Founded by Henry Leland in 1902, who named the company after the seventeenth-century French explorer who founded Detroit. Quickly established a reputation for innovation, even after being absorbed into the GM conglomerate in 1909. In 1912 the company introduced the Delco electric ignition and lighting system, and the powerful V8 engine was also a Cadillac first. Legendary automotive designer Harley Earl was responsible for giving Cadillac’s their elegant, streamlined look in the 1920s.
He is credited with introducing the first tailfin on the new designs in the late 1940s, inspired in part by the fighter planes of World War 2, an automotive fashion trend that would take other car manufacturers a decade to catch up. During the 1950’s Cadillac's became extremely expensive, and heavy, attributable not only to the cars enormous size but the long list of luxury appointments fitted, such as imported leather seats, state-of-the-art climate and stereo systems and power windows. The brand also began to take hold in popular culture: Chuck Berry sang of besting one in a race in his 1955 hit "Maybellene," and Elvis Presley began driving a pink Caddy not long after his first few chart successes.
Cadillac's hold on the status-car market began to wane in the 1960s when both Lincoln and Chrysler began making inroads with their models. Mismanagement by GM engendered further decline. Cadillac production reached 266,000 cars in 1969, one of its peak years. That model year's popular Coupe DeVille (with a wheelbase of over ten feet) sold for $5,721; by contrast the best-selling Chevrolet, the Impala, had a sticker price of $3,465. There were media-generated rumours that people sometimes pooled their funds in order to buy a Cadillac to share. In the 1970s, the brand became indelibly linked with the urban American criminal element, the ride of choice for pimps and mob bosses alike. This in turn led well-heeled Americans to opt for European luxury marques.
A single model marque, that came about through the dogged determination of Graham Nearn, who wanted to keep the Lotus Seven in production. Colin Chapman was looking to move the Lotus marque more up market, and was ready to drop the Seven altogether, however it enjoyed a huge following of loyal devotees, and Nearn was not about to let it all go asunder. He purchased all the spares, jigs and moulds from Lotus, then renamed the car the "Caterham Seven".
The car then went through quiet evolution, care taken not to dilute the formula that had proved so successful. A stronger Ford RS2000 rear axle was fitted, but the engine options remained as the Ford 1600GT or Lotus 98ci 1.6 litre twin cam unit. In the late 1980's came the 123kW engine borrowed from the Vauxhall Astra GTE - and then came the awesome Jonathan Palmer Evolution model of 1992, using a tuned variant of the Vauxhall engine making it good for a whopping 186kW+. Eventually a long cockpit version was released for those with long legs, along with De Dion independent rear suspension replacing the live rear axle setup.
(1998 - present)
Founded by Andrew Baker and Robin Hall to manufacture a composite bodied sports car. The standard version uses a 2.5 litre V6 engine, while in 2003 the company would release a track special for the weekend warriors, fitted with the necessary gear to allow compliance both on road and at race day.
(1904 - 1916)
Founded by Lee Sherman Chadwick, a innovator who started out as an engineer for a ball-bearing manufacturer. To better demonstrate the potential and quality of his employers product, he chose to manufacture cars as a means of demonstrating the ball bearings to potential clients. He would soon move to the Searchmont Motor Company, where he would design a four cylinder car, however this would never make it into production, and a disillusioned Chadwick would decide to go it alone. Forming the Fairmont Engineering Works in 1904, the business enjoyed initial success, not only in the manufacture of Chadwick automobiles, but also in the repair of other makes.
By 1906 the company had manufactured a total of 40 cars, not a huge number but for the day, not a trifling number either. Two years later and the company had expanded to employ 90, and was renamed the Chadwick Engineering Works. Never lured by the fast buck to be had by implementing the production style used to manufacture the Model T, the Chadwick cars were by contrast painstakingly hand built, fitted with powerful engines and featured luxurious hand-stitched leather seats. Their performance was very good, leading Chadwick to experiment in both hill-climbing and motor racing - an expensive pass-time that would soon lead the company into financial difficulty.
When suppliers started to ask for money up-front, the writing was on the wall. Disillusioned, Chadwick left the automotive industry altogether in 1912, then taking up a role with a stove manufacturer. The Chadwick concern would struggle on for another 4 years.
