All Photos courtesy of the manufacturer
The Standard of the World really was an automotive pioneer.
Cadillac has had its ups and downs over its 118-year history, though most of us living in modern times mostly remember the downs. In truth, Cadillac was a leader and a trendsetter in many different automotive technologies. Here are some of the most intriguing innovations found on classic Cadillacs.
1903: Cadillac Model A: Interchangable Pistons
From the very beginning of the company, chief engineer Henry Leland insisted on precision. He designed a set of "Go/Not Go" limit gauges to quickly check parts for tolerance. At the time, pistons and cylinders were machined, measured and matched; over at Cadillac, all were checked with limit gauges and those that were out of spec were either re-machined or scrapped—the idea being that if a Cadillac owner had to replace a part, it was guaranteed to fit. These tighter tolerances also reduced problems such as cylinder blow-by and allowed the engines to be tuned for more power.
Cadillac proved the superiority of standardization in 1908. From eight cars shipped to London, England, three were randomly selected by the Royal Automotive Club (RAC), run ten laps and Brooklands, then disassembled down to the nut-and-bolt level and their parts mixed up. RAC then replaced 89 parts with new spares. With no way to distinguish which parts came from which car, three Cadillacs were reconstructed. All ran flawlessly (though the third car did require two turns of the crank to start) and ran 500 miles around Brooklands at full throttle with no problems. One car was locked away until the spring, when it completed the RAC's 2,000-mile trial. As a result, the Cadillac Model A became the first foreign car to win the RAC's coveted Dewar Trophy for "the motor car which should successfully complete the most meritorious performance or test furthering the interests and advancement of the industry".
1909-1913 Cadillac Model 30: Distributors, Lights, Self-Starters -- And A Roof
The Cadillac Model Thirty (as well as Henry Leland's experimental 1905 Osceola) is often incorrectly credited as the industry's first fully enclosed car. In fact, Louis Renault's 1899 Voiturette Type B was the first car to protect its occupants from the weather, while the 1910 Cadillac Model Thirty was the first American car to offer a closed body from the factory. But the Model Thirty had a much more impactful innovation: Charles Kettering's electric self-starter.
At the time, cars had to be cranked by hand, an exceptionally dangerous endeavor that frequently resulted in severe injury and even death. Using principles he developed for NCR's electric cash register, Kettering figured out how a small motor could be temporarily overloaded to provide the torque necessary to start an engine. His invention made its debut on the 1911 Cadillac. The electric starter is often seen as the final nail in the electric car's coffin, as battery cars were still popular with wealthy urban women eager to avoid the rigors of cranking an engine. By 1916, nearly all automobiles, with the notable exception of Ford's Model T, offered an electric starter.
Self-starting wasn't the Thirty's only innovation: Kettering developed a complete electrical system with a generator, lights, and a coil-and-distributor ignition for the 1910 Thirty (though the traditional engine-driven magneto was retained as a backup). The Delco ignition would remain an industry standard for nearly a century, and, together with the electric starter, resulted in Cadillac once again winning the Dewar Trophy in 1912.