting and ignition system. Without his inventions, the automobile as we know it would just not exist.

Kettering took a roundabout route to the automobile business. In 1909 the Ohio native left the National Cash Register Company to found his own business, Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, which has come to be known as Delco. One of his first brainstorms was to develop the electric starting and ignition systems that are the basis of what we still use today. Others had tried before him, but he succeeded where others failed by realizing that the starter motor had to crank out a jolt of power for a very brief period, rather than producing power over a long period like most electric motors. Using this concept, he developed the battery-powered starter motor and rid all of us of the onerous and dangerous need to spin a crank to start our cars.

With its tradition of innovation, the Cadillac Model 30, the successor to the Model K, was the first production car to offer the Delco system. Equipped with a generator, storage battery, electric lights and battery ignition, the 1912 Cadillac Model 30 was the precursor of the modern automobile.

On its 115-inch wheelbase, it carried a choice of open or closed bodies. (Cadillac became the first manufacturer to offer closed bodies as standard equipment in 1910.) Its 4.7-liter L-head four-cylinder engine developed 40 horsepower. With a beefy frame and artillery-style wooden wheels, the imposing Model 30 was 89 inches tall and weighed 3,500 pounds.

It, too, won a Dewar Trophy, making Cadillac the only automobile manufacturer ever to win two. In addition, the Royal Auto Club bestowed on Cadillac the slogan that it uses to this day Ñ "The Standard of the World."


Autoswalk.com has partnered with Studio One Networks to provide you with the history of the world's greatest cars. All of the pictures and information are copyright of Studio One Networks and Autoswalk.com, and are brought to you by Jack Nerad for Driving Today.

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