A one-ounce package of any of the white powdered drugs. "Hello Sniffy, get me a cadillac of C (cocaine) from the pusher (narcotic seller)."

- american underworld dictionary - 1950
Cadillac A luxury automobile that, during the first few decades of its existence, had as its advertising slogan "Standard of the World." At the time, and through the mid-fifties, that slogan was the unalloyed truth. The marque fell on hard times in the early seventies, and the subsequent two decades saw the once-proud Cadillac crest applied to some truly shitty cars, and just a smattering of good ones.

The turnaround began in 1992, with the introduction of that year's Seville. Although build quality wasn't quite up to the standards set by Cadillac's German (and, more recently, Japanese) competitors, it was considerably better than previous models' and represented an important step in the right direction.

The current DeVille, especially in its high-tech DTS incarnation, competes on equal footing with similarly priced BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus sedans. The blanket condemnation often applied to Cadillac by misguided liberals and members of the financially challenged community speaks more about their ignorance and prejudices than of the quality of the car.

A History of the Cadillac Automobile Company


In August 1902 Henry Leland was approached by William Murphy and Lemuel W. Bowen who wanted to liquidate their Detroit Automobile Company (Which interestingly was once called the Henry Ford Company) with the request of having Leland look over their automobile plant and equipment and give an appraisal the items for sale. Shortly thereafter, Leland looked the plant over and as he was working on his appraisal, he suddenly thought that would be a time to apply his much improved, but rejected Oldsmobile engine.

Leland had some of his workmen remove his improved engine from his Oldsmobile and once he had it replaced with a standard one, tied his model to the back and drove off to Murphy and Bowen's office where the rest of the company's directors awated Leland's proposition. There, Henry Leland managed to win the approval of the firm and on August 22nd, 1902, the Cadillac Automobile Club was formed. The ubiquious crest was adopted shortly after the company was established, and became copyrighted a little less than 4 years later.

On October 17th the first Cadillac, a Model A was completed and was put on display at the New York Automobile Show in January, 1903. The Cadillac was an immediate success, for its first year, production always felt short of sales. This production hampering was caused by several issues, including cars returing for repairs (There were no service stations at the time). In light of this Henry Leland was forced by the managment to take the reins of the company and it resulted in a massive reorginzation, and completely new car designs that helped keep the company afloat.

"Standard of the World"

In early 1908 the Royal Automobile Club of England (RAC) put up a challenge to car makers for the Dewar Trophy, the Nobel Prize of auto makers at the time. Prove all your car parts are interchangable. Amazingly, only Cadillac accepted the challenge.

In February of that year, 3 Cadillacs were shipped to England for the RAC. The cars were dissassembled, their parts switched around and put back together. The cars were then sent on a 500 mile run, all 3 Cadillacs worked without a hitch, and Cadillac got its 1st Dewar Trophy.

Shortly after Cadillac began producuton of their model "Thirty," in 1908, the company was approached by William C. Drant with a proposition, for $3.5 million, to buy Cadillac into the conglomerate of General Motors. After 2 rejections by Durant, the Lelands agreed to sell the company...for almost twice as much as was orginally negotiated. Interestingly, although Durant now owned Cadillac, he wanted the Lelands to run it, giving them full rein to do whatever they wished to do with their former company.

In 1912 Cadillac introduced another one of many its firsts in automotives, the electric self-starter. Designed by Delco (Now: AC Delco), it was the primary reason that Cadillac was awarded another Dewar Trophy in 1913, the only car company to ever do so. With this reputation behind them, Cadillac begain to advertise themselves with the slogan, "Standard of the World."

Following World War I, the Lelands had left over internal conflicts with Durant (Although there had always been a friction between Durant and Henry Leland, the direct cause was Durant's refusal to build aircraft engines for the war effort), shortly thereafter, Lincoln Motor Car Company was founded by the Lelands, and was eventally bought up by Ford Motor Company after running into financial difficulties.

The Golden Years

The post-war years of World War I were among the most profitible for Cadillac. Proof of that is the completion in 1921 of what at the time was said to be the most modern car factory in the world.

