Cadillac is one of the most recognized and celebrated automobile brands in history, and it’s still going strong today. First established in 1902 and later acquired by General Motors in 1909, they have always been synonymous with concepts of luxury, performance and indulgence. As a company that has been around for so long, it also has well preserved historical archives that hold some fascinating facts and secrets about Cadillacs that you probably don’t know about. This article will help you learn more, while you can also view a series of pictures documenting some of the most beautiful Cadillacs of all time.
Cadillac is amongst the oldest automobile brands in the world. The brand was born from the near bankruptcy of the Detroit Automobile Company, which called upon Henry Martyn Leland to appraise the worth of the factory before closure. He instead showed the DAC bosses his innovative one cylinder engine, and they quickly changed their minds about the closure. Cadillac’s first car, simply titled Model A, was completed a few months later in early 1903.
The name ‘Cadillac’ is taken from French Army Officer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, who founded the town of Ville d’Etroit (what is now modern day Detroit) in 1701. Company bosses are understood to have made the decision over the name fairly flippantly, surmising ‘why not him?’. The famous brand logo is also based on Officer Cadillac’s Coat of Arms.
One of the most famous Cadillac fans of all time was notorious gangester Al Capone, who owned more than one Cadillac prior to his eventual incarceration in Alcatraz. His 1928 sedan was modified to be bulletproof, giving him protection from rival gangs. He also owned a1929 version, which was his favourite getaway car and had bullet holes in it by way of evidence. Paramount Pictures later bought the car and used it in a number of gangster films.
Cadillac’s slogan ‘The Standard of the World’ was a reference to the high level engineering behind its design. It was not arrogant phrasing either, the design and manufacture of Cadillacs set standards that were copied the world over. Most impressively, they created cars where all the precision components were completely interchangeable.
To prove that they could do this, engineers disassembled three Cadillacs and allowed independent judges to jumble up all the parts. They then put all three cars back together and took them on a 500 mile road trip! The engineers won the Dewar Trophy – considered a ‘Nobel Prize for cars’ – for their innovations, and they are credited with laying the foundations for what was to become modern mass car production.
The 1950s Cadillac bumpers (as seen in the Series 62 model below) with their artillery shaped, protruding grill assemblies made an appearance on a number of models in the post-War period. They were known generally as ‘Dagmar Bumpers’, named after the 1950s female TV personality Dagmar (real name Virginia Ruth Egnor) who was well known for her ample, prominent cleavage. The association made between the bumper and Dagmar doesn’t need much in the way of further explanation!
The Eldorado is one of the best known variations of Cadillac and has become iconic in its own right. This is in spite of the fact that one of the most famous Eldorado models – the Biarritz (as seen above) – was a notorious exercise in decadence that was over-the-top in pretty much every element of its design. It had a huge tail, massive fins, ridiculous amounts of chrome, half-hidden rear wheels and barely practical dimensions. It was also a gas guzzler, and entirely uneconomical. Of course, people loved it and there are few more iconic cars in history – especially the pink variety that is perhaps the most famous Cadillac of all. Later Eldorado models tended to be suitably grand, but less garish.
Cadillac engineers were responsible for the invention of the electric starter motor in 1912. This meant that drivers no longer had to turn their crank shaft to start their vehicle. This was a relief to many as the crank shaft could be notoriously volatile. In fact, the term ‘cranky’ entered general vocabulary because of the bad mood drivers would often be in after trying to start their cars. The electric motor first appeared on the Model 30 in 1912.
The electric starter motor wasn’t the only innovation developed by Cadillac – there were many, many others. They were the first manufacturer to mass produce cars with enclosed cabins, something they had achieved by 1910. The counterbalanced crankshaft was also the brainchild of Cadillac designers, giving the driver and passengers a much smoother ride. Cadillacs were also the first cars to be equipped with electric lights, as well as the high-beams or ‘brights’ that we all know and recognize today. The company also introduced the curved windshield after world war II.
By 1964, the temperature inside a Cadillac was controlled by a thermostat – ensuring it was the first automobile brand to introduce a form of climate control into the cabin of their vehicles. Cadillacs were also the first cars to come equipped with airbags, a feature that is of course considered standard in today’s market.
Cadillac was the first company to hire an Automotive stylist, with a specific remit to ensure the car looked great. His name was Harley Earl and he has gone down in history as one of the great automobile designers of any era. It was Earl who designed one of Cadillac’s best loved models – the LaSalle – and he also built the first one-piece, steel roof that was to become the Turret Top, which was to epitomize luxury car aesthetics throughout much of the pre-WWII period.
Cadillac has produced numerous concept cars over the years, including the 1989 Solitaire seen below. The Solitaire was designed for speed, and even when stood still, it was meant to look a ‘blur’. Other notable concepts include the Cyclone (1959), which featured bizarre jet-inspired tail fins that were considered to be one of the most modern innovations in car design at the time.
Cadillac’s innovations have continued into the 21st century. The Cadillac Deville (2000) was the first car to introduce night-vision to help drivers navigate in the dark. The system used infrared radiation picked up by a sensor mounted behind the vehicle’s grille to feed images to a computer mounted on the dashboard. The feature was, however, discontinued in 2004.