Cars We Remember: First Lincoln and First Caddilac

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1920 Lincoln Custom
The first Lincoln and the first Cadillac were designed by the same man, Harry Leland. (Artwork compliments GM and Ford)

Lincoln and Cadillac designer one and the same.

Q: Greg, I read your article on LaSalle automobiles in our local paper yesterday and was appreciative of it.

I worked for an Oldsmobile dealer in the early 1950’s and graduated from General Motors Institute in Flint, Mich. I had a Bachelor of Science Mechanical Engineering degree from Syracuse University, but liked working with autos.  I later joined General Electric to finish out a 35 year career with them.  Editor’s Note: General Motors Institute is now known as Kittering University.

While at the Oldsmobile dealer, I remember one LaSalle being traded in as a used car. It was a fine machine. I didn’t get to work on it or even drive it but I admired it.

I have a suggestion for another article for you. I assume that you are aware of Henry Leland, as he designed and built the first Cadillacs. General Motors then picked the make up, probably by Billy Durant, and is still producing them.

Henry Leland left GM and designed a new car and manufactured it for a few years. That was the Lincoln. His company went bust again and Ford Motor Co. picked it up and it was put under the direction of Edsel Ford. They, too, are still being produced.

It is amazing that the same man designed both luxury competing cars. I doubt if very many people know this including the respective make dealers. I enjoy studying the history of the automobile and the timely developments.

Keep up the fine articles, George Dieffenbacher, email from New York.

A: George, thank you very much. Yes, I’ve heard of Leland, as he was one of the original and best designers and engineers of his era.  He was born in 1843 and passed on in 1932.

1902 Cadillac Model ALeyland’s original Cadillac brand was indeed purchased by General Motors in 1909 for a reported $5.5-million. However, it was GM boss Alfred P. Sloan who oversaw the purchase.

As for William “Billy” Durant, he indeed did have much to do with Leland’s future.

Following a disagreement between Leland and Durant over Cadillac not producing war engines for WWI as requested by the government, Leland actually lost his position. Being that Durant was against any type of war and a strict pacifist, Leland quit his job at GM to pursue building those aircraft engines.

Leland quickly formed his new company with his son, Wilfred, in 1917. As you mention in your letter, the new company was called Lincoln and named after Leland’s hero, President Lincoln.

After acquiring a $10-million loan to build the engines, Leland and Lincoln’s original  cash flow came from assembling the V-12 Liberty aircraft engines GM refused to build and used Henry Ford’s engine cylinders to do so.

Following the war, Leland re-tooled his aircraft engine factory to manufacture the luxury car we know today, the Lincoln in late 1919 and early 1920. After running into money woes, Ford purchased the now insolvent Lincoln Motor Company in 1922.

On June 10, 1922, Ford’s Ernest Liebold arrived at Lincoln to ask for the resignation of Leland’s son, Wilfred. When it became clear that Liebold had the backing of Henry Ford, Henry Leland resigned as well. In 1923, Edsel Ford took over the marquee.

Today, the Lincoln is still one of the world’s most respected luxury brands, and I’m glad you guided us down memory lane.

In ending, the modern day Chrysler  PT Cruiser and Chevy HHR (High Heritage Roof) were designed by the same artist. namely Bryan Nesbitt, who still works for GM.. but that’s another day. Thanks again for your letter.

(Greg Zyla writes weekly for GateHouse Media and More Content Now. He welcomes reader questions on old cars, auto nostalgia or auto racing at 116 Main St.  Towanda, Pa. 18848 or email at

Greg Zyla

Greg Zyla