Cadillac History, Transformation and Timeline

Cadillac cars have long played an iconic part in American pop culture, conjuring images of the great American dream. The company was started in 1902, by a man named Henry Leland, from the remains of the broken Detroit-based Henry Ford Company. The name itself came from a distant family member, a Frenchman named Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, who was one of the 17th century colonists and explorers. Even early on, one of the main goals was to create a car that was stylish and esthetically-pleasing along with high quality performance. Over the years, the Cadillac has come a long way and is still considered an icon and status symbol too.

1903: The first Cadillac is introduced, at just $750 per car.

1904: Cadillac offers two models (A and B): one with a removable top and a second with a more robust frame.

1905: Cadillac shows off the first completely closed body car.

1906: Cadillac offers buyers the option to buy cars with two or four cylinders.

1907: Four new models, G, H, K and M are rolled out, with features such as a single cylinder, newly styled bodies, a folding top and improvements to the hardware and machinery.

1908: New models, G, H, M, S and T are offered to customers in the same year that Cadillac improves its workflow by switching to piece assembly instead of building one car at a time.

1909: Cadillac unveils the first limousine.

1910: The open-top Model Thirty is still the main offering from Cadillac, with several engine and body improvements, gas lamps and an increased price tag of $1,600.

1912: Customers can now accommodate an extra passenger in new Cadillacs with a folding seat.

1914: Cadillac makes the idea of holding five passengers in a car the norm with their new updates to previous models.

1915: Windshields are added to closed-top Cadillac models.

1916: The Brougham is marketed as a family sedan.

1917: The Club Roadster is introduced as a trendy, sporty model.

1918: Type 57, an improvement on the previous Type 55, features a tilted windshield and a slimmer body.

1922: Cadillac sees a marked rise in customer demand when they roll out features such as wipers for windshields and rearview mirrors.

1923: An updated model, Type 61, boasts exterior handles on doors and a soft roof.

1924: Cadillac continues to appeal to customers with hundreds of paint options compared to the standard black of other companies.

1925: The V-63 offers new body shapes, color combinations and interior upholstery choices.

1927: The Series 314 improves on previous styles but also offers new types of car bodies.

1928: The 341-A is built using safety glass for all windows, while the V-8 is introduced with a ground-breaking eight cylinders.

1930: The V-16, with its distinctive shape, is introduced and is quickly sought after. It still maintains its popularity among collectors today.

1932: Three main models, the 355-B, the 370-B and the 452-B are all introduced in 1932, giving customers the option of eight, twelve and sixteen cylinders respectively.

1933: The V-8, V-12 and V-16 continue to be improved with more emphasis on style as opposed to functionality as in previous years.

1934: The 8-cylinder 355-D is given a complete body overhaul, with additional features such as parking lamps, bumpers and independent suspension in the front.

1935: The 355-D, 370-D and 452-D are offered as updated models of their earlier counterparts. Cadillac focuses on marketing the V-8 for use as ambulances and hearses.

1936: Several new models are rolled out this year and Cadillac makes the decision to introduce changes to each model every year.

1937: New versions of previous models are introduced to buyers, and several other models, including the V-12 are discontinued.

1938: The Great Depression hurts sales and Cadillac tries to rally buyer interest again with a lower-priced Series 60 model and features such as the sunroof.

1939: Sales tank again and the Series 61 debuts with an antenna radio inside and an upgraded dashboard.

1940: The pre-war Cadillac Sixty Special, a completely closed roof car, offers more power under the hood and more luxurious interiors for passengers, for a relatively low price of $1645.

1941: In a series of unending innovations, Cadillac provides cars with Hydra-Matic transmission and the distinctive “egg-crate” grills.

1942: The Series Sixty-Two is re-made with lighter but cheaper materials, as are the bullet-shaped 1942 Cadillacs.

1943: During the war, Cadillac uses their manufacturing knowledge and resources to build war tanks. At the same time, due to internal disputes, Henry Leland leaves the company.