(1908 - 1979)
William A. Schaum started out producing an odd two-cylinder high-wheeler named the Seven Little Buffaloes in 1908 which, in a complicated sequence of events, led to the formation of Checker Motors Corporation in 1922. Just how complicated you ask, well in September 1911 the Deschaum-Hornell Co. became the Suburban Motor Car Corp, then in 1912 a Mr. Palmer became involved with the corporation, the company then becoming the Palmer Motor Car Co. Not having a good dealer network, Palmer went into partnership with Partin cars, from which the Partin-Palmer Manufacturing Co. was formed.
Two years later it became the Commonwealth Motor Co. and moved to Joliet, Illinois, when the first links with Checker were formed – the year was 1919. Shortly after their move the American taxicab industry entered a boom time, and Checker Taxi of Chicago quickly acquired the smaller players in the greater Chicago area. Needing stronger more durable cabs, Checker approached the Commonwealth Motor Co. in 1920, awarding them a contract to assemble taxicabs using bodies supplied by another Joliet based company, Markin Auto Body Corp. Markin was to merge with the faltering Commonwea1th Motor Co. at the end of 1921, and by May of 1922 the Checker Cab Manufacturing Co. was born.
Originally manufacturing 3 cabs a day, by 1924 they had lifted production to over 4,000 units. Many trials and tribulations were to follow in the following decades, but it was in 1960 that Checker manufactured two private passenger car models, the Superba and Superba Special. These morphed into the vehicle the company is best known for today, the Marathon. Lagging sales and tougher government regulation forced Checker to cease production in 1979, but such was the strength of their vehicles that they would remain a part of the American automotive landscape for decades to come.
Brothers Louis, Arthur and Gaston Chevrolet migrated to the US from their native Switzerland as young men. Having worked for Mors, Louis was able to find plenty of work in the automotive industry, at the same time garnering a reputation as one of the countries leading race drivers. Building his own racer based on Buick running gear, the car would catch the attention of William Durant, founder (but no longer owner) of General Motors. The two quickly formed a partnership, which led to the development of the Classic Six in 1911.
Some 3000 had been manufactured by 1912, their popularity encouraging Chevrolet and Durant to expand their line-up, the Little Four based on Durant’s own Little Runabout, the first to carry the now familiar blue-and-white badge, while a single seat version was aptly called the Royal Mail. Forming the Chevrolet Aircraft Corporation with brother Arthur, Louis would have little to do with the company that bore his name, apart from a brief spell in the 1930’s, and would die in almost total obscurity in 1941. In the meantime the Chevrolet company had gone from strength to strength, first acquiring the Maxwell Motor Company factory in New York in 1914, then releasing the incredibly popular 490 – with a for the time bargain basement price of, you guessed it, $490.
By 1916 the company had manufactured 70,000 vehicles, and was quickly becoming a real challenger for Ford. In 1919 the company was absorbed by General Motors, who helped bolster production to almost 150,000. The depression would take its toll on the company, Chevrolet boss Pierre S. DuPont ignoring a consultants report to close the company, and helping it emerge from the depression in better financial shape than most. The post-war Bel Air was responsible for the company’s dominance of the US highways through the 1950’s, while the Corvette was every bit the match for the Ford Thunderbird. The one bump in the road came courtesy of investigative journalist Ralph Nader, his book Unsafe at Any Speed bringing about the demise of the Corvair, but being merely a blip on the radar of the now global giant.
Founded by Walter Percy Chrysler in 1925 by using what was left from the Maxwell Motor Company. Chrysler wanted to compete with General Motors, and so needed to create a range of product lines in sync – thus in 1928 a multi-tiered range would be introduced, Plymouth at the lower end, DeSoto in the lower-middle, then Dodge and Imperial at the upper end with Chrysler being the flagship. As if shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic, management could never decide just where each division sat within the Chrysler empire, and by the end of the 1930’s the order had been changed (from lowest to highest) to Plymouth, Dodge, DeSoto, Chrysler and Imperial.
The 1934 Chrysler Airflow was somewhat of a revolution in automobile design, the beautifully elegant streamlined body being designed in the auto industries first ever wind tunnel to meet aerodynamic principles. There are plenty of cars throughout the Unique Cars & Parts gallery pages that have proven to be too far ahead of their time for their own good, and the Airflow was such an example.
Despite the divine looks and streamliner appearance, it was the lower ranked Plymouth and Dodge divisions that would help secure the companies tenure through the depression era. During these tough economic times, only Plymouth would make an increase in sales, while the company would create a formal parts division under the Mopar brand (short for Motor Parts).
