Dan Williams is proud of the employees at Williams Motor Works.
“They are more than simply assemblers,” he claims, “they are taught to aim for perfection in every aspect of production.” The slogan, “Commitment to Excellence,” is lettered above the shop entrance and, according to Williams, everyone takes the idea seriously. The result is a line of carefully engineered and assembled Cadillac and Lincoln limousines which are known for a solid feel and a smooth ride.
With a perfectionist’s eye for detail, Williams built his first limousine three years ago “as a lark,” and, when the car sold within three days of completion, it was clear that a market existed for well-made vehicles. Williams, an engineer by trade, evaluated the design of the first limousine and built a second car, making templates of each part and incorporating a number of his own engineering ideas. This limousine became a prototype for Williams and he has since built his company into a tight operation which can produce a complete car in four weeks and averages ten cars per month.
“A very high percentage of people buy our cars once they have seen them,” Williams says, “because of the way they feel. People always have preferences for the way a limousine feels. If you get in a Lincoln and then get in a Cadillac, you will have a preference even when you can’t really quantify the differences between the cars. Buyers like our cars because of the design features, the all steel construction, and our attention to detail. People like the handling, the spaciousness, the way the seams meet, and the solidness. What really sells our car is for someone to get in it, or for chauffeurs to get together at the Emmys or an affair of that kind, and look at all the limousines. Many of our cars are ordered that way and are sold before they are built.”
Williams Motor Works builds their Cadillac and Lincoln limousines in two basic models: a 46” stretch with single-cut, and a 56” double-cut style. “Fifty-six inches is about as long as you want to stretch a car,” says Williams. “We use ten-gauge steel frame sections and sixteen-gauge floor pans in order to keep the car solid.” The double-cut version, in which the rear doors are mounted forward ten inches in order to make it easier for passengers to move from the doors to the rear-facing seat, is becoming increasingly popular. This model has a very spacious feeling while not being too large for conversation to take place between passengers in the front and rear seats.
The Williams side console is also becoming extremely popular as it allows three passengers to sit comfortably on the rear-facing seat, or two people to sit without either one having to straddle the hump; and the television is positioned in view of everyone. The console contains a deceptively large ice bucket with a built-in rack for a champagne or wine bottle. Williams originally modeled the console out of plywood and considers it to be one of his most successful ideas. It is now handcrafted out of walnut and is ordered almost exclusively by Williams’ customers, although a center console is still offered in the single cut limousine. The console is one of the few parts which the company finds more feasible to purchase from outside, with drive-lines and vinyl tops being the other items. In the case of the consoles, the vendor is a meticulous European woodworker whose perfectionism impresses even Williams.
Among the standard features on a Williams limousine are: color television with electronic tuning and remote speakers, AM/FM cassette stereo with a digital clock and I display, solid walnut trim, electric wet bar, full-power moonroof, passenger convenience control panel, rear reading lamps, custom upholstery, crystal glasses and decanters, intercom system, tinted windows, dual batteries, pin striping, heavy-duty suspension, and divider windows. There is also a list of options and upgrades of which the two most popular choices are a video cassette recorder and a specially- designed “camel console” which can be mounted on the driveline hump and used as either a work surface or glass rack.
Explaining the growing success of his company over the past three years, Williams says, “The key is engineering quality, and the only way to achieve that is with good people. The people in my shop are taught to think and to look for problems because every car that comes from the factory is different... different alignment, different size door openings, and things like that. I’ll walk through the shop every morning, look at the cars, see mistakes, see things that I want to change... but what I really look for is craftsmanship. The quality of our cars is evident in the way that they feel, the absence of rattles and vibration, and in the way they retain their value. Because I am not a salesman, I want to build a limousine that will sell itself.”
Williams limousines have proven themselves to be well-built according to Robi Sinclair, vice president for marketing. One car, Sinclair says, was hit broadside by an airborne truck which was moving at about fifty miles per hour and the limousine’s passengers were unhurt because of the sixteen-gauge steel doorskin which is thicker than standard Cadillac door panels. According to Sinclair, the limousine’s ice bucket, which was located just one-half inch inside the door panel, was not touched despite the impact.
The limousines feature a one-year, unlimited-mileage, warranty. “If something goes wrong with a car outside of the Los Angeles area,” according to Williams, “we encourage people to go to a mechanic, have them call us, and we will analyze the problem and walk them through it. Then we take care of the bill. We have also opened a service facility in the bay area.”
The west coast has been the principal market for Williams’ company and, thus far, there has been no deliberate effort to expand the sales and service network eastward although there have been inquiries from across the country. Williams Motor Works is currently working to full capacity simply to fill its orders from California buyers. “Our cars are available at some dealerships,” Williams says, “but when you’re in the livery business, as most of our customers are, they know that there is an Executive, and an O’Gara, and a Moloney; and when they go to a dealership and see a car for sixty-thousand dollars, they will often go home and call a manufacturer directly. Most manufacturers don’t mark up their cars that much so that is how they get many of their buyers. That’s where our market is. Geographically, the major markets, as far as I know, are New York and California, and then it’s a toss-up between Texas and Florida. I don’t really project moving out of California in the near future because the market is so good. One of the signs that the market is nowhere near saturation is the fact that there is almost no used-limousine market. Very few of our limousines have been re-sold as far as I know.”
The company has planned gradual production increases for the future so that the current level of quality can be maintained. In ‘85, Williams Motor Works plans to convert approximately 150 Lincolns and Cadillac Fleetwoods, an increase of about thirty cars over ‘84. “I see Lincoln getting a larger share of the market next year,” he says. “Lincoln is priced right, and some people don’t like the looks and the size of the new Cadillac C-body. Unfortunately, I don’t think Chrysler is giving much corporate backing for limousines in areas like warranty support. I would like to build a Mercedes,” Williams continues, “and I think I could do a better job, but I just don’t have the space. In my market research, I found that operators don’t charge that much more for a Mercedes, but it is a more prestigious car and, consequently, spends significantly more time in service, as much as 100% more. If I did a Mercedes, it would be the 500SEL and we would make it very lavish, not tricky, but it would have exceptional quality and elegance.”
“Quality and elegance” are apt terms to describe limousines from Williams Motor Works. As one Williams customer said about his limousines, “The construction and workmanship on them were absolutely top-notch.” That is what Dan Williams wants to hear.