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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Fleetwood's Auto Heritage

Both main roads leading into Fleetwood announce both the town and a twinned relationship with its namesake in the USA - Fleetwood, Pennsylvania. Not much

would appear to have happened of late in these tangible links between the two towns.

However efforts are now underway to correct this.

Fleetwood Mac is probably the most famous application of the name; but for those with interest in automotive history there is a compelling chapter which from time to time is highlighted in classic car shows, both here and in the USA (and indeed across Europe). General Motors Corporation was at one time the largest car make in the world. That accolade has of course been passed on to other manufacturers, but GM remains a very important industry player through its diverse range of marques and vehicle types.

The upmarket GM brand was (and still is) Cadillac. It shared market positioning with other famous brands such as Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Lincoln - but still continues witha prestige role in automotive branding. Within Cadillac's own product and design range the 'Fleetwood' was formerly 'the' top of the line design intended for corporate and government heavies and those private limo companies of former times. The Fleetwood brand itself derives from the town of Fleetwood in Pennsylvania - a small quiet community undistinguished from thousands of similar small towns across the continent wide map of the United States. However it is forever recognised as the home of the Fleetwood Metal Body Company which had its origins as a coachbuilder going back to the mid 1800s. The company's founders (of that name) emigrated from the Preston area to settle in this rural part of Pennsylvania establishing themselves as wooden framed carriage builders - subsequently designing and building metal coachwork.

In the early part of the 20th Century, now formed as the Fleetwood Metal Body Company their products competed with many other firms entering the automotive market. The company specialised in high quality upmarket prestige bodywork which could be applied to different chassis makes. Soon acquired from its founding families and rapidly expanded, Fleetwood would in turn become part of the General Motors Corporation's sprawling interests through the Fisher Brothers stake in GM (Fisher Body Division). The 'Fleetwood' brand was retained and further developed through association with the GM's 'Cadillac' top of the range marque. 'Cadillac' was the family name of the French explorer and entrepreneur who established a modest settlement which later became known as Detroit in a vast region of north America then under the controlling influence of pre-revolutionary France.

Alongside the original line of the 1898 Blackpool & Fleetwood Tramroad - a pioneering electric tramway linking the two towns using recently developed overhead 'trolley poles' for current collection - immediately making obsolete Blackpool's ponderous and problematic third rail 'conduit' system used on the 1885 line. The once rural nature of the Fleetwood tramroad is still ironically captured in the short stretch from Thornton Gate to Rossall School - where open fields manage to survive against rapacious house builders.

The 'Fleetwood' was seen in US Presidential parades carrying the likes of Herbert Hoover and FDR; with a host of celebrities and business leaders requiring custom built examples for domestic travel at a time when private railroad cars were 'the way' to take long journeys in the United States. A 1930s 'Fleetwood' can be seen at the Lakeland Motor Museum in Cumbria, whilst other examples form part of heritage collections across Europe and the USA. Not bad for a very small town in America, whose founders hailed from Lancashire, and one suspects had distant family relations with a certain Hesketh Fleetwood - whose own efforts resulted in creation and development of the township at the northern tip of the Fylde coast.

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