Classic Car Capital

Cadillac – Don’t Call it “Standard of the World”

Briggs Cunningham Cadillac 61 Coupe Le Mans
The Briggs Cunningham-entered Cadillac 61 Coupe finished 10th at Le Mans in 1950.

By Martin Swig

In the years just before and after World War II, a Cadillac was one of the best performance cars on the market. By 1950, they were so good that a very lightly modified stock Cadillac finished in 10th place at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, humbling many more exotic cars, and deeply impressing the Europeans. Cadillac engines appeared in European performance cars like the Allard. Cadillac cars were advertised as the “Standard Of The World,” a defensible claim.

In the mid-‘60s, Car & Driver Magazine tested and ranked the world’s best cars and found that a Cadillac was second only to the rare, super costly and complicated Mercedes-Benz 600. Starting in the ‘70s, it all went haywire. The U.S. government decided to regulate cars for smog, safety and economy. General Motors was particularly graceless in the modifications it made to its cars. Over the years Cadillac, which had absolutely “owned” the premium car business, saw its sales drop. They were surpassed by the German trio Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW, and the Japanese Lexus, Infiniti and Acura.

Earlier in this decade, GM product planners, inspired by product czar Bob Lutz, started to re-invigorate Cadillac. The best result to date is this month’s test car, the Cadillac CTS-V coupe. This car goes up against another German trio, the four-seater coupes from those same three German brands. While the Cadillac hasn’t surpassed them, this newest car can definitely run in the same company. Cadillac is to be commended for developing a unique design language – they call it Art and Science – and sticking with it, and refining it over recent years. This latest coupe is distinctly American in flavor, bold and flamboyant, but still tasteful.

The brands that eclipsed Cadillac have chipped away for twenty to fifty years, edging upward slightly each year, according to their long-term strategic plan. For Cadillac to truly reestablish itself will require the same sort of steady, long-term approach.

Cadillac CTS-V Coupe

Unfortunately, Cadillac is getting a little ahead of itself by once again advertising “Standard of the World.” Here’s what’s missing to substantiate that claim:

1. Sales – Cadillac is outsold in its home market by Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz;
2. Cadillac sells almost no cars outside the U.S. because no one other than Americans want them;
3. European brands including Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Porsche, Ferrari, Maserati, Rolls Royce and Bentley are sought after and sold in most countries around the world. Mercedes, Audi and BMW each sell about a million cars per year worldwide. Cadillac sells fewer than 200,000, almost all in one country.

So to suggest that Cadillac is the “Standard of the World” is simply not true.

[Source: Martin Swig; photo credit: GM]

Show Comments (13)

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  1. I reluctantly agree in that Cadillac is perhaps a bit too quick on the trigger with this latest marketing slogan. I think that it is worth mentioning that in regards to European sales, Cadillac distributor Kroymans had collapsed in 2009 leaving GM to drop back and regroup while retaining control of the brand’s distribution in the UK, Russia, and Switzerland until things could be put in place to rebuild a distributorship reaching other key European nations.

    The key conspirator thwarting Cadillac’s resurgence to the top of the world’s most elite automakers is largely GM management in my opinion. Strides forward were being made nearly a decade ago when the brand was competing at Le Mans, only for the program to be rapidly cut from the roster of GM’s racing programs.

    The Cadillac Sixteen was to be a pivotal piece in helping the American brand return to top graces, and this too was stopped after a stellar debut at the North American International Auto Show just a few short years ago.

    It was once said that if GM’s management ever began to slip up, that it would take nearly 20 years to see the ramifications. That’s fairly true, as it was in the 1970s that things went horribly astray at GM, and not until the mid 1990s was anything even remotely done to correct the direction of America’s last and most prestigious brand.

    The current line up from Cadillac is one of the greatest in the past 60 years, with loads of performance and ample luxury accommodations abundant across the board. If the Europeans don’t get that, that’s a shame, because Cadillac is truly back and coming on with all the thunder and prestige that accompanied the brand back in 1950.

