The Oldest Known Surviving Cadillac, The 1902 New York Autoshow
1903 Cadillac Rear Entrance Tonneau
Chassis no. 13
Founded by Henry Leland and Robert Faulconer, the Cadillac Automobile Company, of Detroit completed its first car in October 1902, the firms superior manufacturing technology - precision gear cutting was Leland and Faulconers first speciality - soon establishing it as the foremost builder of quality cars in the USA. In 1901, Olds Motor Works contracted for the supply of Leland-built engines and, when unforeseen circumstances frustrated the plan, Leland and Faulconer formed their own company using funds supplied by two of Henry Fords ex-backers. The company took its name from the great French 17th century explorer who had founded Detroit in 1701. An exemplary performer by the standards of the day, the Cadillacs 98ci (1.6-liter) single-cylinder engine - known as Little Hercules - was mounted horizontally on the left beneath the front seat and drove via a conventional two-speeds-plus-reverse planetary transmission, with center chain drive to the rear axle. The Model A was available with either two- or four-seat coachwork and had a maximum speed of around 30-35mph. That first 1903 curved-dash Cadillac was re-designated as the Model A after the Model Bs introduction for 1904, the B being a more expensive version with box-shaped hood, pressed-steel frame, I-beam front axle and single transverse front spring. At first Leland & Faulconer supplied only engines, transmissions and steering mechanisms for the Cadillac before taking responsibility for its entire construction in 1905.
The car offered here serial number 13, the oldest known surviving Cadillac was one of three displayed at the New York Auto Show in January 1903, the others being numbers 10 and 11. At that show, Cadillacs sales manager William E Metzger took orders for a staggering 2,286 cars and sold all three on display, 13 being purchased by a Mr Thomas, owner of the Thomas Winery in Cucamonga, California. The factory ledger shows the first 17 cars produced, recording that 13 was the 6th to be invoiced and the 3rd shipped. Six of the first dozen cars remained unsold and may have been retained for development purposes. None is known to exist. Historical research has determined that 13 was the first Cadillac to be shipped west of the Mississippi and the first sold to California.
13 remained within its first owners family, for many years on display at the Thomas Winery in Cucamonga, until February 1973 when it was acquired by Cadillac collector Patrick Herman, who knew little of its history at that time other than it was a one-owner car. In an accompanying letter, Mr Herman recalls purchasing the car from Mr Thomas great granddaughter and transporting it to back to his home in Utah. In 1985 the Cadillac was taken to Montbello, California where master restorer Herman Stroebel (since deceased) began its mechanical restoration, with other specialists looking after the body, paintwork and upholstery.
A complete photographic record was made of the restoration, illustrating the various differences - some obvious, others less so - that distinguish the earliest examples, such as 13, from the later production models of 1903. The most obvious differences are the protruding radiator on the earliest cars and the completely different body panel below the rear entrance. The first Cadillacs had a step in the rear panel, which was deleted early on to simplify production. There are no known examples of this remaining other than 13.
After restoration it was noted that the coil box should have been mounted in the rear on the frame rail, as evidenced by the existence of holes for that box, and this was corroborated by technical references found much later. Illustrations in articles of the day show such differences. Other less obvious differences include the radiator mounts, which are thinner and much lighter in design on cars earlier than serial number 500. 13 has these early mounts. It is believed that the early radiators changed about 25 cars into production, while the mounts remained until circa 500.
Inspection of the rear entrances original door panel revealed no evidence that there had ever been a covering (as in normal production bodies), the telltale tack holes being absent. All known cars, whether original or restored, have covered door panels. When restored, this feature (or lack of) was adhered to in the quest for authenticity.
Since the restorations completion the car has been extensively shown and been successful at every venue visited since 1990. It is a Junior and Senior AACA winner, Grand Champion AACA award winner (in 1997) and a Hershey National Meet winner on its first outing. The car has been invited to Pebble Beach but has not yet attended.
The three cars displayed at the New York Auto Show in 1903 were the first Cadillacs shown to the public and the first ever sold. As the sole survivor of these pioneers, 13 is thus a vehicle of quite exceptional importance in the history of the American automobile industry. Quite simply: the Cadillac story started here.