During its early years Cadillac was not seen as a car manufacturer producing essentially for the luxury market. The company was founded in 1902 and named after the French explorer who discovered Detroit back in the early 1700s. It actually grew out of a manufacturing company founded by Henry Leland and Robert Faulconer who, as precision machinists, produced components so accurately that they could be readily interchanged. Around that time most automobile parts were hand-fitted by filing and sanding.
In 1908 the company adopted the slogan ‘Standard of the World’ after it won the English Dewar Trophy for proving that all similar components on their cars could be readily interchanged without affecting the car’s performance. That same year William Durant formed the General Motors Corporation with two marques, Buick and Oldsmobile, as its nucleus.
By early 1909 it also included Oakland Motor Car Co., Marquette Motor Co., Randolph Truck Co., Champion Ignition Co., and Reliance Motor Truck Co. Cadillac joined General Motors later in 1909 when Durant purchased the company for $US5.6 million. The sale was the largest financial transaction that had occurred to that time on the Detroit Stock Exchange.
Although now part of General Motors, Cadillac retained its autonomy with Henry Leland as both President and General Manager. The company’s first new car for 1909 was the model 30. It was powered by a 3.7-litre four cylinder engine which produced only 22 kW. It used shaft drive rather than a chain drive with a three-speed selective sliding transmission and was built on a 2692 mm wheelbase. The model 30 was available in three body styles: roadster, convertible four-passenger demi-tonneau and a five-passenger touring car.
Cadillac was one of the first manufacturers to offer closed cars, placing its first order with the Fisher Brothers in 1910. The 1910 Cadillac Model 30 used a Delco ignition system and had an increase in power to 24.6 kW. Headlights were now standard, fuelled by acetylene. In 1909 the Fleetwood Metal Body Company was founded. They built custom bodies on chassis on some of the most exclusive cars in the world, including Cadillac. They were bought by Fisher Body in 1927 and absorbed into General Motors in the early 1930s. Its name would survive as the ultimate in Cadillac sedans.
Bill Durant was forced out of General Motors in 1910 following some of his questionable business dealings. He returned later in the decade and bought out GM with his new company, Chevrolet.