After so much effort and financial investment had been put into the spectacularly unsuccessful Airflow, Chrysler opted to take a far more conservative approach to later iterations, although the 1942 DeSoto’s did feature a remarkable hidden headlight system. Engineering advances would see the introduction of the wonderful Hemi V8’s in 1951, and in 1955 Chrysler unveiled the Forward Look style penned by Virgil Exner. Wonderful models would follow, including the 1957 Plymouth Fury and 1957 Chrysler 300C. In 1960 Chrysler introduced unibody construction, the first of the big three, then the new compact line of Valiant’s would win critical acclaim (and none more so than in Australia).
By 1966 Chrysler had expanded into Europe by acquiring the British Rootes Group along with Simca of France, to form Chrysler Europe. In hindsight this was not such a good move, industrial problems afflicting the British auto industry would take a heavy toll on the once great Chrysler conglomerate. It would be forced to sell the Simca division, despite it turning a handy profit, to PSA Peugeot Citroen in 1978. The downfall had begun, but thankfully a 1998 merger with Daimler Benz would ensure the survival of the marque.
Founded just before World War 2 by Piero Dusio, a professional footballer whose career in sport was cut short by injury. Dusio's passion was racing, fortunately his business acumen allowed him the financial freedom to run his own racing team, Scuderia Torino. Following the war Dusio decided to create his own automobiles, employing ex Fiat employee Dante Giacosa to create one.
Based almost entirely on Fiat running gear, the D46 was cheap, powerful and quick. Competition success soon followed, including a second place in the 1947 Mille Miglia. Orders for the D46 were flooding in, but Dusio turned his attention to the Grand Prix and, inevitably, this would send him and the marque bankrupt.
Founded by André-Gustave Citroën, who possessed the genius for organising mass-production, arguably second only to Henry Ford. Educated at Ecole Polytechnique, France's top technical university, Citroën then had a spell in the French army as an engineering officer and then landed a job as chief engineer at Mors. By 1913 he had set up his own business manufacturing helix gear wheels (and thus evolved the double chevron badge), and during the first World War was assisted by the French government to set up a large production facility in Paris in exchange for munitions manufacture.
Following the war, Citroën's factory was left full of American machine tools, so he began the design of his first car, the 1919 Type A. Cheap, reliable and hugely successful, the Type A was quickly followed by the B2, and then in 1921 by the Type C. The wonderful Rosalie was released in 1934, and then the car that would launch Citroën as a global auto manufacturer, the Traction Avant. War would intervene yet again, but the car to ensure the survival of the marque was in fact a rival to Hitler's Beetle, the ever popular 2CV.
Supercar manufacturer from Italy that actually managed to get a car into production. A single model manufacturer, but what a model it was - the mid-mounted V16 engine was the brainchild of ex Lamborghini employee Claudio Zampolli, who had been planning the manufacture of the Cizeta sine 1985 as a car to shame the likes of Ferrari. Drawing upon the abundant talent in the Modena area of Italy, Zampolli was able to obtain the financial backing of composer Giorgio Moroder (who had 3 film score Oscar's to his name, and had composed the music for the Los Angeles and Seoul Olympics).
The 16 cylinder 6 litre engine was developed from two Ferrari V8's being spliced togther, it combining to total some 64 valves, eight camshafts and even twin radiators! So long was the engine that it had to be mounted transversley so as not to make the car too lengthy, the gearbox sticking out of the middle to form a truncated "T", thus giving the car its name as the V16T. With 378kW on tap in a body able to slice through the air without so much as a whisper, it could out-run anything. But there were simply not enough people around, Sultan of Brunei excluded, that could afford the car. Only twenty would be manufactured over a three year period, and the company would fold. And as for the Sultan, well he purchased three of the twenty.
(1922 - 1929)
Founded by Frank Smith as a manufacturer of motorcycles, the small UK concern turned its attention to automobile manufacture from 1922, and quickly garnered a reputation for building robust and high quality vehicles. Its main rival was the then giant Morris concern, however you got a lot more for you money with a Clyno; priced the same as the Morris Cowley it came with four wheel brakes instead of two.
The astute purchaser soon favoured the Clyno, and the company repeated the success with the larger 12/28 model targeting the Morris Oxford. But the competition was fierce, and Clyno simply did not make enough money to re-invest in development of their cars. They soon started to look and feel dated, and people deserted the marque in their droves. A new prototype was manufactured, but it never made it into production.
