Henry Martyn Leland was born to Quaker parents in Vermont in 1843 and learned precision with Samuel Colt in Connecticut and with Brown and Sharpe, makers of tools and machinery in Rhode Island, for whom he developed a hair clipper that made a barber's work considerably easier for years afterward.
In 1890 he took his family and his talents to Detroit, where fine machining was virtually unknown and where he joined up with wealthy lumberman Robert C. Faulconer and tool designer Charles H. Norton in the formation of Leland, Faulconer and Norton. In 1894 Norton left the firm to begin his own enterprise and became a successful manufacturer of crankshaft grinders. Initially, Leland and Faulconer specialized in making precision gears. By 1896 the firm manufactured steam engines for Detroit streetcars and gasoline engines for marine use.
In June 1901, Leland was under contract by Olds Motor Works to produce engines for the curved dash Oldsmobile. He developed a refined version that developed 23 percent more horsepower. This new engine, however, was rejected by the Olds people because retooling for it would further delay production which had already been delayed by the factory fire in March. Henry Leland's desire to get into the automobile business was fulfilled a year later through the courtesy of Henry Ford.
In August 1902 William Murphy and Lemuel W. Bowen called in Leland as a consultant. Murphy and Bowen were two of the financial backers behind Ford's automotive venture. They were disappointed that Ford seemed to produce little more than racing cars. So they called in Leland as a consultant to appraise the automobile plant and equipment so they could sell it and get out. Leland showed them the engine rejected by Olds and suggested they stay in. Thus was born the Cadillac Automobile Company, named for Le Sieur Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the French explorer who had discovered Detroit in early Eighteenth Century. The president of Cadillac was C. A. Black.
The first Cadillac was completed on Oct. 17, 1902 and was given its maiden test drive by Alanson P. Brush, the twenty-four-year-old Leland and Faulconer engineer who had contributed substantially to the car's design and who would later build the Brush Runabout.
In January the Cadillac was taken to the New York Automobile Show where company sales manager William E. Metzger (formerly of Olds Motor Works, later the "M" of E-M-F) took orders for an astounding 2286 cars before declaring mid-week that the Cadillac was "sold out."
Cadillac did not use the "A" designation in 1903; however, later Cadillac publications combined references to the 1903 "Cadillac" and "1904 Model A" and used "Model A" in reference to all single cylinder cars with two front springs and angle steel frame.
What made the Model A Cadillac such a best-seller, in addition to Metzger's super-salesman technique, was its refinement. Though the 10 horsepower developed by its single-cylinder copper-jacketed engine was exemplary, its two-speed planetary transmission and center chain drive via Brown-Lipe differential was conventional. Still, in a day when many automobile productions had a machine shop look to them, the Cadillac, comparatively, looked like a jewel from Tiffany's. And the price was just $750. The four passenger model sold for $850. The cars gained a reputation for reliability, ease, economy of maintenance, and remarkable pulling and climbing capability. Publicity shots show Cadillacs pulling heavily loaded wagons up slopes and climbing the steps of public buildings.
In July, 1903, F. S. Bennett exported a Cadillac to England where it was entered in the Sunrising Hill Climb which was reported to be "the worst hill in England." It placed seventh in a field of 17 other cars, but it was the only one with one cylinder. The others had two or four cylinders and up to four times the displacement. Two months later, the same car was entered into the 1903 One Thousand Mile Reliability Trial in England and finished fourth in its price class on total points, but first in its price class on reliability scoring.
The deal made with the former Ford backers called for Leland and Faulconer merely to supply engines, transmissions, and steering gears for the Cadillac. That part of the operation moved with Leland-like precision. But at the Cadillac factory on Cass Avenue, chassis and body assembly lagged woefully behind. In October 1905, the Cadillac and Leland and Faulconer operations were merged into a new Cadillac Motor Car Company, with Henry Leland -- now in his sixties -- as general manager, his son Wilfred as assistant treasurer under Murphy.
The single-cylinder Cadillac would be built until 1909, but its most significant historical achievement happened in England in 1908. Read about it in the history of the 1908 Cadillac.
The 1903 chassis had angle steel frame with two half-elliptic springs front and rear with straight, tubular front axle. The steering wheel was located on the right-hand side with the controls to the right and using adjustable rack and pinion steering gear. The single tube tires were mounted on 22 inch (56 cm) wood wheels with 12 spokes (14 on the prototype).
The engine was affectionately called Leland & Faulconer's "Little Hercules." The horizontal single cylinder was mounted to the left under the front seat. An impeller pump circulated the water coolant through a slopped finned tube radiator which was mounted in the front. The detachable engine cylinder was made of a special alloy cast iron with a copper water jacket. It also had a detachable combustion/valve chamber. The valves were vertical, in-line, and perpendicular to the cylinder bore. The exhaust valve was located at the bottom and was operated by a rocker and push rod from the cam on a gear driven by a half speed shaft in the crankcase. The intake valve was at the top and was operated by a rocker which was controlled by a sliding cam driven by an eccentric on the half speed shaft. The fulcrum for the sliding cam was adjusted by the movement of a lever on the steering column, giving variable lift to the intake valve and thus throttle adjustment for the engine.
Fuel was gravity fed from a tank under the driver's seat to an updraft mixer which automatically delivered the amount of fuel demanded by the intake valve opening. Internal lubrication was splashed from a single-pipe, gravity feed oiler. External points, including the two main bearings, were lubricated by grease and oil cups. Cranking was made from the right or left side of the vehicle through a jackshaft and chain to the crankshaft. The bore and stroke were the same -- 5.00 inches (127 mm) -- giving a displacement of 98.2 cubic inches (1.6 liters). It produced 6.5 horsepower. Alanson P. Brush held the patents on the copper water jacket, variable lift intake valve, mixer, planetary transmission, and adjustable rack and pinion steering. By 1906, the impact of the Brush patents would start a drastic change in Cadillac design.
The driveline was a two speed planetary transmission. Low speed was engaged by the left foot pedal. High and reverse was engaged by a lever on the right. There was a single chain to the spur gear differential.
A foot pedal operated the mechanical brakes on inboard ends of rear half-axles. There were no front brakes. The engine could be used for additional braking by easing the control lever into reverse.
The two passenger runabout convertible was expandable to four passenger by bolting on a rear entrance tonneau. It had a sloping, curved dash like the Oldsmobile. The body could be lifted from the chassis without disconnecting any wiring, plumbing, or controls. An advertisement in Horseless Age magazine said, "The vehicle is of the runabout type, but it probably is somewhat heavier and stronger than the average representative of this type."
Serial numbers were not used. An engine number was stamped in two places on the crankcase: top right edge of the cylinder flange near the water outlet and on the right, front face just below the top cover. The blank spaces on the patent plate were for additional patent dates, not the engine number. Engine numbers 1 to 2500 included three prototypes built in 1902.
The transmission had two forward speeds (3:1 and 1:1) and one reverse with a disc clutch and chain drive. The overall ratio was 3.1:1 to 5:1 depending on the combination of the size of the sprockets. The drive sprocket had 9 or 10 teeth and the driven sprocket had 31, 34, 38, 41, or 45 teeth. The lower ratios were used on the runabouts to be driven on smooth, level roads; but the higher ratios were used on hilly roads and for delivery vehicles. Owners were instructed how to change the sprockets, but it involved the disassembly of the transmission and rear axle -- hardly a job for the average motorist.