In Britain the Rolls-Royce earned the slogan of ‘Best Car in the World’ from the inception of the famous 40/50hp model, commonly called the ‘Silver Ghost’, in 1906/7. Cadillac was to become the top car in the USA, with the title of ‘The Standard of the World’.
Both cars had started differently. Henry Royce was from the beginning seeking to improve on cars as they existed in 1900, whereas Henry Leland concentrated on inexpensive Cadillacs with standardised components. These single-cylinder Cadillacs made their appearance in 1902 and remained in production until 1914. Henry Royce did not have his far more refined two-cylinder Royce ready until 1904. However Cadillac had come up with a four-cylinder 30hp car in 1906. By this time R-R had the immortal 40/50 ready for production, so quiet it was called the ‘Ghost’, but whereas by 1914 Cadillac sold 75,000 Thirties, R-R had produced only 7914 cars up to 1925, when the ‘Ghost’ was discontinued.
At the first post-Armistice Olympia in 1919 Cadillac’s go-ahead Fred Bennett had the 5.4-litre V8 Cadillac on his stand, with sectioned chassis to show its working parts. This imposing V8 chassis cost £1200. R-R had only the virtually pre-war 40/50 to exhibit, chassis price £1575.
The two makes were regularly in evidence at the London Motor Show. By 1930, for instance, Cadillac showed their imposing 6.8-litre V16, backed up by the ageing V8, while R-R had the imposing revised 7.6-litre Phantom and the 20/25, respective chassis prices £1850 and £1500. Five years later Cadillac had two V8 models, of 5.2 litres and 5.6 litres; £1095 was asked for a bigger closed model. Derby countered with the 7.3-litre V12 Phantom Ill, chassis price £1850, closed car £2529.
In Britain competition with Cadillac was never very pronounced. But what is of much significance is the cooperation the Detroit engineers gave to R-R. Through the courtesy of Peter Baines, Secretary of the R-R EC, and Cadillac references which were made available by Robert Maidrnent, (a Cadillac nut and RREC and CLC member) and Mr Norm Uhlir of the Cadillac La Salle Club, I am able to divulge, with their permission, this little -known facet of R-R history.
Cadillac helped Rolls-Royce over design problems and a comparison with its cars. In 1919 Royce persuaded Lord t Hives to take a Rolls-Royce to Vale’s Steel, Iron and Coal Company and see their Cadillac. He was interested in finding out how the R-R chassis compared, saying the R-R was designed for heavy was bodywork and high speeds, “although much money has been spent in lightening it without reducing its strength”. By 1921 Maurice Olley, then at R-R Springfield, told Hives that an R-R was to be delivered to a Mr Dugdale, who now thought it out of date against his Cadillac. Claude Johnson wanted the latest R-R to be demonstrated to Mr D and for the open 1EX to be ballasted to the weight of the all-weather on order, so it might be used, if at not more than 70-80mph, as from a V12 Caddy CJ had tried.
In fact 1EX, after 15,000 miles, was not good enough and test driver Percy Northy was advised to take to Manchester the trails cu. Mr D was to be told that his R-R could be given a tyre pump and thermostat as on his Cadillac, but a water condenser was not necessary here, only in the USA to conserve alcohol used as an anti-freeze.
In 1921 Olley sent to q and Royce details of Cadillac’s fuel system air-pressure valve. Deciding against buying a car, due to high depreciation, Derby asked to borrow one for the day. This was granted through the London agent.
In 1930 a Mr Hosac of R-R USA ventured to say that if R-R wanted to keep ahead they must have more power. Cadillac had sold 1000 Vl6s in the first three months. This caused Royce and his engineers to look at reports on the V16, and the co-operation by Cadillac began. Sidgreaves of R-R had an interview with the company President, who told of the years they had spent getting the valve gear of the 32-valve V16 engine to function quietly.
Back here, Rowbotham of R-R had a run in a V16 Cadillac; the Cadillac salesman had a reprimand as the car was not run-in and had a heavy Fleet-wood body. However, the MD promised Rowbotham a loan of his sports 100mph V16, after which R reported back to Royce, adding “if we had made a normal-hp V16 everyone would think us very impractical”. To out-perfect the Phantom II, 12 cylinders would be needed.
Mr Hartman of Lendrum & Hartman was willing to sell R-R a V16 chassis in exchange for a PII. R suggested Brooklands for a test of V16 and PH, but Hartman knew that R-R’s specially prepared 92-100mph Pll would beat a V16 Caddy unless he could get a high-ratio axle. These tests never took place, Hartman’s excuse being that all his cars had been sold.
The death of Sir Henry Royce in 1933 seemed to have slowed down the worry over Cadillac competition. But by 1934 Rolls-Royce took delivery of their V16, albeit behind schedule. It came with a hand-written letter to Rowbotham in which Olley confessed that the ‘watchlike finish of the small details, which is typical oldie R-R, is not found on Cadillac cars, as shown in the minor controls. As you love me, soft pedal on the criticism, otherwise they will be putting me in the sanatorium’.
He warned about Dubonnet IFS, which was giving Chevrolet much trouble; had he made the original one for GM, he joked, they might sack him. R-R got the Cadillac V16 and let Hoopers look at its ‘all-metal’ body before it went to Derby; they found some wood in it! While quiet and vibrationless, it had low-geared steering. WO Bentley was ‘exceedingly enthusiastic’. Sidgreaves saw no point in not using Cadillac steering and IFS for their R-R Spectre.
Noise in the R-R was blamed on the Park Ward body and its makers went over to seek advice from Van Vooren, Binder and Kellners. They learnt nothing, and tried to get R-R to give them a Cadillac chassis to prove their point. Len Cox tried a Model 75 V8 Cadillac in 1936 and found it ‘as nice an American car as I have ever handled’. R-R continued with exhaustive tests of the Cadillacs in 1937. Thus the makers of what most Americans regard as the World’s Best Car assisted the manufacturers of what so many British proudly saw as the Best Car in the World.