IF YOUR GREAT, GRANDFATHER
ACHIEVED SOME DEGREE of affluence during the Roaring Twenties, chances are he
owned a Cadillac. And if his father was part of the horseless carriage set at the dawning
of the twentieth-century, he may very well have had a Cadillac.
1904 Cadillac Touring Car
Back in 1902, Cadillac moved from IPO mode to
the nation's second largest purveyor of automobiles in just three years. Those
introductory one-cylinder jobs were the first automobiles in the world to be manufactured
using fully interchangeable parts - a major innovation in its time. Only a dozen years
later, Cadillacs were powered by the world's first standard production V-8 engine, and
equipped with self-starters, modern electrical systems, and optional closed-bodies. All
were exclusive Cadillac innovations.
1912 Cadillac Speedster outfitted for roadracing
If your great, great, grandfather was living
in California back in the nineteen-oughts, he probably watched four-cylinder Cadillac
speedsters tearing through the countryside in those much ballyhooed city to city runs that
often headlined the sports pages from 1905 into the WW1 era. Locally, team-Cadillac race
drivers, running under the Don Lee banner (Don Lee was California's first and only
Cadillac distributor), were as famous as Barney Oldfield - who they often competed
against. Multiple Cadillacs regularly finished in the top five. Naturally, victory on the
road racing and speedway circuit translated to enormous success in the showroom.
Cadillac and California were made for each
other. Year-around motoring weather coupled with scenic attractions radiating in all
directions led to extensive road building early on. Don Lee was among those who played a
leadership roll in promoting State highway construction. By 1916 the roads in Southern
California were being touted as the most advanced in the nation. From the sportsminded
millionaires who wintered here at the turn of the century, to the subsequent flow of
wealthy tourists who came to see the sights and ended up staying, Cadillac was the
Southland's foremost luxury car. From the very beginning, an estimated ten percent of
Cadillac production was allocated to California. Don Lee provided sales and service
through a statewide network of urban master dealerships, with sub-dealers handling the
suburban and rural areas.
1931 Cadillac V-16 All-Weather Phaeton
When, in the 1920s, the good times really
started to roll, Cadillac outsold all of its luxury class competitors combined. An all-new
Detroit factory produced more luxury class eight-cylinder motorcars then Packard, Lincoln,
Stutz, Pierce Arrow, Peerless, Cunningham, DuPont, and Marmon combined.
1938 Cadillac Sixty-Special
If your forefathers lived in the East, especially in a big
city, they saw plenty of Cadillacs. The moneyed elite in major metropolitan areas
regularly purchased half the Cadillacs produced. Another 25 percent went to cities with
populations over 250,000. Next time you're watching a TV documentary about the 1920's, and
an archival New York or Chicago street scene pops up on the screen, you'll probably see an
open-front Fleetwood towncar go by, with perhaps one or two less ostentatious Cadillac
models in the background.
1941 Cadillac Convertible
Why was Cadillac so successful? Because its
engineering, quality and craftsmanship were consistently superior, and it pioneered the
V-8 engine. For the last 85 years, GM's luxury marque (Cadillac became part of GM in 1909)
has affirmed and reaffirmed its position as the world's preeminent designer and builder of
V-type motors. From that first V-8 in 1915, to the overhead of 1949, through the Northstar
of today, Cadillac has continuously manufactured V-8 powerplants. No other luxury badge
can match this record. (Packard never got aV-8 until the 50's-Rolls Royce and Mercedes
waited until the 1960s.) And let's not forget the V-16s and V-12s that powered Cadillac's
super-cars for the super-rich. Nearly 3,000 V-16s were built in calendar 1930. Duesenberg,
by comparison, produced a little over 300 units during the l930s.
1947 Cadillac Sedanette
If your grandfather didn't own a Cadillac
during the economic boom that followed WW2, it's probably not because he didn't want one.
In those days Cadillac dominated the luxury field as no marque had ever done before. Each
new model year introduced irresistible styling and magical engineering advances. By 1952,
when GM's premier division marked its golden anniversary, Cadillac motor cars were widely
regarded as American cultural icons-steeped in tradition and mystique; and their appeal
crossed all social and economic lines. An unprecedented manifestation of all this was the
ubiquitous use of Cadillac brightwork and styling details (emblems, hubcaps, grilles,
taillights, etc.) on everything from Chevys and Fords to professional custom show cars.
Cadillac was America's postwar sweetheart.
1959 Cadillac, the ultimate fins
During those stylistically exciting
mid-century years, the Cadillac look progressed from the Deco-Streamlining of the Forties,
to the fabled fins of the Fifties, into the crisp space-age detailing of the Sixties. They
were large luxurious, unmistakably American automobiles with plebeian interiors, powerful
engines, and an amazing array of comfort and power features. The motoring public's
obsession with GM'S finest never faltered; year after year, the Division sold every car it
1961 Cadillac Coupe deVille
Well into the 1960s, Cadillac, although a
Division of General Motors, operated with a high level of autonomy. Not only were all cars
assembled at a single plant, but most principal driveline components (including engines)
were manufactured in-house. As a result, and as many collectors have discovered over the
years, Cadillacs were very well-built.
1966 Cadillac Convertible
During the 1980s and 90s, the Division went
through a period of adjustment as fuel shortages, government mandates, mounting imports,
labor unrest, and corporate restructuring washed through the auto industry Currently, as
Cadillac prepares to enter its second century, an aggressive effort to reformulate product
and merchandising is underway. It seems unlikely, however, that any single marque will
ever again dominate the upper echelons of the domestic car market the way Cadillac did for
much of the twentieth-century.
1970 Cadillac Eldorado
Collectable Cadillacs are rare. Typically the
Division accounted for less than two percent of GM's total passenger car output. Moreover,
survival rates for convertibles, coupes and limousines, the most collected body types, are
generally around five percent - higher for Eldorados, Broughams, Allantes and other
limited editions. Despite these limiting factors, Cadillac remains one of the most popular
collector cars in the world. Even in faraway places, with exorbitantly priced gasoline,
such as western Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, aging Detroit-built Cadillacs
are almost as popular as they are in the USA.
1978 Cadillac Eldorado
Fostered by the pervasiveness of American pop
culture, traditional Cadillac iconography can be found in every media, and in nearly every
global market. It seems that vintage Cadillacs, especially the Fifties models, are always
in vogue. American movies (80% of all movie revenues in Europe are generated by US films),
music, and television have saturated foreign markets for so long, it seems that many
Asians and Europeans, especially the younger generations, are mesmerized by anything that
is quintessentially American. For the moment at least, the compelling imagery associated
with veteran Cadillacs is as much a part of classical Americana as the Statue of Liberty.
Roy A. Schneider is the author of several books on
vintage Cadillacs and is a regular contributor to hobby publication.
Cadillacs in the accompanying photos belong to the members of the
Cadillac-LaSalle Club of Southern California.