Secrecy, Camouflage, and the First Cadillac V8 Engine

1915 Cadillac at the Louwman Museum.  Photo credit:  Alf van Beem, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

When Cadillac introduced its new V8 engine in the fall of 1914, it was a momentous occasion and one that reverberated throughout the automobile world.  Foregoing the six-cylinders being utilized by the competition, Cadillac’s new power plant was a 60-hp 314-ci L-head engine (3-1/8” bore and 5-1/8” stroke) that was capable of traveling 16 miles on a gallon of fuel.  It was such an impressive accomplishment that one paper reported, “If they had had automobiles in the olden time, Cleopatra, Xerxes, Charlemagne, Caesar, Napoleon and Washington would have had eight cylinder Cadillacs.”

Cadillac went to great lengths to keep the development of this new engine a secret, and I found a story from a few years later, 1918, that described the Cadillac team’s efforts to conceal and camouflage.  I didn’t want to leave out any of the interesting details, so this article from the March 10, 1918, edition of the New York Sun is recreated here in its entirety. Enjoy!



Building That First Cadillac 8

     Great Secrecy and Some Camouflage Had Detroit Manufacturers at Sea

An interesting bit of “new news of yesterday” is contained in a story now first told by an official of the Cadillac Company about the designing and building of the eight cylinder V type engine which was introduced by the Cadillac in this country as an automobile power plant in August, 1914.

D. McCall White, designer of the engine and now vice-president of the Cadillac Company, came to this country from England incognito and was introduced as “Mr. David Wilson of the Phoenix Manufacturing Company.” With one assistant he went to various manufacturing companies in the East, where patterns were made and parts built to his specifications. For the most part the work was done in obscure shops.  As an example of the precautions taken the forked connecting rods were manufactured in one place and the straight connecting rods in another, so no one would associate them and gain a possible clue.

The first crankcase casing was made in a small foundry in Worcester, Mass., at about midnight, and the sand was cleaned out of the casting in the light of automobile headlights in the yard behind the building.

The parts were shipped to Detroit separately. The cylinder blocks made the journey in a Pullman car.

The assembling continued day and night for several weeks in an old one story shack on the banks of the Detroit River several miles from the Cadillac factory.  The only approach to the building was through a devious alleyway.  The few persons who knew the secret and worked on the engine when they visited the hidden workshop left their cars several blocks away on a main street and never approached the building in groups.  All of the windows in the little shop were frosted and armed men guarded the building day and night.

Out of the many thousands of men employed by the company perhaps twenty-five knew the secret.  The drafting was done behind locked doors in a downtown office building and at night the drawings were locked in a vault.

The first engine was finished at about five o’clock one afternoon. Mr. White and a number of other officials were present when it started to turn over on its own power for the first time. They all stood around the engine with a feeling that a big job had been completed.  “Here is the quietest demmed engine in Detroit,” is the way Mr. White, with a far away look in his eyes, is said to have voiced his feelings.

When the car was tested it was driven only on the back streets of Detroit. When the test driver thought he saw anyone looking at him suspiciously he opened the cutout on one side and to all appearances was driving a four cylinder car. The idea prevailed in the automobile world that the Cadillac had something up its sleeve, and as a sort of camouflage a unique four cylinder engine was actually built.  It had long cylinders and many strange features.  The building of this four cylinder engine was covered up just enough so that it would be sure to leak out, and it did.

1966 Ford Bronco

The Bronco is back but, no surprise, I vastly prefer the originals.  This outstanding first-generation example in Grabber Blue dates to the very beginning, 1966:

Ford Motor Company launched the 1966 automotive year in August of ’65 by unveiling a completely new line of 4-wheel-drive utility vehicles called Broncos. Designed to operate on or off the highway, the Bronco was available in an open roadster, a fully enclosed roomy wagon, and this short-roof utility model.

It was described as looking much like the jeeps that Ford built 250,000 of during World War II.  Initially powered by a 6-cylinder 170-ci 105-hp engine with a 3-speed manual synchronized transmission, the 289 V8 became an option within a matter of months. A three-passenger bench seat was standard, but options included twin bucket seats and a rear two-person bench seat.

March of 1966 advertisement for a Bronco with a 289 V8.

Contemporary news sources referred to the Bronco as the Mustang’s little brother which, frankly, didn’t make much sense until I found an explanation by Donald Frey, Ford Division General Manager, who said, “The Ford Bronco has been designed to join the Mustang in providing modern, active Americans with driving adventure as well as practical transportation.” Frey and Ford correctly predicted that utility vehicles were gaining in popularity with Americans, cars that could “serve as a family sedan, a sports roadster, a snowplow, or as a farm or civil defense vehicle.”  Sure, but you would also look pretty cool tooling around in this:

Kearney Foundry and Lambert Automobiles

I just discovered that there used to be a dealership for Lambert Automobiles in Kearney, Nebraska:

Kearney Foundry was located at the corner of 18th Street and Central Avenue.  It is a very old building, but still standing.  Notice the street paved with brick . . .

