1903 Cadillac Runabout Rear-Entrance Tonneau

Founded by Henry Leland and Robert Faulconer, the Cadillac Automobile Company of Detroit completed its first car in October 1902. The firm’s superior manufacturing technology-precise gear cutting was Leland and Faulconer’s specialty-soon established it as the foremost builder of quality cars in the United States. The company was formed using funds supplied by two of Henry Ford’s ex-backers and took its name from Le Sieur Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the great French 17th century explorer who founded Detroit in 1701.

The 1903 Cadillac Runabout Rear-Entrance Tonneau offered here, serial number 13, is the oldest known surviving Cadillac. It was one of three displayed at the New York Automobile Show in January 1903, the others being numbers 10 and 11.

An excellent performer by the standards of the day, the Cadillac’s 98-ci, single-cylinder engine (“Little Hercules”) was mounted on the left beneath the front seat and drove through a two-speed-plus-reverse planetary transmission by chain drive to the rear axle.

This Cadillac Runabout was bought by the owner of the Thomas Winery in Cucamonga, CA, where it was displayed until February 1973. At that point it was sold and in 1985 was restored by Herman Stoebel, now deceased. A complete photographic record was made of the restoration, illustrating the various differences-some obvious, some less so-that distinguish the earliest examples from the later production models of 1903. The most obvious differences are the protruding radiator on the earliest cars and the completely different body panel below the first entrance. It is believed that the early radiators were changed after about 25 cars had been made.

The three cars displayed at the 1903 New York Auto Show were the first Cadillacs shown to the public and the first ever sold. As the sole survivor of these pioneers, 13 is a vehicle of exceptional importance in the history of the American automobile industry. Quite simply, the Cadillac story started here.

Carl Bomstead

Carl Bomstead - SCM Senior Auction Analyst

Carl has been writing for SCM for 19 years. His first article appeared in the February 1997 issue, and at least one of his articles has appeared in every issue since. When he’s not writing, he serves as a National Director for the Classic Car Club of America and tends to his extensive collection of automobilia. He has been a judge at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for the past 20 years, and he also judges at Amelia Island and other major concours. An extensive number of collector cars have passed through his garage, and a 1947 Cadillac 62 Series convertible and a 1968 Intermeccanica Italia are current residents.

Posted in American