Known for luxury, Cadillac was started with humble beginnings as a single-cylinder car selling for around $750 in 1903. Creator Henry Leland, formerly associated with Henry Ford and a builder of Oldsmobile engines, had convinced two of Ford’s financial backers to continue in business and reform the Henry Ford Motor Company. On August 22, 1902, the company reformed as the Cadillac Automobile Company. By 1906, a 30hp 4-cylinder car with separate cylinders and copper water jackets was produced. The success of Cadillac did not go unnoticed, and was quickly purchased by General Motors in 1909 by W.C. Durant. Cadillac has become General Motor’s “prestige division” with the production of large luxury vehicles as well as institutional vehicles such as limousines, ambulances and hearses.
Throughout the early years, the mark of Cadillac’s success came with the first left-hand drive Cadillac of 1915 which was the company’s first V8. It had a 5.1 liter engine and sold for $2,700. Within the first year of production 13,000 were sold and they became widely used by the US Army in World War I. By 1927, Cadillac was selling up to 47,000 vehicles and introduced the La Salle. The La Salle, which remained in production until 1940, was designed by renowned automobile stylist Harley Earl whom Cadillac had hired in 1926. By 1929, the synchromesh gearbox made its debut and by 1930 the V-16 was produced with a wheelbase of 12 feet 4 inches and a price tag ranging from $6,000 to $9,000. The 7.4 liter V-16 was joined in 1931 by the 6 liter V-12 but both were soon dropped in favor of the side-valve short stroke 16 cylinder models in 1940.
After World War II, Cadillac soon became the international symbol of wealth and surpassed its competitors. Sales climbed from 66,000 in 1941 to 103,857 in 1950 and to 165,959 by 1964. The ever famous tailfins made their debut in 1948 on the fastback coupe and in 1949 Cadillac adopted overhead valves and over square cylinder dimensions on its 5.4 liter engine. The tailfin craze was carried over on the 1959 Cadillac and is one of the most recognizable on any production automobile. Cadillac’s other distinctive styling attribute, along with Lincoln, was the fashion of four headlights which later became universal in the US.
In the late 1970s through 1980s, Cadillac had to downsize their models, which was not uncommon for automakers with the suffering of sales due to new government mandates on safety, emissions and the fuel crisis. With the new regulations, came the introduction of the Cadillac Seville in 1976 equipped with the first electronic fuel injection system. The engine provided good performance and fuel economy. Also affected were the De Ville and Fleetwood lines along with the Eldorado which were downsized and categorized into the compact-car class where Cadillac began to see a shrinkage in sales. However, today they still compete with high-end luxury cars and have continued to be a success for General Motors.
Cadillac has continually strived for precision engineering and stylish luxury making their vehicles to be ranked among the world’s finest and highly sought after automobiles ever made.