Cadillac Model 51

Cadillac Model 51
1915 Cadillac Model 51
Original Price: $1,850
Average Auction Sale: $83,733
Chassis Profiles

Total Production: 20,404 1915 - 1916
Cadillac introduced their Model 51 in September of 1914 for the 1915 season. It was a very important model for Cadillac and for the American automotive industry as it became the first production V8 engine for the US. There had been other V8 engines in the past; most were ephemeral prototypes. Only the French De Dion-Bouton company had actually marketed a production V8 engine, which they had done starting in 1909.

Cadillac's V-8 engine was cast in two blocks of four-cylinders each. They were positioned at a 90-degree angle, directly opposite one another. It featured full-pressure lubrication and a single, centrally-located camshaft which operated the valves. Each cylinder block had its own thermostat. The water circulation, used to cool the engine, was controlled by a impeller pump.

The engine displaced 314.5 cubic-inches and produced an impressive 70 horsepower. In the race for refinement, luxury, and performance, the Cadillac Model 51 was at the top of its game. The Packard Model 38, one of the premier luxury car producers of its time, produced 65 horsepower and cost nearly twice the price of the Type 51.

The Cadillac Model 51 was available in eight body styles. The open body styles sold for the same price as its four-cylinder Model 30 sibling from the year prior, at just under $2,000. The closed Landaulet Coupe body style sold for about $500 more. The top-of-the-line Berline Limousine cost $3,600.

The development of the V-8 is credited to many sources. A De Dion V-8 automobile had been purchased for study purposes. A second engine, a V8 Hall-Scott aeroengine was also purchased with the same intention. An experimental V-8 unit was built using the best practices and features of both designs. Under the leadership of British engineer D. McCall White, formerly with Daimler and Napier, the project got under way in 1914. The hand-picked team worked clandestinely, developing a smooth-running V8 that offered low-speed torque. The result of the product turned into America's first mass-produced V-8 engine and the layout would become the hallmark of Cadillac for many decades. The engine was praised for its smoothness at speeds between 55 and 60. However, at lower speeds such as 40 to 50, it exhibited out-of-balance shaking common to four-cylinder engines of the era. This issue would be later resolved with the introduction of the 1924 models. The solution was a balanced crankshaft.
By Daniel Vaughan | Dec 2008Further enhancing the Cadillac Motor Car Company's reputation for engineering leadership, the introduction of the innovative new eight-cylinder Model 51 marked Cadillac's first application of the V8 in standard production, mass-produced vehicle. Since that debut, the V8 engine has continued to remain as Cadillac's standard powerplant since, for an ‘unbroken span of more than 65 years'.

Cadillac chose to replace its outdated four-cylinder Model 30 with the 1915 V-8 Type 51. The model 30 had been running for four years and it was considered by some to be outdated, though it had an outstanding reputation for both durability and reliability. In 1914 sales for Cadillac plummeted, possibly due to other luxury makers were running with sixes. The Model 51 V8 was introduced by Cadillac founder Henry M. Leyland and featured an amazing 70 hp and a water-cooled V8 engine.

As the Edwardian Era was coming to a close, the elegance and innocence of that time was manufactured into the 'Landaulette' model. The stylish transformable coupe made the Model 51 a legend as it featured sophistication and style. Cadillac advertised the Model 51 as 'The Penalty of Leadership' in an ad campaign that wowed consumers. The Model 51 was produced in significant numbers and became a Cadillac trademark for decades.

For years Leyland had been experimenting with a variety of engine types, and as a result of all of his hard research, he came to the conclusion that V8 would be much more popular than a six. The compact nature of the v-type design also appealed to Leyland and in some instance the long crankshaft that characterized the inline sixes had a tendency to ‘whip at high rpm'. At the time, most luxury models had moved on to much more powerful six-cylinder engines, but Cadillac continued to sport its mundane four cylinder engine. The Model 51 was then debuted by the luxury department, powered by eight cylinders that wowed the public.

The V8 was a strange and unique design for those days, and many people hadn't even seen such an engine. Two French manufacturers had developed V8's more than a decade previously and had utilized them to power racing machines. In America, as early as 1906 Howard Marmon had demonstrated an air-cooled V8. In 1910 the French firm of DeDion had marketed a production V8. The Cadillac Model 51 offered the first commercially available V8 engine in 1914.

The Model 30 was the original vehicle that included an all-new Delco system and an electric start. No more were drivers concerned with jamming a thumb or breaking a limb when cranking their cars. Unfortunately, though the Model 51 was impressive, but it paled deeply when placed alongside the 1912 Cadillac Model 30. This top-of-the-line Cadillac was the most expensive vehicle that GM produced, and at 1921, the Model 51 was priced at $5,190.

During the 1915 model year alone, Cadillac produced more than 13,000 units of the Model 51, which was a very impressive number for the first year on the market. The Cadillac Roadster, the four-passenger Cadillac Salon, the five-passenger touring car, and the Cadillac Seven-Passenger vehicle were all priced at $1,975, while the Cadillac Coupe was priced at $2,500, the Sedan for five-passengers at $2,800, the standard Cadillac Limousine was priced at $3,450 and the top-line vehicle, the formal 'Berlin Limousine' was sold at $3,600.

By Jessica Donaldson
Cadillac Models


Vehicle information, history, and specifications from concept to production.

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