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Cadillac sales had plummeted in 1914, and many would say this was because it had hung on to its Model 30 four-cylinder model for too long-after all, most other luxury makers were running with sixes. But Cadillac founder Henry M. Leyland decided to leapfrog his rivals with something even better: the Model 51 V-8. See more classic car pictures.

©Nicky Wright

By 1914, Cadillac's four-cylinder Model 30 had been in production for nearly five years, and the time had come for its replacement, the 1915 Cadillac V-8 Type 51. Not that there was really anything wrong with the Model 30, for it was a very competent automobile.

In fact, many years later when David Fergusson, long-time chief engineer for the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company, observed that "Cadillac for years had the reputation of producing the best medium-priced cars in the world," he was referring to the Model 30. One might question Fergusson's reference to the Cadillac as a "medium-priced" car, but in this world all things are relative -- in 1914 a new Cadillac touring car could be purchased for just $1,975, while the least expensive Pierce-Arrow cost $4,300.

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But despite its outstanding reputation for reliability and durability, the Model 30 had become seriously dated. The public had come to appreciate the smoothness of six-cylinder engines, and many -- perhaps most -- producers of cars in the Cadillac's price range had made the switch from fours to sixes. The competition was simply eating Cadillac alive. From 17,284 cars manufactured during 1913, the factory's output had plummeted the following year to just 7,818 units.

Fortunately, Cadillac's general manager, Henry M. Leland, had not been caught napping. For several years he'd been experimenting with various engine types, and as a result of his research he came to the conclusion that a V-8 would be preferable to a six. Presumably, the compact nature of the vee-type design appealed to him, for in some instances the long crankshaft that characterized the inline sixes had displayed an unfortunate tendency to whip at high rpm.

Admittedly, the V-8 was an unusual design in those days. Most people had never seen such an engine, but the type was not unheard of. More than a decade earlier, two French manufacturers had developed V-8's and used them to power racing machines, while in this country Howard Marmon had demonstrated an air-cooled V-8 as early as 1906. And then, in 1910, the respected French firm of DeDion had marketed a production V-8.

Go to the next page to learn more about the development of the Cadillac V-8.

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