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.