1946: Cadillac whittles down its vast product offering to just eleven models.

1947: 1947 Cadillac convertibles renew buyer interest with removable tops and a surge in quality and performance.

1948: The 1948 Cadillac convertibles feature distinctive side fins and just two doors.

1949: The now old-fashioned V-8 is replaced with a classy, sporty, open-topped 1949 Cadillac, with an engine so powerful that it became a hit at race tracks.

1950: The 1950 Cadillac is fitted with a much stronger chassis and was capable of astonishing speeds, easily surpassing 160km/h.

1953: The newly-launched Cadillac Eldorado debuts in commemoration of the company’s fiftieth anniversary months earlier. With headlight dimmers and radios that could automatically seek a signal, they quickly became all the rage in spite of limited production.

1954: The Series 62, 50 Fleetwood, 75 Fleetwood and Eldorado Special are rolled out in conjunction with a brand new innovation termed “power steering”.

1956: The new 1956 Lincoln tops sales of luxury cars in the U.S.

1957: The Eldorado Brougham blows the competition out of the water with quad headlights, a stainless steeel top, air suspension and power seats with memory features.

1958: 1958 Cadillacs give customers a chance to drive in luxury with cruise control and other special features.

1959: Brash, unmistakable pointed fins on the 1959 Caddy became one of the brand’s most distinctive features of the era.

1960: The more elegant styling of the 1960 Cadillac came to represent status and success in America.

1964: One of the most exciting additions for Cadillac buyers is the new air conditioning interior system introduced in the 1964 model.

1967: The classic Eldorado gets an overhaul, featuring front-wheel drive for a smooth ride.

1969: While most changes during this period are minor, Cadillac does show off their new automated cooling system to help nix overheating engines.

1974: Production is focused on a handful of previous models, but Cadillac innovates with a new safety feature: the air bag.

1976: The 1976 Cadillac features a more boxy, closed appearance compared to former open-topped convertible models.

1977: Cadillac models are downsized in terms of size and weight for a more efficient vehicle.

1978: Cadillac sticks to producing five previous models and starts exploring the use of computerized features in cars.

1982: The 1982 Cimarron is far different from previous models; it is not nearly as large but much more fuel efficient, and offered a host of automatic features including audio warning chimes and a visual data panel to indicate fuel usage and driving speed.

1987: The Italian-designed Cadillac Allanté enters the market of ultra-luxury cars; the first American vehicle to do so.

1988: For the first time, American car owners have access to around-the-clock emergency roadside service when they buy from Cadillac.

1993: The Allanté is re-introduced as a convertible.

1999: Cadillac introduces the Escalade, their first consumer truck-type vehicle, as well as a new feature: built-in automated night vision for cars.

Additional Resources

  • Cadillac History Year by Year – Browse through archival images, notes and details specs on Cadillac models and updates since their early beginnings.
  • A Biography of Henry Leland – Even after he left the company, Henry Leland continued to have a marked impact on the company’s design esthetics and production principles.
  • The Man Behind Cadillac – Meet the man who used his unique vision to change the way Americans used and viewed consumer vehicles.
  • The Official History of Cadillac – Explore an interactive overview of Cadillac’s rich history with color images of their unique models and major trends that marked each decade.
  • The Evolution of Cadillac – Learn how Cadillac developed their brand and products over the past century.
  • The Cadillac Museum – Visit the Cadillac Museum online or in person for a first-hand look at vintage models.
  • The Cadillac Emblem – The Cadillac logo originated from a family crest and was redesigned numerous times over the years.
  • Images of Cadillacs – View photographs of various vintage Cadillac models from the 40s to early 70s.
  • Classic Cadillac Gallery – Browse through a visual history of discontinued Cadillacs in this gallery of original and restored cars.
  • The Cadillac Success Story – See how Cadillac came to be known as “The Standard of the World”.

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