Henry M. Leland is one of the most important names in the annals of American automobile history, and his early work with Cadillac was perhaps his greatest contribution to the motor industry. From the earliest days of the company, Leland strove to make Cadillac superior in quality to any other motor car, all while employing his knowledge of manufacturing efficiency to keep costs under control. The earliest Cadillacs were small runabouts and touring cars powered by the single cylinder “Little Hercules” engine, originally developed by Leland and Faulconer Engineering, and supplied to Ransom E. Olds. For Leland’s Cadillac, the engine was further refined, then centrally mounted beneath the car, putting power down via a chain drive rear axle. These cars proved quite robust, and were built to a very high standard of quality for their day. Continuous refinement led to the Models K and M of 1906, which retained the single cylinder engine and was available as either a light runabout, touring car or panel delivery.
This delightful Model K has a fascinating history that originates in Virginia, when a young college student named Thomas C. Lewis began the hunt to satisfy his urge for an antique car. His queries eventually led him to a junk yard where there were reports of an “old buggy with an engine under the seat”. Figuring he was there to see an early Oldsmobile, he was finally able to look at the car, which was covered with years’ worth of dust and junk. He was thrilled to discover it was in fact a Cadillac, and it was fitted with a curious folding rumble seat. He soon learned the car had been parked up since 1911 when it was left there by its original owner! According to archives from the Cadillac Single Cylinder Register, the car was delivered new to Mr. Cator Ragland of Bedford, VA. Mr. Ragland owned the candy store in Bedford and he was the first owner of an automobile in the small Virginia town. The story goes that he drove the car regularly through 1911 until the abuse from the rutted rural roads took its toll on the little Cadillac and the crankshaft was broken. The car was sent to Mr. C.H. Rucker’s wrecking yard where it remained untouched for some forty years.
Mr. Lewis settled on a price of $150 and set to work restoring the Cadillac, purchasing and rebuilding a replacement engine in the process. Extensive historical records show correspondence between himself and parts suppliers, as well as Virginia officials as he prepared to register the car for the first time in half a century. His hard work paid off and the Cadillac was completed in time for the 1957 Glidden Tour, where it performed quite admirably over the arduous course of the tour which, incidentally, took the Lewis’ and their Cadillac through the very same town where the car was first delivered. The Cadillac repeated the feat the following year, both acts proudly displayed on brass plaques affixed to the dash. It is a special and well-known car among early Cadillac enthusiasts, and it has been featured in Automobile Quarterly (Vol. 3, No. 3) and shown by Mr. Lewis on numerous occasions. After changing hands, this wonderful Cadillac was treated to its second high quality restoration in the late 1990s where it was repainted in a correct shade of dark green and detailed with lovely gold coach lines. It retains the extremely rare Artz folding tonneau, and an array of photos and receipts document the process, showing the level of detail lavished upon the car.
Today, the Model K presents in excellent condition. The paint and body are in very good order and the excellent brass trim has benefitted from a recent polish. Upholstery is excellent both in front as well as on the unusual and exceptionally rare Artz folding tonneau. This unique arrangement was patented by the Artz Company, and period advertising actually shows it fitted to a Cadillac Model K. The company claimed the tonneau “Is opened in five seconds without the use of tools…” When folded, the rear mounted spare wheel lends the appearance of a standard runabout, but provides room for two additional passengers when open. The advertisements also mention the inclusion of additional step plates and rubber matting to allow for easy access to the rear tonneau. It is a clever and surprisingly functional accessory, one we have never seen fitted to similar cars. The top is in excellent order, with very good leather stay straps and a restored frame. As with any horseless carriage, the cockpit is minimalist, but this example is correctly detailed with appropriately finished woodwork and correct pyramid-pattern rubber mats.
Along with the body, the chassis and running gear were restored to a high standard with attractive detailing on the chassis, axles and suspension. It remains in lovely condition, having mellowed slightly since the restoration and now appearing with a wonderfully authentic character. This charming single-cylinder Cadillac has a fascinating history, extensively recorded via the included files. With its extremely rare body, this lovely car would be most welcome at numerous HCCA, Cadillac Club or virtually any other similar club event or tour. It is a wonderful foray into the world of horseless carriages, and an excellent example of the breed.
Aug 10, 2015