Home / Archives / Advertisements / Vintage Auto Ads: Cadillac

Vintage Auto Ads: Cadillac

Published: October 7, 2015

Long before the Cadillac Motor Company was known for making the luxury cars that embodied American opulence, the company was known for its exceptional engineering.

That engineering was proven, to British satisfaction at least, when Cadillac competed for the Dewar Trophy in 1908. As part of that contest, three Cadillacs were completely disassembled and all the parts were mixed together, along with a lot of spare Cadillac parts. Mechanics then assembled three new vehicles out of the pile. (For more on the auto industry’s early years, check out Post‘s new special collector’s edition, Automobiles in America!)

Each of the cars started immediately and ran 500 miles without major problems.

This might seem unremarkable today, but in the years before precision machining, auto components were rarely produced to the exact specifications. Each part might need to be filed or ground to fit where it should.

But Henry M. Leland, the founder and inventor of the Cadillac, insisted on producing parts that could be fully interchangeable. He’d learned about precision machining while working for Colt Firearms, before opening a machining shop in Detroit. In 1902, he was asked to appraise the failing Henry Ford Company (not to be confused with the Ford Motor Company), which was then headed to bankruptcy after Henry Ford left it. Rather than assess the company’s assets, Leland convinced investors to allow him to revive the company using a motor that he’d designed.

The company took on the Cadillac name and began making automobiles with a single-cylinder, 10-horsepower engine. When Cadillac Runabout and Tonneau models were shown at the 1903 New York Auto Show, they drew large crowds and 2,000 orders.

Leland made sure his company remained at the edge of innovation. He was the first to offer a modern electrical system, which meant improved ignition, dependable headlights, and most important, a starter motor that eliminated the need to hand-crank the engine. In later years, Cadillac pioneered automatic transmission, power steering, V-8 and V-16 engines, the Philips screw, and enormous tailfins.

In 1908, Will Durant purchased Cadillac to add a luxury line of cars to his General Motors lineup. He paid Henry Leland $4.5 million for the company on the condition that Leland remained to oversee production. At age 74, Leland left GM to establish the Lincoln Motor Company and build Liberty aircraft engines for the Army in World War I. In 1922, about four years after the war ended, Leland sold the company to Ford.

Cadillac was one of the first automakers to advertise in The Saturday Evening Post. Its first ad appeared in 1903. This 1904 ad boasts that a Cadillac owner recently completed a 93-mile journey without a single breakdown (and going at an average speed of 13 mph!).

February 6, 1904

February 6, 1904



By 1912, Cadillac’s modern electrical system — self-starter motor, ignition, and lighting — were a standard feature in all models.

January 27, 1912

January 27, 1912




In 1915, Cadillac introduced its 70 hp V-8 engine, which enabled its vehicles to reach 65 mph — long before highways would make that a safe speed.

January 9, 1915

January 9, 1915



In 1927, General Motors believed there were car shoppers who wanted to buy more car than a Buick but couldn’t afford a Cadillac. So Cadillac began building a less expensive “companion” line, La Salle, which remained in production until 1940.

September 10, 1927

September 10, 1927



Cadillac introduced a 452-cubic-inch V-16 engine in 1930, just as the Depression hit the country— and the luxury car market.

May 10, 1930

May 10, 1930



In 1936, Cadillac became the first automaker to use cross-headed Phillips screws in its cars, which made assembly quicker and more efficient.

November 28, 1936

November 28, 1936



Cadillac offered its first mass-produced, fully automatic transmission —the Hydramatic — in 1941.

March 1, 1941

March 1, 1941



Marking the start of a trend toward bigger and more extravagant style, the 1948 model showed the first bump of the rising tailfin — a feature that came to symbolize the exuberant spirit of 1950s.

March 27, 1948

March 27, 1948



Cadillac won Motor Trend magazine’s first Car of the Year award for the overhead valve V-8 engine in its 1949 model.

June 18, 1949

June 18, 1949



To help drivers maneuver the big cars, Cadillac introduced power steering as standard equipment in 1954.

January 23, 1954

January 23, 1954



Many automobile historians consider 1959 the height, literally, of the tailfin phenomenon.

February 7, 1959

February 7, 1959



By 1966, Americans had scaled back their exuberance. The new Cadillac models showed less chrome than in previous years, but seemed no less elegant, or voluminous.

October 22, 1966

October 22, 1966



Downsizing continued into the 1970s when, like other carmakers, Cadillac responded to consumer’s desire to reduce energy consumption and emissions.

July 1, 1977

July 1, 1977


Read More:
You might also like ...

  • I admired the Cadillac for many years before I could afford to buy one. Since then, I’m now on my fourth new Cadillac and I love them! If available, I’d buy another Cadillac ELDORADO.

  • This latest POST auto ad series (and back story) on Cadillac is simply wonderful. I had no idea Lincoln was also started by Henry Leland, at age 74 no less. There simply HAS to be a feature on Lincoln coming, but not just yet.

    The 1904 ad is wonderful, and the increase in body styles is very evident by 1912 and ’15. The ’27 La Salle ad is just beautiful, and I’m sure stole sales from Cadillac during the Depression, which was probably both good and bad within General Motors in the ’30s.

    The 1936 and ’41 ads are beautiful too. Note the lower price 5 years LATER as the Depression had lessened. The all-new ’48 and ’49 models set the tone for the ’50s with those tail fins—inspired by World War II aircraft.

    The ’54 ad is completely awash in ‘dream car perfection’ with the ’59 model combining both World War II aircraft elements with the Space Age.

    Although most people feel the fins went away with the ’64 model which I understand, I see them as having continued in a more subtle form up to the early ’90s if you really look.

    The Art & Science ‘razor edge’ look of current and recent models definitely have the essence, flair and flavor of fins in the sleek, non-flushed sexy taillights that are allowed to protrude somewhat from the body (thank God) to let them look like Cadillacs to the extent they still can today.

    There is hope (concept car wise) with the Cadillac El Miraj and the sexy Ciel with beautiful bodies and taillights. It’s high time they came in, and the Escalade went out. This would also help Cadillac be seen in a more serious light among the world’s high-end cars; glorified GMC trucks? Not so much, BUT they make a lot of money and that’s the only thing that matters. The bottom line being the only line, unfortunately.