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CADILLAC SET the world’s standard for high quality in 1908 in earning the Dewar Trophy presented by England’s Royal Automobile Club. The automaker’s actions in accomplishing this would seem trivial today. But, at the time, they represented far-reaching advances in engineering, even to encouraging evolution of what became today’s SAE International.
The Society of Automobile Engineers, predecessor of today’s SAE International, was founded in 1905, a time when even basic hardware such as nuts and bolts differed from supplier to supplier. Automobiles of the era were handmade, their parts individually crafted to fit. Among the earliest efforts of S.A.E. was standardization of parts, and Henry M. Leland was one of its earliest members, to serve as president of the organization in 1912 – 1913.
Leland’s background was in machine tools and firearms manufacture, where precision was paramount and interchangeable parts made their first appearance. He was also one of Cadillac’s founders, the engineer who encouraged standardization as a company priority.
The Model K was the short-wheelbase (74.0-in.) version of Cadillac’s single-cylinder cars. A two-passenger runabout, the car was priced at $750 in 1906 (perhaps $20,000 in today’s dollar). Its single-cylinder engine, mounted amidships beneath the seat, displaced 98.2 cu. in. (1609 cc) and produced an advertised 9 hp. A planetary gearbox had two forward speeds and reverse. A chain delivered the drive to the car’s rear axle.
And, amazing for the time, the Cadillac Model K was built with standardized parts. This is how it came to win the 1908 Dewar Trophy.
Lord Dewar, of Scotch whisky fame, endowed a Dewar Challenge Shield awarded in cycling and also underwrote the Dewar Trophy of England’s Royal Automobile Club. Previous winners were the Stanley brothers for their Stanley Steamer land speed record in 1906 and Rolls-Royce for its 40.50 hp model demonstrating 15,000-mile durability in 1907.
Proving their worth in 1908, three Model Ks were selected from stock at the Anglo-American Motor-car Company, Cadillac’s London agent. On Saturday, February 29, the three were driven 25 miles to the Brooklands Circuit, opened only a year before, where they did 10 laps of this oval, another 30 miles.
After resting under R.A.C. lock and key, on March 2, 1908, the three Cadillacs were disassembled, each car reduced to a heap of 721 parts. Then R.A.C. officials scrambled everything into a pile of 2163 pieces. What’s more, they chose 89 of these to swap with replacements selected from the dealership’s parts supplies.
The resulting heap was categorized into three appropriate piles, from which three Model Ks were reassembled. These three “harlequin cars” were fired up on Thursday morning, March 12, and began lapping Brooklands.
By 2 p.m. on Friday, March 13, 1908, the trio had completed 500 miles. After this, one of them was locked away until the June 1908 R.A.C. Reliability Run, at which it earned a class trophy. And, of course, Cadillac deserved the 1908 Dewar Trophy for this impressive display of parts interchangeability.
Well done, Cadillac! Kudos, Henry M. Leland!
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015