F.S. Bennett & the 3 Baby Cadillacs
Written by Matthew Hocker
As a child, did you ever dream about driving a pint-sized version of your favorite ride? Recognizing the novelty factor in such a prospect, some early car manufactures used miniature versions of their vehicles as a means of generating publicity. One of these was a Lilliputian Cadillac, custom-built in 1912 to promote Cadillac’s electric self-starter.
The brain behind the little car was Frederick S. Bennett, an Englishman who played a pivotal role in establishing Cadillac’s success in the UK. As a Cadillac dealer across the pond, Bennett’s greatest challenge was emasculating prevailing public opinion that American products weren’t built to last. His persistence finally paid off in 1909 when Cadillac became the first American auto manufacturer to receive the Royal Automobile Club’s prestigious Dewar Trophy after a rigorous interchangeable parts test in 1908.
In 1913, Cadillac took home its second Dewar Trophy for introducing the world to Delco’s revolutionary electric starting system on its 1912 Model Thirty. If the first accomplishment weren’t enough, the second cemented the fact that Cadillac was “Standard of the World.”
Bennett desired a unique means of promoting Cadillac’s crowning achievement. To this end, he commissioned J. Lockwood & Company to build a child-sized replica of a Cadillac roadster. Journalists affectionately labeled Bennett’s brainchild the “Baby Cadillac;” it featured a four-foot wheelbase and weighed in at nearly 400 pounds. Though technically a two-seater, the addition of a rumble seat allowed enough room for three little passengers. Power was provided the Delco electric starting system and the battery allowed it to run 15 miles on a single charge at a top speed of 12 mph.
Appearances of the baby Cadillac at motor shows in London and Paris generated considerable press. Visitors were captivated by the sight of children piloting the vehicle throughout the exhibition space. When shown at the 1912 Paris Salon de l’auto, a brief write-up in Automobile Topics claimed “It stirred even the stolid Englishmen [and]… the French – men and women – went into raptures!”
Before long, Queen Alexandra purchased the baby Cadillac from Bennett for 65£ as a gift for her grandson, Prince Olaf (later King Olaf V) of Norway. A slightly larger version of the vehicle was commissioned because the young prince had outgrown the original. After receiving the car, Olaf drove it through the streets of London to much fanfare. The British & Colonial Kinematograph Company released footage of the event in their 1913 newsreel, “The Smallest Car in the Largest City in the World.”
Though too small for Olaf, the original miniature Cadillac would not go to waste. Wilifred Leland, the son of Cadillac’s founding father, had been interested in the car since he first heard of its existence. He had the car shipped to America and presented it as a gift to his son, Wilifred Leland, Jr., on his fifth birthday.
In 1916, another little Cadillac was delivered to King Rama VI of Siam (present-day Thailand), and this particular piece wound up in the hands of the king’s nephew, Prince Chula Chakrabongse. While piloting it around the palace grounds, the young prince once literally knocked a woman off her feet. It was an appropriate gift, given the prince’s lifelong interest in cars; Chula later found fame in the world of motor racing after forming team White Mouse Racing. In 1935, his cousin Bira joined the team and become a legendary driver in the world of grand prix and early F1 racing.
Of the three baby Cadillacs built, Prince Olaf’s is the only example with known whereabouts. Since 1948, the car has been on display at the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology in Oslo on permanent loan from the Norwegian Royal Family. The locations of the other Cadillacs are shrouded in mystery. Chula’s vehicle reportedly stayed within the Thai Royal Family until the mid-1990s, at which point it was supposedly sold to an unidentified private collector from Japan. Wilfred Jr.’s car is also thought to be in private hands, but was last seen publicly at a California swap meet in the 1960s.
Mystery or not, the story behind the baby Cadillacs proves a unique chapter in Cadillac’s esteemed history. To learn more about these little cars or your favorite Caddilac, be sure to visit the library or drop us a line. The library has a collection of more than 20 reference books and more than 2,000 Cadillac-specific items dating as far back to company’s origins in 1902, with everything from catalogs and brochures to shop manuals and wiring diagrams. The AACA Library is well-equipped to meet your research needs!
Author’s note: Special thanks to Frode Weium, Curator of the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology, for providing additional information on Prince Olaf’s Cadillac.