A-Z of marques: No.8 Cadillac

The marque: Flagship of the General Motors empire. America's most prestigious brand but no Rolls-Royce

The history: Cadillac was started in 1902 by Henry M Leland, and is part of General Motors, formed after the First World War. The name came from Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, a French nobleman who founded Pontchartrain d'Etroit in 1701. That became Detroit, centre of the US motor industry. Leland was a master of precision; three Cadillacs were shipped to the UK in 1908, dismantled, the parts mixed up and the cars reassembled. All ran perfectly.

Cadillac popularised the V8 engine in 1915, and it shared with LaSalle the first synchromesh gearbox. The giant V16-engined Cadillacs epitomised American opulence, and this flamboyance continued into the Fifties with ever-increasing lashings of chrome and larger fins.

In 1950, it entered Le Mans with an enclosed-wheel roadster and came 10th, in the 1960s it made the world's biggest-engined front-wheel drive car (the eight-litre Eldorado), and at January's Detroit Show it showed a V16, 10-litre concept carof spectacular all-American assertion. Strangest of all for a brand in danger of losing its customer base to old age, its Escalade 4x4 (aka 'Sclade) is the rap culture's transport of choice.

Defining model: 1960 Eldorado Biarritz convertible, preferably in pink.

They say: "... a cerise Cadillac, long enough to have a bowling alley in the back" (Eartha Kitt, on the joys of being an old-fashioned girl).

We say: Fins ain't what they used to be.

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