It was also during the 20 some-odd-years of peace, Cadillac made great strides in auto technology. Among them was the Syncro-Mesh. The world's first automatic transmission, patented in 1922 was developed by Earl A. Thompson and were first produced in August 1928. The first V-16 was also developed by Cadillac, throughout the 1920s and 1930s Cadillac sold V-8, V-16, and V-12 engines.

Another significant achivement, and one of the most important advances in body refinishing for cars was the nitrocellulose laquers. Pioneered and developed by Cadillac's Kettering with DuPont in 1924. The greatly reduced paint drying times allowed a choice of colors that had never been possible before. Cadillac also led the way for being the first car company to sell a totally constructed luxury car, instead of having to go to a coachbuilder to have a body built for the car's chassis.

Alas, all of this was to come to yet another abrupt pause with the outbreak of World War II in 1941.

Cadillac Goes to War

In February 1942 peacetime production was halted and a little over a month later, the first M-5 light tank rolled off the assembly line. During the 3 years of war, Cadillac was able to enhance the tanks with some interesting features, 2 of these ehancement were the integration into the tanks of the Hydra-Matic (An improved automatic transmission), and the Cadillac V-8 engine.

Cadillac also developed many high-powered, and efficent aircraft engines during that time. One was the V-1710 which was the first engine that passed the U.S. Air Force's tests at 1,000 horsepower.

On August 24th, the last tank, a M-24 rolled off the assembly line at the company's plant. About 2 months later on October 17th, the first post-war car rolled off the assembly line.

Americana, Fins, and the Oil Crisis of 1974

Things that might remind people of post-war America are Levytown, Elvis, and perhaps the most enduring, the famous tailight fins first incorporated into Cadillacs in 1948. Even through the 1980s, hints of the fins still persisted.

Fins however, were not what made Cadillac the largest and most productive car company in the years after the war. Car makers from around the world wanted and bought Cadillac engines and transmissions.

In 1949, Cadillac released the Coupe DeVille (Coupled with the first modern high-compression overhead-valve V8), shortly followed by the Sedan DeVille. Then, in 1953, Cadillac unleashed its famed Eldorado originally developed to celebrate 50 years of Cadillac production, and had several breakthroughs including cruise control. Only 532 were ever sold.

Throught the 1950s and 1960s Cadillac continued unchallenged as the word in luxury. Also produced was the fabled and rare Cadillac Eldorado Brougham that was produced from 1957 to 1960 in which only 904 units were produced (Today, 456 still exist).

In 1974, the Iranian Hostage Crisis and the subsequent oil embargo on the United States. This led to a massive influx of low-cost, fuel efficent Japanese imports that have since dominated the American car market. Many American car makers felt little or no threat from these newcomers, and brusshed them off as a fad. To the surprise of the car industry, the Japanese cars slowly took over. In desperation, Cadillac released the truly awful, Cimmaron.

Intended as a budget, fuel-efficent version of a Cadillac, the Cimmaron was released in 1982 to less than sterling reviews. Seven years later it was pulled off the market, and is known for its never-ending flow of engine problems.


After more than almost 2 decades of bad cars and a slow loss in the luxury car market. In the late 1980s Cadillac appeared to be making a hard try to regain its lost title as "Standard of the World," despite some set backs in the early 1990s with the slow-to-catch-on Catera and the end of the Coupe DeVille in 1993. Cadillac seems to be making much progress and today, despite a lingering public distrust the result of such cars as the Cimmaron, Cadillacs have been rated as equals to similarly priced Mercedes-Benzes, and BMWs. More progress was made with the development of world-renound, STS Northstar system.


Hendry, Maurice. Cadillac - Standard of the World - The Complete 75 Year History. Princeton: Princeton Publishing Inc., 1973.

Ca*dil"lac (?), n. [Prob. from Cadillac, a French town.]

A large pear, shaped like a flattened top, used chiefly for cooking.


<-- 2. metaphor for the best -->


© Webster 1913.

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