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Cadillac and the 1908 DeWar Trophy

For decades, Cadillac was known as the 'Standard of the World', but why? The story has roots going all the way back to the infancy of the automobile industry. I recently had the opportunity to appraise a beautiful 1908 Cadillac for a client. That year was a pivotal one for Cadillac, as the company was awarded the Royal Automobile Club's prestigious Dewar Trophy. The award was an affirmation of Cadillac founder Henry Leland's advancements in precision machining and standardized parts interchangeability in the automobile. The R.A.C. selected three 1908 Cadillacs and had them completely disassembled. The parts were mixed up, and the three vehicles were then reassembled using a mix of service parts and parts from each disassembled vehicle, with no machining or adjustment to any of the parts allowed. Each car was then successfully driven 500 miles around Brooklands on the tail end of a major snowstorm without breakdown, an impressive feat in the era! Leland was an admirer of Eli Whitney, and an apprentice under Samuel Colt, both pioneers in the principles of precision engineering and the standardization & interchangeability of components. As further proof of Cadillac’s superior engineering abilities, one of the three test cars used was kept by the R.A.C. and entered in the 1908 International Touring Car 2,000 Mile Trial held that July in England. The pieced-together Cadillac won the trial, beating a Swiss-made Zedel in an event that was very close to the final lap. This win was a notable victory for an American automaker, as Europeans of the era held American cars in low regard, generally finding them comparatively unreliable and poorly engineered. The 1908 Cadillac I had a chance to examine represented the finest in precision engineering of the era, and with the Dewar Trophy, Cadillac was recognized as 'The Standard of the World', a slogan used by Cadillac for decades.

In an interesting coincidence, over the weekend I was reading a book called 'Birth of a Giant; The Men and Incidents That Gave America the Motorcar'. Written by Richard Crabb in the late '60s, one of the photos found in the book is of Henry Leland's grandson, Wilfred Jr., sitting in his Grandfather's Dewar trophy. Cadillac would go on to win the Dewar trophy again in 1912 for their work in pioneering the electric starter and electric automotive lights.


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