Cadillacs, especially the gloriously massive ones from the Malaise Era, are often called “land yachts.” This refers not just to their size, but also to their opulence and handling abilities, which were decidedly boat-like. But did you know it was also possible to buy a Cadillac that was a literal boat?
I first saw an ad for Cadillac boats in a 1958 Popular Science I was reading on the toilet, because I suffer from the unusual condition of not being able to poop unless I believe President Kennedy is still alive. I think I’m in a medical textbook somewhere. Anyway, seeing the ad — with it’s very familiar-looking Cadillac script logo — made me wonder: did GM have a marine division that leveraged the Cadillac name?
If you think about it, it makes sense. Cadillac was GM’s high-end marque, and boats are bought by the same high-end marks. It seems like a very sensible cross-pollination of the brand. A new ‘59 Caddy, towing a new ‘59 Caddy boat — what could be better?
Surprisingly, this isn’t the case. The Cadillac Marine and Boat Company, based in Cadillac, Michigan, was not affiliated with Cadillac, the maker of wheeled-land boats. The company was around between 1953-1960, and made aluminum, fiberglass, and molded wood boats. The firm was owned by a guy named Ray Wagemaker, which may be the most accurate last name of any business-owner I’ve ever heard.
The similarity of name and logo of Cadillac (wet) to Cadillac (dry) did not go unnoticed by GM. In fact:
The boat firm first filed for trademark protection of “Cadillac” on October 28, 1955 and it was published in the Official U.S. Patent Register in March 1956. A month later General Motors filed an opposition with the Patent and Trademark Office. Going a step further, General Motors filed a lawsuit against Cadillac Marine & Boat Co. in February 1957 claiming the auto maker had rights to the name “Cadillac” and they wanted the boat builder to cease and desist using the name. In 1964 a federal court slapped the automaker’s hands and said they did not have a monopoly on the name Cadillac. GM was ordered to pay $41,000 to the boat maker for legal fees and loss of reputation.
Incredibly, GM lost! Goliath took one right in the Cimmarons for this one, as the court told them they didn’t have exclusive rights to the name “Cadillac.” I’m sort of surprised the marine company wasn’t asked to alter their logo, but if you look at the Cadillac script of that era, it’s really pretty different from what Cadillac Marine was using:
In fact, if anything, the Cadillac script that GM used later, after Cadillac Marine sunk, looks a lot like GM actually cribbed the dead boat-maker’s logo, which maybe they did out of spite since they had to pay those 40 Gs way back when:
I sort of think now that Cadillac did crib their script logo from the boat company. I don’t think we’ll ever really know. But now you’ll know, at least, that Cadillac the boat maker and Cadillac the car maker are not related. You’re welcome.