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Cadillac   Part 2: 1914:1925

By John Bentley

Revised by Jeremy Wilson

Pioneer of the mass-produced V-8 engine, this car was a prizewinner from the start.

With the advent of the V-8 Cadillac, first introduced in October 1914, this romantic sounding automobile came to represent not only the yard­stick by which the accuracy of American manufac­turing methods were gauged in the automotive industry, but also became the symbol of smooth and luxurious travel. The 90° V-8 engine was not in itself new; many automobile manufacturers had tried it before, but none had put into their designs the care, forethought and exactitude of detail felt necessary by Cadillac engineers. Hence, no V-8 had, until then, turned out a practical success in quantity manufacture. Already the Cadillac (which derived its name from an adventurous Frenchman, the Sieur de la Mothe Cadillac, founder of Detroit), had twice won the important British Dewar prize: for inter-changeability of parts in 1908 and for “the greatest advance in automobile construction” (the introduc­tion of the electric starter as standard equipment) in 1912.

Now, from 1915 on, when production of the new V-8 got into its stride, the basic design, measure­ments and capacity of this famous engine remained unchanged for the next 12 years.

Production for 1915 of “The Sweetest Running Car in the World” topped 13,000 units, delivered in six body styles, of which the Type 51 Limousine was the most popular. One outstandingly pleasant feature of this car was the use of “backed off gears” that eliminated the “clashing of sharp-edged teeth” in the three-speed transmission.

From this period until 1925, Cadillac’s list of firsts grew into the most impressive of all such claims made for a production automobile. The Caddy was first to introduce a complete electrical system of cranking, lighting and ignition (1912); first to regu­late engine cooling by thermostatic means; first to manufacture a high-grade car in real quantity pro­duction (1915); first in the U.S. to develop the V-type, high-speed, high-efficiency power unit; first to introduce thermostatic control of engine carburetion (1922); first to build inherent balance in the V-8 (1923); first with a positive system of crankcase ventilation on a quantity-built car (1925).

By 1916, Cadillac standards required that more than 20,000 clearances be accurate to within one-thousandth of an inch; over 30,000 tolerances meet the limits of two-thousandths of an inch; some 600 operations produce tolerances of only a quarter to a half-thousandth inch. There was hardly a part of the car but was subjected to the precision standards of high-grade watch making.

In July 1917, the Army, needing a dependable staff car, decided on the Cadillac Type 55 Touring Model after exhaustive tests on the Mexican border. Several Cadil­lacs, used as guinea pigs, came through with flying colors, and as a result some 2,350 units of the Model 55 were supplied for use in France by officers of the Ameri­can Expeditionary Force during World War I. Not one mechanical change was found necessary, the only departure from standard being a coat of khaki-brown paint.

Further war contributions by Cadillac included the manufacture of Liberty air­plane engines and of 1,157 V-8 Artillery tractor power units. In addition, 1,200 of the firm’s employees donned uniform.

It was in 1917, too, that Henry M. Leland, designer of the first Cadillac and founder of the company’s fortunes, resigned from presidency of the Division. He continued active, however, in business and civic affairs until his death in 1932 at the ripe age of eighty-one.

The following year, Cadillac’s new Type 57 model found a record 20,285 customers, this in spite of war commitments and ma­terial shortages.

Sales for 1920--a healthy 19,628 units of the Type 59 Cadillac--were only slightly less; but 1921 saw a distinct production slump to only 5,250 cars. This was not caused by any tapering off in public de­mand, but resulted solely from the concen­tration of all available effort into preparing for manufacture the new Cadillac plant on Clark Avenue, Detroit, regarded at the time of its completion as the world’s most modern industrial plant. As proof of this, the company expanded its retail outlets by opening branches in Detroit and Chicago, in preparation for the 1922 output.

Four-wheel brakes appeared for the first time on the 1924 Type 63 Cadillac, but the company’s greatest improvement that year was the introduction of the compensated crankshaft that completely eliminated vi­bration throughout the engine’s speed range.

The wide selection of Duco exterior finishes pioneered as standard equipment on 1924 Cadillacs proved very popular, as did the introduction of two-tone bodywork which was soon copied by others. In turn this evoked a public demand for bright and bizarre color schemes which quickly grew into a stampede.

The industry in general had already-taken on some 800 colors and Fisher Bodies, which supplied Cadillac coachwork, was now faced with the serious task of simplifying color combinations made pos­sible by the new pyroxilin finish.

This was done by an analysis of the spectrum which broke up the rainbow into its seven color phases--red, yellow, orange, green, blue, indigo and violet. And every one of these hues supplied a group of varying tints and shades.

By sorting out the “off colors,’’ several thousand possibilities were reduced to some 450, of which 150 definitely were unsuitable for use on automobiles. Incidentally, owing to demand by Cadillac and other passenger car Divisions of General Motors, the Fisher Body Corporation’s output jumped from 105,000 units in 1914 to over half a million bodies in 1924.

Probably the outstanding year of this decade for the Cadillac Motor Car Division was 1925, though not with specific reference to sales which were a little over 17,000 cars. The outstanding events were the introduction of the Model 314--a husky, luxurious auto­mobile from radiator to spare wheel--and the decision to launch a five million dollar expansion program designed to cope with the ever-increasing demand for the unique Cadillac products in which dependability rated before dollars and price was subordinated to the ideal of a constant striving for perfection.
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