HENRY LELAND WAS A NEW ENGLAND machinist who learned his trade with various companies, including Colt Firearms, a firm that excelled in precision manufacturing techniques. Precision became a passion for Leland He helped create a company in Detroit that made gears precise to "0.0005" .and were interchangeable when most parts still required hand fitting.
In 1902, the backers of the failed Detroit Automobile Company — founded with Henry Ford — lured Leland to appraise the factory and equipment for liquidation. Leland convinced the backers that the automobile had a bright future, and the Cadillac Automobile Company was born.
Cadillac earned the distinction as "The Standard of the World” by winning the prestigious Dewar Trophy awarded annually to recognize the most important advancement in the automotive field — not once, but twice, in its first decade of manufacture.
Cadillac's high standards were recognized by William C. Durant. the founder of General Motors. Durant bought Cadillac in 1905 for nearly $6 million. Leland later left GM and founded the Lincoln Motor Company. Cadillac became General Motors' standard-bearer for engineering with ongoing innovations including the first mass-produced V8 engine, the first all-steel body and the first fully automatic transmission. Cadillac also became GM's style leader. Most of the company's newest ideas appeared on Cadillac cars – like the 1938 Cadillac Series 60 Special that predated many styling trends of the postwar years – including - the first hard-top convertible body and the introduction of tail fins.
Bill Shanahan of New York City is just the second owner of this featured 1959 Cadillac Series 62 convertible. The Series 62 was delivered new with a 390-cubic-inch V8, with a 10.5:1 compression ratio and 325 hp with one Carter AFB four-barrel carburetor, five main bearings and hydraulic valve lifters. The car weighed in at 5455 pounds and sold for $4,855.
Shanahan's car covered 72,000 miles in the hands of its original owner in Niagara, New York, and was in very good condition when he got it 25 years ago. Over time, he has repainted it, had the transmission rebuilt and freshened up the interior when it began to show age.
Shanahan is also a successful vintage racer and frequent competitor in La Carrera Panamericana with co-driver Murray Smith. Shanahan and Smith recently competed with the Series 62 in the Louis Vuitton Classic Boheme Run, a biannual vintage rally in Hungary. Shanahan describes preparation of the Cadillac, which now has more than 83,000 miles, for the event in disarmingly simple terms, "I drove it," he said.
At an overall length of nearly 19 feet, it's hard to avoid boat-like comparisons. The elegant steering wheel feels pencil-thin as the driver peers over an expanse of white hood with a chrome spear pointing toward the horizon at the tip of each fender The Cadillac starts readily. Power is strong and progressive, and the brakes are adequate. Nothing happens too quickly, and nothing happens suddenly — until turning sharply, when body roll commands the driver's full attention at the helm.
Occupants sit on thick, luxurious red leather and are surrounded in power-assisted luxury. Nevertheless, the combination of metal, vinyl and stamped trim suggest an end of one era of interior finish and the beginning of another.
Through years of downsizing and economic engineering, Cadillac's crest and reputation gradually tarnished. But the more-recent introduction of the chiseled granite Cadillac style – and a renewed emphasis on performance — have again brought Cadillac to new levels and international attention.