STERLING HEIGHTS, Michigan – A 1918 Cadillac Type 57 that the Reverend Dr. John Hopkins Denison purchased as a support vehicle for the American Expeditionary Forces and the Young Men’s Christian Association, and which provided rides to “The Other Eleanor” Roosevelt, wife of Theodore Roosevelt Jr. during World War I in France, is the fourth car to join the National Historic Vehicle Register. That’s a lot of history packed into one V-8 powered touring car.
The Cadillac Type 57 joins 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona coupe chassis number CSX2287, an original 1964 Meyers Manx dune buggy, and the 1938 Maserati 8TCF “Boyle Special” serial number 3032 with which Wilbur Shaw won the 1939 and ’40 Indianapolis 500s on the Register. The five-year-old Historic Vehicle Association (HVA, www.historicvehicle.org) is an organization developed in cooperation with the U.S. Interior department and philanthropic support from Hagerty Insurance, and is based in Gaithersburg, Maryland [see the August 2014 issue of Automobile Magazine, pages 16-17]. Its president, Mark Gessler, unveiled the patina-tinged Caddy along with its owner (or more accurately its “steward”) Marc Lassen, at the General Motors Heritage Center here Wednesday.
“The car is being preserved, not restored,” Lassen said. With its WWI olive drab repaint, military khaki canvas top, heavy wear at the driver’s seat and the right rear passenger seat where U.S. military officers rode, and a bullet hole in the left-front fender just below the engine compartment cover believed to be from a 7.92mm German aircraft machine gun, the car is like the Liberty Bell, Lassen maintains.
“This car matters,” he said.
With the help of the HVA and the General Motors Heritage Center, Lassen has been documenting the Cadillac Type 57 since he purchased it in September 2005, and will restore only the original 70-hp, 314 cubic-inch flathead V-8 under the hood to running order. Originally Cadillac blue with a black top, the Reverend Denison, of the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York, sailed with the car to France in August 1917, where he helped establish the military leave system and several Leave Areas there. It was used to transport officers and other prominent Americans in France, including the wife of the eldest son of ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, Eleanor, who also helped found the system by which soldiers could take days off away from battle for time served by relaxing in Leave Areas.
“This is a gift from the people of 100 years ago to us,” HVA President Gessler said.
The U.S. military chose Cadillacs as officer transportation for WWI for the brand’s innovation and sturdy reliability. The Cadillac Type 57’s V-8 featured a counter-balanced crankshaft and a recovery cooling system, which negated the need for constant refilling of coolant. The Denison car, designated 1257X, was the 257th registered for use in the war and was decommissioned in 1936. From there, it passed through several owners, including a WWI museum, before Lassen found it in a Spokane, Washington, garage.
Cars nominated for NHVR status must be in original condition and historically significant. Trucks and motorcycles must be eligible, and any vehicle must be significant to the U.S. auto industry, though it does not have to be an American brand or American made. While there is no central physical museum being built, technical drawings, photography and documentation will be held in Washington, D.C., and are available to the public for study, just like historical buildings and landmarks.
The New York-to-Paris race-winning 1907 Thomas Flyer, President Woodrow Wilson’s 1919 Pierce-Arrow, and a 1952 Hudson Hornet are on the roster for entry. Gessler expects to have eighteen cars registered by the end of 2015.