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The Cadillac Northstar V-8: A History


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In those days, wealthy African Americans were also prohibited from joining country clubs, entering luxurious hotels, and purchasing homes in affluent neighborhoods. The only way they could exhibit their prosperity was in their choice of automobile. After all, out on the street, the one thing everybody could see was the car you drove. Nick Dreystadt, as he traveled around the country in his role as the head of Cadillac automobiles service, took note of this issue and urged a reversal of the policy.

Exacerbating the situation was a decision by the company’s top management to refuse to sell Cadillac automobiles to African Americans. The situation was so bad, Black people, attracted to the brand because its prestigious nature made it the ultimate American status symbol, were actually paying sympathetic (and yes, some opportunistic) white people to buy Cadillac autos for them.

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    Under Dreystadt’s leadership, sales increased by a factor of ten by 1940. During his tenure, Cadillac also became the first car to incorporate Phillips head screws. This innovation decreased production time considerably and thereby improved the profitability of Cadillac automobiles significantly. Cadillac also became the first car to use a mass produced fully automatic transmission.

    Other innovations of Cadillac automobies included the first volume production of a fully enclosed car and the first incorporation of an electrical system. This development enabled the use of a starter motor, an ignition system, and electric lighting. Additionally, Cadillac vehicles are credited with being the first to mount a switch on the dash for headlights, use a thermostat in their cooling systems, and the first to use a V8 engine.