The 1907 Cadillac Model K was a breakthrough for American automakers. In the very early years of the automobile industry, Europeans accorded precious little respect to any of the various American marques. In no small measure, that attitude probably represented pure snobbery. But, of course, this country had yet to demonstrate that its products were the equal of Europe's best. All that changed during 1908 -- and the difference was due to two historic events.
The first of these was a race sponsored by the French newspaper Le Matin, in which six automobiles undertook a round-the-world trip from New York to Paris. In the dead of winter, often with no roads to follow, they were driven across the United States, after which they were shipped by steamer to Vladivostok, Russia. The cars then plodded on across Manchuria, and thence to Moscow, Berlin, and finally across Belgium and on into Paris.
Of the six cars entered in the contest, only four survived the journey across the North American continent. The original group consisted of three cars from France, one each from Italy and Germany, and one from the United States. And in the end the American car, a Thomas Flyer, was declared the winner. As auto historian John Bentley has written, that victory "set a new seal on the prestige of the infant American automobile industry. It proved that Americans could build a machine fully the equal of anything found in Europe."
In the meantime, over a two-week period commencing February 29,1908, Cadillac scored an even more impressive triumph. Annually, starting in 1904, Britain's Sir Thomas Dewar had made a practice of awarding a trophy to the automaker deemed to have made the most significant advance in motor car manufacture over the preceding 12 months. The award, which took the form of an enormous silver cup, was considered to be the "Nobel Prize" of the automotive industry.
It happened that the first Cadillac to arrive in England had been imported by an aggressive young salesman named Frederick S. Bennett. And Bennett thought he knew how the Dewar Trophy might be captured, something no American car had managed to accomplish up to that time.
The secret lay in Cadillac's standardized parts. Parts interchange-ability was literally unheard of in those days, either in England or on the Continent. For that matter, the concept had not yet been generally adopted in the United States, either. But Henry M. Leland, Cadillac's general manager, had been trained as a gunsmith during the Civil War and as a result of that experience he had developed very high standards of precision. Furthermore, he had learned how important it was to be able to substitute parts from one rifle in order to repair another. At Cadillac, he would apply the same principle to the manufacture of automobiles.
On the next page, learn about the development of the 1907 Cadillac Model K.
Want more information on cars? See:
Development of the 1907 Cadillac Model K
Commencing with the Model A, introduced at the New York Auto Show in January 1903, Cadillac had offered a variety of single-cylinder cars, all powered by the same Leland-built, 10-horsepower engine. Of square design, with both bore and stroke measuring five inches, the little one-lunger displaced 98.2 cubic inches. A two-speed planetary transmission was employed, and steering was by means of a wheel, rather than the then-commonplace tiller. Further, the car was sturdier and far more dependable than most of its contemporaries.
By 1905, Cadillac was building four distinct one-cylinder models in a total of seven configurations, and offering them at prices ranging from $750 to $950. Then, giving a glimpse of what the future would hold for the company, that year saw the production of 156 four-cylinder cars, along with nearly 4,000 of the single-cylinder jobs. Dubbed the Model D, this first Cadillac four-banger weighed nearly twice as much as the heaviest of the one-lungers, and it sold for $2,800 -- nearly four times the price of the one-cylinder runabout.
Bennett, thoroughly familiar with the product he was selling, knew that any part from a Cadillac could be installed, without hand-fitting of any kind, in another Cadillac of the same model. He was sure that the judges would find that concept impressive, and being something of a showman by nature he could see in this feature the possibility of an enormous publicity bonanza for Cadillac.
Bennett prevailed upon the highly skeptical officials of the prestigious Royal Automobile Club to oversee a test in which the interchangeability of Cadillac parts could be demonstrated. Three identical, single-cylinder Cadillac runabouts were selected from a shipment, recently arrived at á London dock. It might be noted that although this was 1908, the cars were actually late 1907 Model Ks. In any case, on Saturday, February 29, 1908, under RAC supervision, the cars were driven the 23 miles to the Brooklands race track.
There, after 10 quick laps, they were locked up until the following Monday. At that point, again under the watchful eyes of the RAC's technical committee, the three Cadillacs were completely disassembled, down to the last bolt, nut, and screw. The committee then scrambled the parts, mixing them so completely that to identify any particular part with any one of the cars was out of the question.
Finally, the parts were divided into three distinct piles. And then, in a further fort to make the demonstration convincing, 89 parts were set aside and replaced from dealer Bennett's over-the-counter stock. Included in this portion of the demonstration, according to Cadillac marque expert Maurice D. Hendry, were "such items as oil pump and transmission components, clutch Bands and at least one piston, piston pin and rod."
Go to the next page to learn more about the racing success of the 1907 Cadillac Model K.
Want more information on cars? See:
1907 Cadillac Model K Racing Success
Frederick Bennett had bigger plans for the 1907 Cadillac Model K. Two of the cars that had participated in the contest were repainted and returned to stock, but the third Cadillac was locked away in the Royal Automobile Club garage immediately after the contest. The following June, that car was entered in an RAC-sponsored run, conducted in conjunction with the Scottish Automobile Club trial.
"The route," according to Hendry, "led from London to Glasgow, then in the [Scottish Automobile Club] section for 772 miles on the Scottish Highland roads, back through the lake country, Welsh border district and Cotswolds to Brooklands, finishing with 200 miles at the [Brooklands] motordrome. It included twenty-two miles of hill climbs and eleven timed hills, the total distance being 2,200 miles over a period of fifteen days."
Of course, there was a certain amount of risk in this undertaking, for should the Cadillac perform poorly -- or fail to complete the test-the luster of the Dewar Award would have been severely tarnished. But there was no need to worry, for the little Cadillac completed the trial at the top of its class.
By the time this award was made, the one-cylinder Cadillac had entered its final year of production, having progressed through an alphabet of models: A, B, C, E, F, K, M, S, and T. From the day of its introduction in January 1903, the Cadillac had found immediate public acceptance, ranking that year as the third-best-selling automobile in America.
By 1904, it had nudged Ford aside to take over second place, behind Oldsmobile, a position it retained for 1905. Between 1903 and 1908, Cadillac produced approximately 16,000 single-cylinder Cadillacs, several hundred of which still exist world-wide in the hands of enthusiastic collectors.
But of course, several years before it was awarded the Dewar Trophy, Cadillac had invaded the luxury market -- again employing the principle of interchangeable parts. By 1908, the four-cylinder cars came in two sizes, with engines displacing 226.2 and 300.7 cubic inches, respectively. Prices ranged from $2,000 to $3,600, and although Cadillac still offered the one-cylinder cars on which its reputation had been built, they would be phased out by year's end.
On our final page, you will find the specifications for the 1907 Cadillac Model K.
Want more information on cars? See:
1907 Cadillac Model K Specifications
The 1907 Cadillac Model K was one of the first American cars that made a splash in the automotive era. On this page, you can see the specifications for the 1907 Cadillac Model K.
Engine: 1-cylinder horizontal, water cooled, 98.2 cid (5.00 × 5.00-in. bore × stroke), 2 main bearings, 10 bhp
Transmission: 2 -speed planetary
Suspension: Right axles, semi-elliptic springs
Brakes: Mechanical, 2-wheel
Wheelbase (in.): 74
Overall length (in.): 110
Weight (lbs): 1,100
Tires: 30 x 3
- 1903: 2,497
- 1904: 2,457
- 1905: 3,942
- 1906: 3,559
- 1907: 2,884
- 1908: 2,377 (calendar year, all models, of which about 90 percent were one-cylinder models during the 1903-08 era)