. . .and the architectural detail on the south side of this industrial building from the gilded age:

The Foundry repaired all kinds of machinery, gasoline engines and steam engines.  One 1911 advertisement boasted that their gas engines could do the work of four men on the farm. The notice featuring Lambert automobiles appeared earlier,  in 1908.  The Lambert was notable for its friction drive transmission:

The patented friction transmission had no clutch, u-joints or gears to strip. According to one 1907 story, a simple rotary engine drove a drive shaft at the other end of which was a large aluminum disk.  A fiber-faced wheel was applied at a right angle to transfer power to the axle.  Moving the fiber-faced wheel in or out from the center gave the desired speed or a complete reverse.  Here is a diagram from the patent:

Apparently, one local purchaser of a 20-hp touring car “backed the machine clear over the hill north of town, which is a feat that is not easy with other machines”.   Another story out of Kansas claimed the owner of a Lambert stopped the automobile, weighed down with five passengers, in deepest sand half way up a hill near Palmer, just to see if the car was able to start up again.  The car did start and dug its way up the hill, gaining speed the whole way.   Maybe all of these attempts to test the friction drive is why Lambert issued this advertisement:

Under “Friction Drive” it says, “It is impossible to break or injure it by carelessness or stupidity.”  I don’t know about you, but I know lots of guys that could rise to meet that challenge.

Baron von Rottweiler . . . if that’s your real name!

My last post mentioned the Pittsburgh Six, an automobile that was first manufactured by Fort Pitt Motor Manufacturing Co. in New Kensington, Pennsylvania in 1908.  It was designed by an engineer with German ancestry that went by the name Baron von Rottweiler.  If you think that sounds like a phony name, that’s because it was a phony name.  His real name was Paul Buchspeis, and he was not actually a baron. He was, however, a German spy.

In 1918, while World War I was raging on, von Rottweiler was working as the vice president and manager of Paramount, a plant that manufactured airplane and motorcycle motors. His exceptional ability as a mechanical mathematician had just won him a commission as a captain in the ordnance department of the United States Army.  He represented himself as a US citizen and, not only was this apparently not the case, but he had already been under surveillance by Department of Justice agents for two years.  It was reported that he had come to the attention of federal agents when a female friend had remarked casually to her employer that “Rotty” was a paid agent of the German government and had boasted that he had mapped the St. Lawrence river for Germany and had hidden explosives along the banks of that river for use by Germany upon their projected arrival in the United States or Canada.

Von Rottweiler appears in this 1908 advertisement for an auto show, (second from left, bottom row).

Newspapers at the time reported that Von Rottweiler was part of a system of spies built up by Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff (ambassador) and Franz von Papen (military attaché) and that he had conveyed documents to von Bernstorff that he had obtained through his membership in the Society of American Automobile Engineers.  He had also gained admission to one of the largest munition plants in the country through his role as general manager of Paramount.  Federal agents closed in and both von Rottweiler and one of his employees, mechanic Frank Newbert, were arrested and jailed, charged with failure to register as an alien enemy.

April 1918 headline, before his escape and recapture.

In June, von Rottweiler was being transferred to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, when he escaped from federal marshals in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Von Rottweiler had an American wife from Dansville, New York, and the feds put her under surveillance, scrutinizing every scrap of mail she received.  Their efforts paid off when they learned the missus planned to meet her fugitive spouse at a Chicago hotel.  Federal agents crashed the party and surprised the pair during their little tryst.

For his part, von Rottweiler proclaimed his innocence and insisted he was born in America, but investigators dug up his marriage license which listed Charlottenburg, Germany as his place of birth.  He arrived at Fort Oglethorpe for internment in September of 1918, and that is the last mention I could find of him in the newspapers.  Newspapers did report at the time that von Rottweiler had the distinction of perfecting the first six-cylinder engine in America.  I have not been able to verify that, but there is no doubt that the Pittsburgh Six was one of the earlier six-cylinders.  I found a 1955 interview with a man who had actually worked on the Pittsburgh Sixes, and this is what he said about them:

“There were six separate cylinder blocks, and double ignition, by a battery and coil for starting, and a high-tension magneto for running.

Gasoline tank was of 20-gallon capacity, kept automatically at three pounds pressure when the motor was running.  Spark and gasoline were controlled by hand levers on the steering wheel.  The gasoline consumption must have been tremendous, for the cylinders were 4 3/4-inch bore and 5 1/4-inch stroke.  That’s about the total piston displacement that a modern 300 horsepower engine would have, using high compression and high grade gasoline.

The rear axle gear ratio was 2 5/8 to 1, which must have put a heavy load on the motor.  Modern cars vary from 3.9 to around 4.27 to 1.

But there were many things on the old Pittsburgh that we think distinctly modern.

All models were two-tone in decoration, roadsters in French gray and maroon, touring cars in ultramarine blue and yellow. It had a seven bearing crankshaft with bronze bearings and sealed universal joints.”


1908 advertisement for the Pittsburgh Six.