Monday, June 17, 2013

In the Shop: 1906 Cadillac Model K

by Nancy DeWitt and Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

The Model K represents an important milestone in Cadillac's history. Henry Leland had introduced the first Cadillac in 1903, an attractive "one lunger" that sold surprisingly well and quickly earned a reputation for reliability, driving simplicity, ease of maintenance, and remarkable pulling and climbing capability. The Victoria, or “tulip,” body, in which the gracefully curved seat sides resembled a flower petal, became an immediate sensation when Cadillac introduced the Model K in 1906.

While other cars of the time were heavy and expensive to run, the single-cylinder Cadillac was light, reliable and cheap to operate. The Model K was also quite fast for a one-cylinder car, helping Cadillac reach their highest single-cylinder production total of 3,650 cars in 1906.  Because under-seat engines were by then passé, Cadillac disguised the Model K with a dummy front hood that housed only the radiator and water tank.

Leland, who came from the arms industry, understood the importance of precision-engineered interchangeable parts that could be assembled without the hand-fitting that characterized most automobile manufacturing in the early 20th century. Many doubted such a thing was possible, so Leland proved it in a standardization test conducted by the Royal Automobile Club in 1908 in Britain. During the test, three single-cylinder, 1907 Cadillac Model Ks were entirely dismantled into 2,163 parts. The test required that “no fitting, filing, scraping of bearings or grinding with an abrasive cloth” were allowed. Using only wrenches, screwdrivers, hammers and pliers, mechanics then reassembled the cars. All the parts fit precisely, and each. car was then driven for 500 miles on a track without any adjustments having to be made.  For this remarkable feat, Cadillac won the much-coveted DeWar Challenge Trophy, an award presented annually to the company making the most important advancements in the automotive field. Cadillac was the first American-made car to win this prestigious award. 

We rolled our '06 Caddy into the shop recently to get it ready for some exercise around Wedgewood Resort. It's a nice-driving car, and it even carried the Alaska Governor in the Golden Days Parade a few years ago. Alas, like many of the cars that sit for several months, the "bench gremlins" got to it. When we ran this car last fall, all seemed to work fine. However, when we got it serviced and ready to fire, the crank chipped off a little of the mating face (see photo at right) and gave me a little surprise. We ended up removing the crank adapter and had to fit the crank and the adapter so it would not let the crank spit out before it should.

As you might guess, when that happens these little spots of "hangar rash" begin to appear, and that just leads to more time in the shop...

This chipped fender is the result of the crank coming out prior to its normal departure time. In spite of these issues, the car is up and running again and will be out for some exercise in the next few days.

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