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*Updated* The New Fangled 1912 Electric-Starting Cadillac

To many of you that may be new here to The Old Motor and the many early automobiles that are featured here, this video puts into perspective some of the care and feeding that an early car requires. Follow along as we watch a 1912 Cadillac, the first American production car with an electric starter, being prepared for a bit of motoring pleasure in Australia. You can also learn more about “Boss Kettering’s” big achievement, the electric starter here on The Old Motor. *Updated* Below.


*Update* The drawings for Charles F. Kettering’s first patent of his starting system have been found and can be seen here. This system is shown on a six-cylinder engine and included with it is a compression-release. This system utilized the exhaust camshaft in the same way that earlier systems did, but in this application it was controlled by the starting pedal instead of manually. The complete description of how it works can be found here.

CF2     CF3       CF5

A drawing for Charles F. Kettering’s second patent filed on March 5, 1915. It is seen below on a four-cylinder Cadillac. More drawings and a description of how it operates can be found here.


10 responses to “*Updated* The New Fangled 1912 Electric-Starting Cadillac

  1. That must have been a real joy starting on a cold winter day, but I guess easier then others at the time. Then again, if you could afford a Cadillac you most likely had a heated carriage house.

  2. Also likely – if you owned a Cadillac imported to Australia, you probably didn’t need a heated carriage house, but you probably employed someone to start it for you!

    Excellent video! Thanks for posting it. I only wish there were subtitles or narration to explain what all the buttons, levers, switches were actually doing. What was the “view port” with the slow drip?

    Tom M.

    • It is a very complex system as were most early starting systems. Basically it involved the use of four six-volt batteries and a rotary switch that combined the voltage, resulting in twenty-four volts going to the starter. After starting the system reverted back to six-volts and the six-volt generator charged the batteries which provided current for the lights and other electrical features.

      The “view port” you mention was referred to as a sight-glass back in the period and it was used to view the output of the oil-feed plunger pump that helped lube the engine.

  3. As the owner of a 1912 Cadillac, I should note that the system is problematic at best, and was ditched after 1912 for an “improved” system on later cars. The rotary switch is subjected to hot switching large currents and the contacts suffer from arcing and ultimately open. A great innovation, but like most first tries it had significant flaws.

  4. David,
    I recently just rewired a 1913 model 30. Although very improved over the 12, it was still a very complicated system which still utilized the magnetic coil to engage the starter. The later cars also used a complex rotary switch which changes the grounds between not only the starter and generator circuits but also between the starting and running distributors! Fascinating when it all works. Thanks so much for sharing, great stuff!

  5. A 1912 Cadillac was a mid-mid price car, as the market went. At
    $1,800, it was 3 times the amount my Grandfather made working
    12 hour days, 6 days a week, in a year(I have his 1911 pay envelope
    with a $2.50 gold piece in it). Luxury cars started at about 2 times
    the cost of a Cadillac (though some very fine cars could be purchased in
    the high $2,000’s to $3,500’s). An open Chadwick cost 3 times what
    a Cadillac did and it wouldn’t be the most expensive open luxury car

  6. This sort of switch is referred to as a series/parallel switch. The modern ones are usually magnetic coil operated. I have seen this kind of system on diesel truck engines. Also Cummins used a compression release (a starting aid) on the 855cid engines until 1977. By pulling a lever on the front of the engine it opened the exhaust valves slightly. It worked pretty good in cold weather.

  7. There’s another 1912 Cadillac 30 in Australia again – a nice red demi-tonneau. I took some pics of it at a 2010 concours and spoke to the elderly owner.

    Of course, being a 1912 model, I knew the significance straight away. I used it in an article (“The Death of a Friend and the Birth of the Self-Starter”) on my web site

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