On this day in 1902 or not, the first Cadillac was completed. From the Wikipedia article, “Cadillac’s first automobiles, the Runabout and Tonneau, were completed in October 1902…Many sources say the first car rolled out of the factory on 17 October; in the book Henry Leland—Master of Precision, the date is 20 October; another reliable source shows car number three to have been built on 16 October.”
OK, so we’re not sure of the exact date of the first Cadillac. Regardless, for decades the Cadillac name was the most aspirational among American car buyers. Sadly in my opinion, few car buyers desire Cadillac, especially buyers under 40. From Car Sales Base, some data on Cadillac sales:
Let me say I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the Car Sales Base figures and, in fact, have seen different numbers. For example, if one accepts the 1985 sales figure as a given, data from other sources would peg that number at an almost 4 percent share of the market, not a share of about 2 percent. For illustrative purposes, though, this data makes the point that Cadillac market share is declining to a dangerously low level. From Barrett-Jackson a picture of a lot sold at their Northeast auction in 2016, an auction that my wonderful wife and I attended.
OK, why did I jump to 1949? That was not the first year for tail fins, that was 1948, but it was the first year for Cadillac’s modern, overhead-valve V-8 engine. (Oldsmobile also introduced such an engine for model year 1949.) By the way, according to History of the American Auto by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide®, Cadillac had about a 1.5% market share in 1949.
Cadillac’s history as an innovator can stand with that of any other company. Their most important innovation was a long time ago, but changed the automobile world forever. In 1912, Cadillac was the first automobile manufacturer to incorporate an electrical system enabling starting, ignition, and lighting. That made the hand crank starter obsolete and made automobiles accessible to many more people.
From supercars.net a picture of one of my favorite cars ever, a car that might make my Ultimate Garage 3.0, if I ever reveal it.
This is a 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, a car that has been the subject of an In Or Out? post. This car also brought numerous innovations such as the use of air suspension (which in this iteration was a failure, though) and the first automatic two-position “memory” power seats.
Here is a picture of a car that did appear as part of my Ultimate Garage 2.0, the 1967 Cadillac Eldorado:
The picture is from the aforementioned book by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide®. The Eldorado, and the Oldsmobile Toronado introduced in 1966, brought front-wheel drive to the American market in a meaningful way.
Next and last, a picture of a car that shows both the promise and the disappointment of Cadillac, the XLR:
From Classic Cars, a picture of a V-spec XLR, meaning this car has the optional supercharged engine. The XLR, first previewed as the Evoq concept in 1999, was almost five years from concept to production, but still had a myriad of quality issues when introduced, particularly in the first two model years, 2004 and 2005.
Cadillac/General Motors overpriced the car so it was particularly vulnerable when the “Great Recession” hit in 2008 and it was discontinued after model year 2009. For example, the V-spec was basically a $100,000 car when new in 2006. A 2006 Corvette convertible, a car that shared much with the XLR, had an MSRP of about $52,000. The base 2006 XLR had an MSRP of more than $75,000.
Obviously, the two markets were not exactly the same, but must have had some overlap, which makes their relative pricing suspect. Yes, hindsight is 20-20, if not better. Still, one wonders what might have happened if the base XLR had been priced at about $65,000 and the V-spec at about $80,000 or maybe $85,000.
As part of a large company, I don’t think Cadillac is in danger of extinction, but I could be wrong. The end of Cadillac would be a most sad day for automobile enthusiasts.
As always, I would like read your thoughts on this topic that, admittedly, I have written about before. As I wrote here, a picture of a beautiful 1948 Cadillac convertible was my inspiration for writing about cars on an almost daily basis.
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10 thoughts on “Cadillac Saturday”
When it’s time to replace my current vehicle, a Cadillac will be one of the top contenders for consideration. That won’t be for another year or so, and a lot of things could happen by then. We’ll see. I suspect I’ll be asking you and a couple of other “motorhead” friends of mine for advice when the time comes.
Thanks, sir. When the time comes I will be more than happy to offer any advice I can.
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To an extent it’s a little amazing to me that Caddy manages to hang on to any of its prestigious reputation. Two cars you often refer to, the Allante and XLR, are decent examples of how Caddy lost their way I think.
Both carried very high MSRPs, because they were intended as competitors to foreign 2 seat roadsters. Unfortunately the cars couldn’t (or it seemed they couldn’t) match the quality of a Mercedes etc. And I mean to say the early versions of both Allante and XLR had build quality issues but also lacked in performance by comparison.
I characterize it as almost the opposite to the Corvette. Time and again the many reviewers drive a Vette and come away saying its performance is comparable to many exotics/foreign sports cars but at a price that you can’t beat.
The unfortunate thing I read is that by the end of the production runs, both Allante and XLR were fairly decent cars. I guess the bad rep cemented by the early cars means the better versions are actually affordable now.
Of course, all that aside I’ve said before I am still a Cadillac fan, though my cut off tends to be in the mid 1980s. As bad as the quality issues were I still see that Cadillac presence in those square front cars.
Yes, as was the case with many GM products, customers were used as beta-testers and various models became “good” too far into their lifespan to be meaningful. The ’93 Allanté was at least a very good car although even then, the Northstar engine had some issues. The 2006-09 XLR is a fine vehicle, but was overpriced. The last Fiero had wonderful suspension and could have been an amazing car with just a little more engine output. Woulda, coulda, shoulda…
In my opinion most companies, automotive or other, lose their way went the innovators and/or engineers are replaced at the top by so called “bean counters”. Yes the finance folks are important, but when they stifle the production of a quality product the entire company suffers. When you have younger, and hungrier, companies nipping at your heels, that’s certainly NOT the time to rush a shoddy product to market. Right now the Koreans are doing to the Japanese, what the Japanese did to the American industries some 50 years ago. Throw China into the mix, with their penchant for stealing and copying everything from a toilet brush to automobiles and the entire market becomes flooded with shoddy goods. It doesn’t matter how many times something is fixed or replaced under warranty, it will leave a bad taste in a customers mouth resulting in lost future sales.
Like grand daddy taught me; You only have one chance to make a good first impression.
“You want to drive a Cadillac, learn how to drive…”
Where was Cadillac Saturday in 1987 when my father had a Cadillac. And you are right about it not having the same meaning. When my Dad got that beautiful Black 1984 Cadillac, It did feel really special. And I was 21 at the time, well under 40.
Cadillac has a very storied and grand history. I would add an XLR to my Ultimate Garage.
DDMcG is correct about “bean counters” as they are the bane of any company along with “lawyers.” Both should be relegated to the lower reaches of companies and have NO, ZERO, NADA executive authority over decisions about products other than limited advice about liability. I have worked with real lawyers and shysters who think they are lawyers. I respect the real lawyers who know and respect the law. I shall not opine about shysters as the rant will go on for days.
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