Development of the 1915 Cadillac V-8, Type 51
Charles Kettering, head of the Dayton Engineering Laboratories (DELCO) had purchased a DeDion V-8 for research purposes. With the help of his associate, Edward Deeds, Kettering disassembled the DeDion engine examined it carefully, then put it back together and tested it extensively. Afterward, Kettering and Deeds built an experimental V-8 of their own design and submitted it to Henry Leland.
Leland immediately undertook to authorize the in-house development of a Cadillac V-8, using the Kettering-Deeds engine as its basis. To take charge of the project he hired D. McCall White, a Scottish-born engineer whose previous employers had included the prestigious firms of Daimler and Napier. There is some evidence that Cadillac's engineering staff, a tight-knit group, took a dim view of having an outsider put in charge of so important a project, but obviously Henry Leland had his reasons.
First of all, the Cadillac people had had virtually no experience in building high-speed engines; in this respect, the better European firms were light years ahead of their American contemporaries. White was in a position to bring that expertise to Cadillac.
Then there was the matter of secrecy. Although he was very conservative by nature, Henry Leland was not without a sense of the dramatic, and he wanted to spring the new V-8 as a complete surprise. To keep the development of the new powerplant secret would have been quite impossible if the entire staff at the Cadillac factory had known what was going on.
So Leland housed the project in a small concrete block building, located a few miles out of Detroit in the community of Mt. Clemens, Michigan. The facility was out-of-bounds to all but a few carefully selected Cadillac employees, and those who were granted admittance were pledged to tell no one -- even their wives -- about the development of the new motor. Introduced in September 1914 as a 1915 model, the new Cadillac V-8 was known as the Type 51.
Nobody knows for sure how the model number was chosen, but it has been speculated that the digits may have represented a reversal of the year of introduction: 15. In any case, the car found instant popularity, with production reaching 13,002 units during its initial model year.
On the next page, learn about the engine of the 1915 Cadillac V-8 Type 51.