(1955 - 1960)
A short lived attempt by Ford to create a superior up-market brand to compete with GM's Cadillac and Chrysler's DeSoto. The Lincoln Continental had been all but forgotten since production ended in 1948, but Ford were determined to breathe new life back into the marque, and so many outside design teams were engaged to come up with a suitable design for the all-new Continental. Ford chose the one from their own Special Products Division, headed by Harley F. Copp.
The new Continental's were hand built and used a Lincoln V8 mated to a three speed automatictransmission. The MkII Continental went on sale for a staggering $10,000, priced to be exclusive but, as it turned out, also priced out of the market. The MkIII of 1959 was much cheaper, at a more respectable $6,000, but to help reduce the price Ford had chosen to rely heavily on the Lincoln parts bin. It was difficult to differentiate the two, and soon the Continental marque was re-absorbed by Lincoln.
(1929 - 1937)
The high point of 1930's American auto style was courtesy of Erret Lobban Cord, a successful salesman who, as a teenager, had traded Model T Ford's around his native Los Angeles. He went on to sell Victory cars at a Moon dealership in Chicago, but his big break came when he was asked to restructure the moribund Auburn company, then in the hands of a receiver. Within 5 years he had not only turned the company around, but had released the L-29 featuring a big Lycoming straight-eight engine producing 125 bhp (93 kw).
Revolutionary in its front wheel drive configuration, the power from the Lycoming proved too much for the universal joint, such failures tarnished the reputation of the marque before production ceased at the onset of the depression in 1932. They bounced back in 1936 with the release of the 810, and although they stuck with the front wheel drive configuration, Cord choose to give the new model a futuristic streamlined appearance so beautiful, it was cited as a work of art by the Musuem of Modern Art. Powered by a supercharged Lycoming V8 offering 195bhp (145 kw) the car was expensive and, perhaps, too good looking for its own good. Production would finally draw to a close in 1937.
The Crosley automobile was the brain child of Powel Crosley, who had already made his fortune as a radio and appliance manufacturer, owner of WLW the "Nation's Station" and the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. Crosley set up an engineering facility in Cincinnati Ohio, with assembly of the cars taking place in Richmond Indiana (Crosley Corporation) from 1939 to 1942, and then Marion Indiana (Crosley Motors) from 1946 to 1952. Sold to General Tire in 1952 who halted production, although sporadic efforts were made to acquire the automotive tooling and fixtures to resume production, these efforts were all in vain.
One of the pioneering UK automobile companies, Crossley started out manufacturing a chain-driven 22 hp car as early as 1904. Engineers J.S. Critchley and W.M. MacFarland switched to the use of a shaft drive setup by 1906, and then afforded the cars 4 wheel brakes by 1910, demonstrating just how visionary this small company was. The company was heavily involved with the manufacture of large models as part of the War effort; unfortunately after the war the company seemed to lose its way, although there were some wonderful iterations produced.
There was a 19.6 hp (14.6 kW) version designed by T.D. Wishart, along with a sports 20/70 version guaranteed to reach a then impressive 75 mph (120 km/h). In 1926 the company switched from using side valve 4 cylinder engines to overhead-valve six cylinder units. But the cars did not find favour from the buying public, and the company found it difficult to create interest in their models - production ended in 1937.
The first foray into car manufacture would come from James Cunningham, Son & Co. of Rochester, New York; a company that had been in the carriage building business since 1842. The 1907 Electric Car would soon be followed by a petrol powered iteration, using engines sourced from Continental or indeed built by Cunningham themselves. Progress was rapid, and by 1915 the company was manufacturing their own V8's.
But the depression hit hard, particularly with the niche up-market car manufacturers, and Cunningham would cease the manufacture of cars in 1931, although it would continue to make car bodies for other manufacturers chassis until 1937. Just on 14 years later, one Briggs Swift Cunningham, a natural athlete who excelled in everything from bobsledding to golf and yachting, would re-launch the company. Cunningham’s burning ambition was to build American cars and have them driven by American drivers in premier European motor-sport events.
His Holy Grail was naturally enough the Le Mans 24 hour race, but Le Mans race regulations stated that prototypes could only be entered by an established motorcar manufacturer. Undaunted, in 1949 he hooked up with Phil Walters and Bill Frick who had also experimented with engine swapping, and in 1950 they formed Cunningham, Inc. For the next four years he would race his cars with mixed fortunes, worst being the 1951 Le Mans where all three Cunninghams entered failed to finish the race. In 1955 he decided to cease manufacture of his own cars, and concentrate on racing other manufacturers cars - he would go on to take out the GT category of the 1960 Le Mans in a Chevrolet Corvette.