1917 Cadillac Type 55 Opera Coupe

By 1917, Cadillac had already established itself as a leader in innovation and quality. Cadillac’s founder Henry Leland was a true pioneer of American industry and a champion for mass produced, precision machine manufacturing. Cadillac’s breakthrough of the electric Self-Starter system and electric lights in 1912 were largely responsible for cementing the internal combustion automobile’s dominance over electric and steam. Three years later, they introduced another significant innovation – the world’s first mass-produced V8 engine. The L-head engine was designed by the Scottish born engineer D. McCall White and featured two cast iron cylinder blocks with integral heads mounted atop an aluminum-copper alloy crankcase. It was an ingenious design that utilized fork and blade connecting rods to provide clearance for opposing cylinders as well as dual water pumps when most cars made do with simple, inefficient thermo-syphoning cooling systems. The engine produced an impressive 70 horsepower and was a marvel of smooth running and linear power delivery. There was even an optional Kellogg auxiliary air compressor which could be used to inflate tires in the event of a puncture. With continual refinement, it was this V8 engine that truly put Cadillac at the top of its market segment, proudly supporting their bold motto – The Standard of the World.

Handsome and imposing, this 1917 Cadillac Model 55 Opera Coupe is one of our personal favorites. According to Cadillac archives, this car, 55-B-39 was originally delivered to Toronto, Ontario, Canada to a Mrs. Hyslop. Her husband was one of the partners in Hyslop Bros., the first Cadillac and Oldsmobile distributorship in Ontario. Three-passenger Opera Coupe bodywork is a lovely formal style that is rarely seen today. It is quickly distinguished by its dual oval rear windows and tall, upright proportion. This wonderful example wears its older restoration well, with Cadillac Blue main body subtly offset by black fenders and black leather topping. Panel fit and paint finish quality is excellent and in keeping with the original high level of build quality these cars were famous for. It rides on a set of wooden spoke artillery wheels wrapped in black wall tires that help enhance the imposing, almost sporting appearance. A rear mounted spare wheel keeps the body lines clean and uncluttered, while adding visual length. The nickel detailing is in excellent order and provides a touch of bright flash. An interesting feature of this body is the fact that the central B-pillar can be removed with thumb screws that transform this formal elegant body into one of the earliest iterations of the “pillarless coupe”.

Rather interestingly, the driver sits alone up front with accommodations for two passengers on the rear bench seat. A folding jump seat sits in the front footwell for the occasional fourth occupant inside, while a leather-trimmed rumble seat is reserved for two additional very occasional passengers. The “Fat Man Wheel” folds out of the way to allow the gentleman of ample girth to climb aboard without the possibility of embarrassing himself in front of female companions. Seats, interior panels and door cards are all trimmed in period correct Bedford cord to a high standard. Trim, carpets and interior fittings are in excellent order throughout. Original instrumentation includes speedometer, fuel pressure gauge and ammeter while a Moto-Meter atop the radiator keeps watch on engine temps. An interesting feature is the mechanically dipped headlights which work through a system of rods and linkages attached to the headlight reflectors, all operated via a lever on the steering column. It just goes to demonstrate the level of thoughtful design that Cadillac was famous for.

By 1917, D. McCall White’s masterpiece V8 engine had received some important upgrades. Lighter weight pistons were introduced, improving efficiency and drivability while improvements to the 3-speed transmission made for smoother and more reliable operation. Our example presents very well, with correct finishes, fittings and wiring. It is a strong running example that is ideally suited for touring with the CCCA or other nickel-era clubs, thanks in no small part to the powerful and smooth engine and very well restored chassis and running gear.

The Cadillac Model 55 is very significant part of the history of the automobile. This was one of the first cars produced under the auspices of General Motors and they helped to establish Cadillac as one of the world's greatest automakers. In 2014, the Historic Vehicle Association nominated a similar Model 57 as the very first car on their Historic Vehicle Register, shining new light on these robust, beautiful and important cars. Our example is sure to please thanks to its excellent, restored condition and well-sorted mechanical nature. We are very pleased to offer this fantastic Cadillac and we hope you get as much joy from it as we do.

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