  2. I Am afraid you all have not gone back far enough in history to see where the slogan Standard of the world came from. Cadillac won the Dewar trophy back in the days when cars were hand built and none of the pieces were interchangeable. Two Caddys were disassembled and the parts randomly dispersed. The cars were then reassembled using parts from either car to complete the assembly, thereby proving that all Cadillacs were built to a Standard. Cadillac has since used the slogan “Standard of the World” to promote their automobiles. No worse a slogan the Packard’s “Ask the man who owns one”

  3. The American automakers with GM as the lead embarrassed all Americans with the sludge they pushed down the consumers throats during the 1970s. The names and photos of the managers that were responsible for destroying the great brands during that short period should be engraved on a wall in Detroit so they can be pelted on a daily basis with rotten tomatoes.

  4. My collection includes a 1968 Cadillac Eldorado, one of the last world-class Cadillac models before the malaise era models began the long down-hill slide. I also have a 1969 Bentley T1 and a 1972 Citroen SM for comparison. With FWD, front disc brakes and an excellent, albeit thirsty 7.9 ltr. (472 ci) engine as well as cutting edge styling, the ’68 Eldorado was in the same class as the best of Europe. While the current Cadillac line may be the best since the late 1960’s, it is not yet equal to the best of the rest of the world, a point well-made in your story.

    Cadillac is once again the luxury standard of North America but that may be damning with faint praise considering the competition. For GM to claim it as ‘the standard of the world’ is as valid as the touting the U.S. as ‘the greatest nation on earth’. The rest of the world has long resented such self-centered claims and today may even feel a bit sorry for these attempts to re-gain the glory days. It is encouraging that both Cadillac and the U.S. may once again be moving in the right direction but such slogans as ‘the standard of the world’ must be earned, and that may prove a long road indeed.

  5. My unckle was a back up driver & test driver on the Cunningham team for many years. He said this car, which still had oem mufflers installed, was the most dangerous race car he ever drove. “It was so quiet, you had no idea how fast you were going!”

  6. Having owned,and with fiends who have owned many makes of cars, Cadilac included, Caddy’s CSI ( consumer satisfaction index ) leaves a lot to be desired.
    There are many more makes, including Lexus that out perform the Caddy, in reliability, cost of ownership,and down-right pleasure to drive, in particular the LS series.

  7. Hate to flog a dead pony here, but Cadillac adopted the “Standard of the World” moniker in 1908 after winning the Dewar trophy — it was “Standard” because three cars were disassembled, the parts mixed up, the three cars were then reassembled and driven away. This was a big deal at the time, only weapons manufactures were able to accomplish this feat beforehand (it should be noted that Ford, among others, might have won the trophy if they entered.) Thus, “Standard of the World” was/is one of the least pretentious of automotive tag-lines, not the most!

  8. This seems to be very much a case of “horses for courses”. The Caddy may be what passes for luxury in the states but it is as desirable as chicken pox in europa.

  9. In addition to “stock bodied” Cadillacs, Cunningham raced a streamlined Cadillac powered car. The French referred to it as “Le Monstre” at Le Mans. I believe it was DNF in the 1950 Le Mans due to mechanical problems. A fascinating car, but I do not think it survives today.

    1. Hi Bryan,

      You are right, Cunningham did arrive at the 1950 Le Mans race with a rather stock Coupe Deville, and a second car that offered an aerodynamic body that was designed by an aerodynamicst, which became known as “Le Monstre” by French fans.

      “Le Monstre” was really a 1950 Cadillac Coupe Deville with custom body work and managed to finish in 11th place at the 1950 Le Mans 24 Hours, just behind the stock Coupe Deville which finished in 10th overall.

      When you think about it, that’s pretty damn incredible, as Briggs and his Cadillacs had some rather good competiton from all across Europe that year.


      Will Silk

  10. “Le’Monste” was in the Cunningham collection which was sold to the Colliers in Fla. So, I assume they now have it. It was huge!

  11. The reason Cadillac is called “The Standard of the World” truly has nothing to do with any percieved quality, luxury or performance superiority, those implications were poularized later through historically incorrect advertising attribitions or public misinterpretation that then was became widely accepted in site of being incorrect. They are “The ….World.” Because the 1916 Type 53 was the first vehicle in the world to have what is now the standard control layout that nearly all models and brands adhere too. Steering wheel centered infront of the driver, shifter and parking/emergency brake in the center of the floor, (from right to left) accelerator, brake, clutch and an electric starter(invented by Charles Kettering) controlled with the turn of a key that also served to deter theft and prevent hand crank starting injuries while also saving time. The first mass produced, common and affordable car to feature a copy of the Typer 35’s layout was the Austin 7.