Saturday, January 8, 2022


Could this be true? Yes, and Cadillac displayed this attention to quality and durability shortly after its founding in August 1902.

The first Cadillac, designed by Henry Leland (right), and using his own single cylinder engine, left the factory on October 17, 1902. It was a mechanical masterpiece, a precision work of engineering built to unprecedented tolerances. 

Leland had perfected his inclination for thousandths-of-an-inch accuracy working in the late 19th century firearms industry. He had started as a machinist with the Colt’s Fire Arms Manufacturing Company in Hartford, Connecticut. It was there that he honed his skills for the mass production of interchangeable parts, and learned assembly line manufacturing.


Cadillac became the best built automobile in America, and in 1908 the company was awarded the coveted British Dewar Trophy for Engineering Excellence.

The Dewar Trophy was a cup donated in the early years of the twentieth century by Sir Thomas R. Dewar, M.P. (a member of the parliament of the United Kingdom).

It was to be awarded each year by the Royal Automobile Club (R. A .C.) of the United Kingdom "to the motor car which should successfully complete the most meritorious performance or test furthering the interests and advancement of the [automobile] industry".


On Saturday, 29 February 1908, three Model Ks from the 1907 Cadillac production were released from the stock of the Anglo-American Motorcar Company, the UK agent for Cadillac automobiles, at the Heddon Street showroom in London (these were engines Nos. 23391, 24111 and 24118).

The three cars, all registered in London under the numbers A2EO, A3EO and A4EO, were driven 25 miles to the Brooklands race track at Weybridge.

There, the cars completed ten laps of the track, or roughly 30 miles, before being locked away until Monday, 2 March 1908, when they were released and disassembled completely, using only wrenches, screwdrivers, hammers, and pliers.


Each car was reduced to a pile of 721 component parts, which were then scrambled into one heap by the RAC. Eighty-nine parts requiring extreme accuracy were withdrawn from the heap, locked away at the Brooklands club house and replaced with new parts from Anglo-American's showroom stock.


The parts were then sorted into three piles, each with all the parts needed to assemble a car. A mechanic - Mr. E. O. Young - reassembled the first two cars with the help of his assistant - Mr. M. M. Gardner. Sometimes they had to work ankle-deep in water, using only wrenches and screwdrivers.


The third car was re-assembled by Thursday morning, 12 March. With the painted parts on the original cars not being identical in colour or style, the reassembled cars were mismatched in appearance, gaining the nickname "harlequin cars".


By 2 p.m. on Friday 13 March, the three cars had completed the mandatory 500-mile run with singular regularity.  Only one point was lost owing to a broken cotter pin on the ignition lever (promptly replaced from stock).


During the event, it was reported that one of the sheds where the parts were stored became partly flooded during a heavy storm, and some parts became rusted. Only oily rags could be used to remove all traces of the immersion.


On completion of the test, one of the cars was locked away until the start of the 2000-mile reliability trials in June 1908.  It won the R.A.C. Trophy for its class.  Parts interchangeability had been publicly demonstrated and intensively field-tested.


From 1909 Cadillac adapted the badge on its cars to read ‘Cadillac – Standard of The World’ – a boast which Cadillac could appropriately lay claim to, based on winning The Dewar Trophy. In fact, Cadillac won The Dewar Trophy a second time, in 1912, for its development of the electric starter motor and electric lights.

General Motors owned a brand which could rightly claim to be America's answer to the Rolls-Royce, but since the mid-60s, GM has frittered away the status and image of the Cadillac brand, lumping it in with its assortment of other brands - Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick.

Rather than set the brand on a pedestal as its 'hero' marque, Cadillac was forced to fight for funding and investment along with its lesser siblings.

Despite heroic attempts to revive Cadillac's formidable reputation it remains 'just one of the brands' - although GM stalwarts like Mark Reuss, Michael Simcoe and Bob Lutz have played a huge part in attempting its reformation to a position of greatness.

Cadillac's latest achievement ordains a 'new order' in its product offerings - the impressive Lyriq EV.

Be sure to read my next feature on the background and engineering excellence represented by the 2003 Cadillac Sixteen. It's a concept which should have been taken more seriously by the suits at GM.

John Crawford

 (Source - Wikipedia)

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