More than any other Detroit marque, this is a name that conjures up a powerful image of luxury and power; the kind that has been flaunted by Cadillac dealers and owners from the beginning of the company's history right up to today. For millions of Americans, Cadillac ownership was the ultimate symbol of "making it," and those who didn't have it, dreamt of it. Detroit owes a great deal to the founders of this company. In fact, the marque's name comes from Le Seur Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, who established that city as a fur trading post in 1701, and whose name and family crest became the symbol for the car company. Although stylized in modern times to disguise its heraldic provenance, the logo is still in use today.

What is also little known today is that the roots of the company evolved from a group of investors who first backed the inventor Henry Ford at the turn of the 20th century in what was called the Henry Ford Company. Interested in maximum profits, they produced some very expensive cars for the period, and ol' Henry left that avenue behind, forming his own Ford Motor Company to fulfill his dream of an inexpensive car for the masses. In 1902, the original financiers stayed with the high end of the market and became Cadillac, and later a major component of William Durant's General Motors Corporation, forever the major competitor of Ford. Cadillac established its reputation early through the suppliers of their precision tooling and won awards for their use of interchangeable parts, precisely built with no hand-fitting of engine parts or gears, as was common in those days. Cadillac once sent six of their cars to an English motor magazine who had mechanics disassemble them, mix the parts up, and reassemble six cars. The finale was not only starting the cars but driving them for 500 miles with no mechanical failures.

The period of time with which we are concerned in this series of vintage engine profiles is the first OHV era from 1949-62, the major development period for Cadillac powerplants and thus, the favored engines for use in traditional hot rods. Cad and Olds (STREET RODDER, January 2009) both had their new Kettering-design overheads on the market in 1949, with a 303 in the Oldsmobiles and 331-inchers in the heavier Cads. That motor continued until 1956 when Cadillac enlarged the bore to 4.00 inches for 365 cubes. All the Cadillac V-8s we're interested in had tremendous amounts of low-end torque to effortlessly power those heavy road cars. The 365 offered 335 hp in Eldorado trim with three two-barrels. In 1959, the engine was further poked and stroked to achieve 390 ci, which was about the limit for this block's architecture.

The search for more power through bigger displacement led the engineers to come up with a new 390 for 1963. Although it shared the displacement of its predecessor, it shared almost nothing else. The new 390 was designed with future upsizing in mind, yet the engine was 50 pounds lighter and 4 inches narrower than the old 390. Torque was up to 430 lb-ft. After that, this block's next iteration (1964-67) featured 429 ci, 340 hp, and a stump-pullin' 480 lb-ft of torque. Later, Cadillac went to even bigger engines, which make great motors for trucks and for anyone who wants to make a few extra bucks moving houses or pulling stumps. For our examination, the '62 390 is the last of the "vintage" Cadillac powerplants.