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Henry Ford’s success can be attributed, in part, to his interaction with Henry Leland. Henry Leland’s participation in the early Henry Ford Company led to Mr. Ford leaving his company and starting the Ford Motorcar Company. This then led to the formation of Cadillac and continued success for both men. They shared a vision that was expressed differently in their work. Let’s explore their paths to success.
We wrote of Leland’s involvement in the development of the single cylinder Oldsmobile and later the Cadillac automobile through his engineering company, Leland and Faulconer. After Leland turned around the renamed Ford manufacturing effort as Cadillac, Leland applied modern manufacturing principles to auto production as a method of cost control and, above all else, quality. Until now, parts were manufactured in small batches which often required modifications or adjustments before installation. Leland’s contribution to production was the interchangeable parts technique learned during Civil War armament production for Brown and Sharp and Colt. Imagine a battlefield where weapons could be repaired only by a gunsmith because parts were unique to each individual weapon. The auto industry started the same way until Leland applied the rigors of precision machining and critical measurement. Cadillac earned the reputation of quality construction and won the famous Dewar Trophy in 1908 by demonstrating this interchangeability of parts. That success encouraged General Motors to acquire Cadillac.
Leland left General Motors in a dispute with William C. Durant over GM’s WW1 production strategies. Free of his responsibilities, Leland produced Liberty aircraft engines at his newly formed Lincoln Motor Company. After the war, production of luxury V8 automobiles began. Leland would apply the rigors of precision manufacturing, interchangeability and top quality to produce high end cars at a high cost.
Things were not static over at the Ford Motorcar Company. Henry was busy building a brand and developing the next success. And what a success it was. The Model T was the home run future auto buyers were hoping for - good quality, inexpensive (compared to premium brands such as Lincoln would become), easy to operate and cheap to repair. Henry was able to reduce costs while improving quality in part to Leland’s manufacturing disciplines. Here is where we connect that illusive $500 car. A.P. Brush was able to market. Mr. Brush offered a basic runabout buggy in limited production for several years, but it was Ford who delivered the “Everyman’s Car” in spades. By 1916, the basic Ford touring car was selling for only $360. Hundreds of thousands of units were being produced each year.
Model T sales volume drove costs down and generated vast amounts of capital. It was this capital that will close the loop on the remainder of our story. Seems Mr. Leland’s Lincoln Motor Company, while turning out cars of the highest quality, were expensive, perhaps too expensive for Henry Leland and son, Wilfred. In 1922 Mr. Ford returned the favor delivered by Leland at Cadillac. Ford’s bid to acquire the insolvent Lincoln was so low the court refused the $5 million offer on $16 million in assets. The deal closed at an agreed $8 million. Shortly thereafter, the Lelands were shown the door as Ford forced out the founders from the Lincoln Motor Company.
There is a stunning example of the marriage of these two brands, the 1927 Lincoln Coaching Brougham with custom coachwork by Judkins. This fabulous vehicle, shown above, was on view this past weekend at the exclusive 2013 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance and will be on display in late September at the Ironstone Concours. Visit the National Automobile Museum today to see this beauty first hand.
A little sting in the tail... If you inspect the nameplate on the radiator shell. It says, “Ford Lincoln Detroit”.