Cadillac is second only to Buick as America’s oldest car company, with roots that trace back to the origins of automobile manufacturing in Detroit. Before there was General Motors and even the Ford Motor company, the Detroit-based engineering firm of Leland & Faulconer laid the groundwork for volume automobile manufacturing, providing engines and production expertise to Ransom E. Olds for his new Curved Dash model. Aside from their work with R.E. Olds, Henry Leland and Robert Faulconer provided engineering services for other motoring pioneers such as Col. August Pope, and the Pierce Manufacturing Company. Before moving to automobiles, Pope and Pierce were leaders in bicycle manufacturing. When both firms experienced assembly problems and poor quality gears, they turned to L & F for help. Leyland & Faulconer provided gear cutting equipment and a patented hardening process, which allowed for greater standardization and higher quality parts. The experience gained by all three firms would prove invaluable as the motor car moved from novelty to necessity in America.
Despite all of his work supporting the industry, it wasn’t until 1902 that Henry Leland entered the automobile business as a full-fledged manufacturer. Following Henry Ford’s tumultuous departure from the short-lived Henry Ford Company, the remaining investors called in Leland to appraise their machinery and stocks for liquidation. He recognized an opportunity to build a complete car around L&F’s single-cylinder “Little Hercules” engine, Leland convinced the investors to back him and with that, Cadillac Motor Car Company was founded. Leland’s new Cadillac was a beautifully built motorcar, precision engineered and of exceptional quality, while simultaneously being highly standardized for rapid, efficient production.
The aptly named Cadillac Model A featured L&F’s tough and reliable 98 cubic-inch, single-cylinder Little Hercules engine mounted horizontally in the center of the chassis, driving a 2-speed planetary transmission and chain-drive rear axle. The car developed impressive power for its size, and exhibited beautiful build quality. At the 1903 New York auto show, Cadillac general manager William Metzger took an astonishing 2,286 orders for the $750 Runabout and $850 four-seat Rear-Entrance Tonneau. With nearly $2M in orders upon its debut, Cadillac’s future looked bright. With just a handful of known survivors, today’s collectors covet these early Cadillacs as they represent the genesis of one of the world’s greatest marques.
This 1903 Cadillac Model A Rear Entrance Tonneau is a rare, highly desirable, and important motorcar from the very first full year of Cadillac production. It benefits from a recent cosmetic restoration and presents in exquisite condition. Documents show this car was delivered new in San Francisco, and spent much of its life in California. A copy of a 1950 California title shows the car belonged to Harry Johnson of San Pedro. Johnson, an active Horseless Carriage Club of America member, sold the car in 1962 to Howard and Margaret Reed, who continued to enjoy the car for many more years. In the hands of its most recent owners, it left California for Arizona where it was treated as a cherished member of the family.
With its stunning two-tone red body with black steel mudguards, this Cadillac Model A has a delightful presence. Exquisite paintwork is highlighted with fine detailing and pinstriping. The restored artillery wheels are painted to match the coachwork and wear fresh, period-correct white pneumatic tires. Brass fittings are beautifully polished, including dual Dietz Motor Lamp carriage lamps, a centrally-mounted headlamp, Atwood Castle tail light. Minor accessories like the wheel caps, grab handles, and Cadillac script radiator emblem are similarly well-presented. The quality and attention to detail is quite impressive.
Black tufted black leather covers the front and rear seats, and features include the molded Cadillac-script rubber floor mat up front, fine-quality woodwork, and more exquisitely polished brass. The Leyland & Faulconer engine sits beneath the front seat, and it, too, presents in very good condition overall. Mechanically, the engine appears to be in overall sound health; however, some additional preparation may be required prior to embarking on any serious road events.
Cadillac’s Model A stands as one of the most important motorcars of the Horseless Carriage era. Interest in these early automobiles remains strong today, as owners take great pride in using their cars in events and tours. As a pre-1904 model, this Cadillac is eligible to apply for entry in the legendary London-Brighton Veteran Car Run, in addition to any number of Horseless Carriage Club of America events in the US. An ideal choice for road events, yet it is beautifully presented and suitable for display in concours and shows. This 1903 Cadillac is a significant piece of early motoring history, finely restored and a welcome addition to virtually any collection of milestone automobiles.
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