The “original car”

Conservation, preservation, and the dilemma of mass production

Authored by: Luke Chennell

The Routledge Companion to Automobile Heritage, Culture, and Preservation

Print publication date:  December  2019
Online publication date:  December  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138389434
eBook ISBN: 9780429423918
Adobe ISBN:


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In 1908, three Cadillac Model Ks won the Royal Automobile Club’s Dewar Trophy for Henry Leland and his company. What made the Cadillac name and earned the trophy was performance: the cars were run for 500 miles at full speed, disassembled, jumbled, and reassembled, then run again for the same distance. At the time, it seemed an insurmountable challenge. Cars were “precision” machines, built individually. While the cars might share a common design, mechanics were expected to fit individual parts to a specific example in order to ensure proper operation. 1 Famously, the three Model K Cadillacs were reassembled into working order after being jumbled. Moreover, they were reassembled using brand-new stock factory parts, making it impossible for individual pieces to make a difference in the operation of the car. The Dewar trophy Cadillacs have come to signify the importance of mass production, the rise of American manufacturers on the world stage, and the idea that automobiles could be a mass-produced consumer item rather than a custom-made luxury item for the rich. 2

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