Henry Martyn Leland was the father of the mass-produced luxury car in the United States. And his son, Wilfred, might well be called the luxury car's favorite uncle.
In 1902 they founded Cadillac, which they sold in 1909 to Billy Durant and his brand-new General Motors. The Lelands stayed at GM until 1917, then hit the road because, they said, Cadillac refused to build the Liberty aircraft engine —which Cadillac did build after the Lelands left.
Henry and Wilfred Leland formed Lincoln Motor Co. in 1917 and received a contract to produce 6,000 Liberty engines. Lincoln switched to cars after World War I. Its first car went on sale in September 1920.
The Lelands sold Lincoln to Henry and Edsel Ford for $8 million in February 1922. They left four months later.
You could argue that much of Henry Leland's success could be credited to his mother, Zilpha, who gave him this advice early on: There's a right way and a wrong way to do everything. Hunt for the right way, and then go ahead.
The advice took root. Long before it became vital to automaking, Leland was a devotee of precision.
One of the people who noticed was Alfred Sloan. In the pre-General Motors days when Sloan ran the family business, Hyatt Roller Bearing Co., he had trouble winning Leland as a customer. In his 1963 book, My Years with General Motors, Sloan wrote: "I had trouble at first, in the early 1900s, in selling Mr. Leland our roller bearings. He then taught me the need for greater accuracy in our products to meet the exacting standards of interchangeable parts."
Cadillac parts were so precisely machined that in 1906 Henry Leland took three of his cars to England, disassembled them, scrambled the parts and reassembled three operating vehicles. Given the level of auto manufacturing at the time, it was an impressive feat.