What might be a revelation to even the most avid automotive enthusiast, the father of the Model T, Henry Ford, was also the father of the first Cadillac vehicle.
In 1902 the Henry Ford Company reorganized as the Cadillac, in honor of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, who was the founder of Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit. The newly configured company was a result from the reorganization of the Detroit Automobile Company, Henry’s first unsuccessful attempt at automobile manufacture a year before. However, shortly thereafter, Ford left his own company following a dispute with his financial backers. It was said that Ford was more interested in a car’s speed than in its practicality and endurance. In the settlement he left with his name and $900 to start the Ford Motor Company in 1903.
Without Ford’s leadership his former investors soon found the auto business a tough row to hoe, so they thought it wise to cut their losses. With that they brought in machinist Henry M Leland to appraise the assets prior to liquidation. However instead, Leland persuaded the investors that there was a future in the horseless carriage. Leland’s idea was to combine Ford’s latest chassis (frame) with a reliable single-cylinder engine; in fact one that his tool and die manufacturing business, Leland and Faulconer Manufacturing Company, had developed for Ransom Eli Olds, for his “Merry” Oldsmobile curved dash runabout. R. E. had rejected the engine over the high tooling costs it presented.
Cadillac’s first car under this new leadership was completed on October 17, 1902, which was based on Henry Ford’s design. Except for the 10-horsepower engine, which was designed by Leland & Faulconer), the 1902 Cadillac was virtually identical to Ford’s 1903 Model A. (Note: 1908 would be the first year for the iconic Model T; the Model A would return, in name only, in 1928.)
The first Cadillac model was a Runabout with or without a tonneau, and offered additional seating. The single-cylinder car, retrospectively called the Model A, was advertised at just 6-½ horsepower but actually produced nearly twice that from its 98 cubic inch motor. By the end of 1903, approximately 2,500 cars had been built. The Model A performed exceptionally well in hillclimbs and reliability trials, gaining wide acclaim.
Henry Leland took the role of Chairman at Cadillac in 1904, with his son Wilfred by his side as treasurer.
By 1909, William C. Durant, brought in Buick and Oldsmobile to form the baseline for the General Motors Corporation he founded the previous year. He then managed to convince Henry Leland’s son, Wilfred, that Cadillac should join the fold in return for $4.5 million in GM stock. Once the deal was done, the Lelands were retained in their management positions, overseeing automotive production.
With Charles Kettering, Leland developed a self-starter for the Cadillac, resulting in the company winning its second Dewar Trophy in 1913. Leland prodded Kettering to design a workable electric starter after a close friend was hit in the head and killed by a starting crank when the engine backfired.
Leland remained with GM until 1917, leaving in a dispute with Durant over producing materiel during World War I. Cadillac had been asked to build Liberty aircraft engines but Durant was a pacifist.
As a more localized note for the area where I’m based, a young newspaper man who later became the legendary owner/ publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Amon G, Carter, owned the 1902/3 Cadillac which he used on the route as an ad salesman. it was formerly part of the Amon Carter collection, prior to joining the Pate Museum of Transportation. It was fitted with the distinctive rear-entry tonneau coachwork and featured a maroon lacquer finish, while black fenders and body accents, as well as cream pin striping, add period flair. Passenger accommodations include black button-tufted upholstery and black carpeting, while red wood-spoke wheels, “No Skid” tires and brass lamps add further appeal.
This said vehicle is now in the ownership of Robert ‘Bob’ Simpson, who in 2010 bought the old 1920s Star-Telegram Building, which is located at Seventh and Taylor Streets. The building is in the final stages of a complete grounds up restoration. In remembrance to the history of the newspaper Simpson is proving for a museum in the refurbished building to house memorabilia of the newspaper’s colorful past, which includes the vintage Cadillac (allegedly also completely restored) as part of the display.
If this car could talk it could recites volumes of history. One of the more interesting things Simpson has in his collection is an old photograph of a young Amon Carter with his close friend, Will Rogers (before Rogers was well known) standing next to the vehicle.
Leland wasted no time by immediately forming what became another great American luxury marquee, the Lincoln Motor Company. With a $10,000,000 contract he started by building the V12 Liberty engine. After the war, the company was reorganized, and the assembly plant was retooled to manufacture luxury automobiles. The V8 engine used in the first Lincoln motorcars was said to be influenced by the Liberty engine’s design.
In 1922, Lincoln became insolvent, but was rescued by the Ford Motor Company. Ford’s bid of $8 million was the only offer at the receivership sale. Ford had first offered $5 million, but the presiding judge would not accept it for a company whose assets were conservatively estimated at $16 million. Ford deliberately low-balled his offer as revenge against Leland’s leadership role in the creation of the Cadillac brand.
After the sale, Leland and his son Wilfred continued to run the new luxury division, believing they would still have full control to run it as they saw fit. Ford assigned a number of their people to Lincoln, they said to learn. However, it soon became clear they were there to streamline their production and stop the loss of money that had bankrupted Lincoln. Relations between the Henry Ford and Leland workers continued to deteriorate.
On June 10, 1922, Ford executive Ernest Liebold arrived at Lincoln to ask for the resignation of Wilfred Leland. When it became clear that Liebold had the full authority of Henry Ford, Henry Leland resigned as well..
How Leland lost Lincoln to Ford (Part 1)
How Leland lost Lincoln to Ford (Part II)