Magazine

Table: Cadillac: From Classic to Clunker to Concept


It burst on the scene as a technology marvel, and became a status symbol for newly wealthy Americans. But Cadillac lost its edge in the '70s and '80s

1902

Henry Leland starts the Cadillac Motor Car Co., named for Detroit city founder Le Sieur Antoine de la MotheCadillac.

1908

Cadillac sells the first car with precision-made parts that can be interchanged with other Cadillacs for repairs. The advance gives Cadillac a reputation for quality and the ad slogan, "The Standard of the World."

1909

General Motors (GM) buys Cadillac for $5.9 million.

1912

Cadillac launches the first cars with electric headlamps and a self-starter. Two years later, it sells the first mass-produced V-8 engine. This gives the brand an early reputation for technology leadership.

1927

Cadillac launches its lower-priced La Salle, designed by young GM styling chief Harley Earl. A smash hit, the car keeps Cadillac sales afloat during the Depression without dragging its name downmarket, as with luxury rivals.

1938

Cadillac's 60 Special becomes a fashion standard.

1948

Tailfins arrive. Earl designs the new Cadillacs with rear fins inspired by the P38 Lightning twin-boom fighter.

1949

Cadillac grabs luxury-sales leadership, beating Packard. Caddy also launches its racy, two-door hardtop, the Coup de Ville, which goes on to become a best-selling model for years.

1953

Cadillac launches the Eldorado convertible. It becomes a cultural icon as Marilyn Monroe and Dwight D. Eisenhower are often seen behind the wheel.

1955

Elvis Presley lends swagger to the brand, buying at least 100 in his lifetime. In one shopping spree, he buys 33 and gives them to friends, family, and a stranger at a bus stop.

1963

Paul Newman drives a pink convertible in Hud, and Caddies are firmly established in Hollywood as a symbol of American independence.

1974

Cadillac Ranch opens as an homage to the American symbol of excess. The art project features 10 cars planted grill-first in a Texas wheat field.

1981

Cadillac tries to meet fuel-economy concerns with an engine that shuts cylinders down at slower speeds to save fuel. But the motor is rough and unreliable.

1982

A terrible repair record hammers quality. Cadillac slaps a little trim and a crest on a Chevrolet Cavalier compact to get the Cimarron--a cheap attempt at low-price luxury.

1986

Cadillac downsizes the Eldorado and Seville, using the same chassis as the Oldsmobile Toronado.

1987

Cadillac tries to make a stylish comeback with the Allante convertible, designed by Italian studio Pininfarina. But the car has an underpowered engine and a leaky convertible top.

1996

GM puts a Cadillac crest on an Opel Omega midsize sedan and calls it the Catera. Promoted by Cindy Crawford and a cartoon duck, the attempt at entry-level luxury flops. Two years later, Lincoln is in the luxury-sales lead.

1999

Mercedes-Benz and Toyota's Lexus division both outsell Cadillac, the first time imported luxury ever outsold domestic brands. Cadillac debuts its edgy Art & Science styling with the Evoq roadster concept car.

2001

An updated Escalade sport-utility vehicle replaces a weak predecessor and catches on with the hip-hop crowd.

2002

Cadillac launches the CTS entry-luxury sedan to compete head-on with imports.

Data: Bulin Group, BW


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