Friday, July 22, 2011

History of the Cadillac wreath and crest logo, and never-before-seen photos of the Cadillac and LaSalle Club Grand National Convention

I admit, I do think old Cadillacs are cool. They just have so much chutzpa. Not many companies could pull off the outrageous fins of the late-‘50s, the Texas oil man swagger of the Eldorado in the ‘70s, or the “I don’t give a crap get out of my way” Escalade of today. But Cadillac makes it work. And they have been for more than 100 years.

Even Cadillac’s logo is audacious. While most cars abandoned using someone’s chrome-encrusted family crest decades ago, Cadillac’s complex, ornate jigsaw puzzle of boxes and rectangles in a Superman-like shield surrounded by laurels does not suggest “subdued” by any means.

The original logo is loosely based on the family crest of Antoine de La Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac; obviously the guy the company was named after. Sieur de Cadillac was a French explorer who poked around the Michigan area of North America in the late 1600s/early 1700s.

The logo first appeared on cars way back in 1902, and it featured little bird figures called merlettes. Those first logos were surrounded by a fancy wreath, and were topped with a stately crown. Cadillac was all about quality and precision, and that opulent logo would never work on something like, say, a Model T.

Eventually, Cadillacs were considered more than just fancy—they were powerful, too. So by the 1930s, the wreath went on hiatus, replaced by wings with a V motif. After all, Cadillacs of that era were available with V8s, V12s, and V16s, so it made sense that the marketing people of the time would want to punctuate those power plants.

After World War II, the wings went away, and the logo sat under a stately, upright V. Then, as automotive styles changed, the logo and the V continued to get lower and wider, just like the car. By 1960, the logo had become extremely flat and wide, but take a look at a '60 Cadillac and you can see why.

As the '60s wore on, the logo took on more square dimensions, and it more or less set the stage for the style we still have today. The V remained under the logo, usually under DeVilles, while the wreath came back to signify Fleetwoods, Eldorados, and Sevilles.

The last hurrah for the crown and merlettes came around 1997, when “Ziggy”, a free-spirited merlette that faced the wrong way was featured in advertisements for the then new Cadillac Catera. Dubbed “the Caddy that zigs”, the German-made Catera was quite a departure from the kind of cars Cadillac was known for. And it wasn't exactly a huge success. The Catera's bland, jellybean appearance, combined with a litany of reliability problems, relegated the Catera to infamy.

Thanks to those advertisements, the poor reputation of the Catera rubbed off on the Cadillac logo. In 1999, the logo went through a fairly major redesign, completely eliminating the merlettes as well as the noble crown. The new logo was part of Cadillac's “Art and Science” renaissance of the time, and looked somewhat animated and cartoonish compared to the serious interpretations that were used in years' past.

Cadillac made some minor tweaks again in 2010. The shape hadn’t changed, but now it is more beveled and less cartoon-like. It is sort of a combination of the logo we've seen the past few years, with the fine details of the pre-'99 version.

Like the car itself, the Cadillac logo has gone through many changes over the last 107-years. But today, Cadillac is making some of the most advanced, powerful cars in its history. Who knows what the next 107-years will bring for Antoine de La Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac's family crest.

About one year ago this weekend, the Cadillac/LaSalle Club Grand National Convention was held right here in Kansas City. I covered some of this hot July event on my Examiner page, but never really got to properly share the photos in that venue. They’re small, hard to navigate, and limited to a small number. So today, I’m including all my shots from the show, which was held at the Doubletree Hotel in Overland Park, for your viewing enjoyment here on the HMC blog.

The 2011 Cadillac/LaSalle Grand National Convention will be held in Columbus, Ohio, on August 10-13. So if you’re in Kansas City, and you have a hankerin’ to see a large number of beautiful vintage Cadillacs here in town, this slideshow is your best bet.

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