Cadillac V-16 Roadster

From its beginnings in 1903, the Cadillac Motor Car Company has maintained its reputation as a builder of cars of the highest quality. In the early days, Cadillac competed in many contests in an effort to prove its reliability and durability. Under the leadership of chief engineer Henry Leland, the company pioneered standardisation of parts and gained fame for being the first American car to win the Dewar Trophy in England in 1908, when the parts of three Cadillac cars were scrambled and then reassembled: the cars performed perfectly. Hard as it may seem to believe today, the concept of precision manufacturing of interchangeable parts was quite novel just after the turn of the century. Cadillac was the first manufacturer to standardise Delco electric starting and lighting in 1912, thereby revolutionizing the industry. Left-hand drive and the first V8 engine appeared in 1915. Cadillac ads would proclaim the marque “Standard of the World,” and the company rightfully established itself as one of the industry’s leading luxury car manufacturers.

As Cadillac’s reputation grew, so did the demand for larger and more luxurious cars requiring more power. Cadillac’s dynamically balanced V8 engine had established an outstanding reputation, but meeting the performance standards the division had set for its cars (and that which the luxury market craved) meant boring out the eight, which would have led to mechanical and operating difficulties resulting from the larger bores. Supercharging was considered but abandoned thanks to the attendant ruckus it made.

Among the most significant announcements made in the American automobile industry late in 1929 was the letter that Cadillac President Lawrence Fisher dispatched to both his dealers and the motoring press on 10th December. The GM division wanted to make sure everyone took notice. A new sixteen-cylinder Cadillac was to be displayed at the New York International Automobile Show on 4th January, 1930. In addition, the car would appear at the General Motors Salon in the Hotel Astor and on 57th Street, just off 5th Avenue (the most expensive and fashionable shopping area in Manhattan) in the posh two-story building that housed the permanent Cadillac Salon of Uppercu Cadillac, the dealership under the dynamic leadership of one Inglis M. Uppercu. Indeed, it was the letter to Uppercu that Lawrence Fisher had sent to the press. The cylinder wars with its competitors (chief among them Packard) were in full swing, and Cadillac had just delivered the knockout punch!

Largely the work of Cadillac Chief Engineer Earnest Seaholm, the massive 452 cubic inch engine placed its sixteen cylinders at a 45-degree angle while developing 175 horsepower. Even more impressive was low speed torque – 320 pound-feet at 1,500 rpm, assuring low speed operation that was silky smooth.

Another impressive aspect of Cadillac’s V16 program was the number of body styles offered – no fewer than 50! This was unprecedented in the industry, especially for a car that would comprise a small percentage of the division’s production; it was all about prestige. The introduction of the car in 1930 was accompanied by the release of a lavish catalogue in portfolio form containing designer line drawings of all the body styles. The portfolio included color illustrations of the cars throughout and velum drawings in a pocket in the back.

Most coachwork was by Fleetwood, which had become a part of Cadillac in 1928. Fleetwood’s design office in New York City was located, conveniently, on the second floor of the aforementioned Cadillac Salon. In addition to the senior design staff, there were several draftsmen who completed the final drawings of bodies and components based on specifications given them by both designers and engineers. In fact, 25 percent of all V16 Cadillacs would be delivered to New York City buyers in 1930 and 1931. Overall V16 sales for 1930 totalled 2,887 cars, but that number would fall by more than two-thirds to 750 in 1931.

Historically, the V16 Cadillac would be the wrong car for the wrong time. The stock market had crashed in October 1929, and America was reeling in its wake. The planning for the new V16, however, had begun long before the debacle on Wall Street. Cadillac recognized it needed something spectacular to do battle with the likes of Packard, Peerless, Pierce-Arrow, Marmon and Lincoln, among others. Besides, the initial thinking after the stock market crash was that it was to be short-lived and recovery was right around the corner. The simple fact was that the Great Depression was settling in, and America was not buying extravagant luxury automobiles in significant numbers. Despite the economic downturn, the cylinder wars continued. After introducing a V16 in 1930, Cadillac would add a V12 model for 1931. While the flagship V12s and V16s would garner all the fanfare, the V8-powered models sold in steady numbers, helping Cadillac’s bottom line during difficult economic times.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in October of 2009 at the Battersea Evolution, London and in March of 2010 at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, Florida.

185 hp, 452 cu. in. V16 engine, three-speed selective synchromesh transmission, front and rear semi-elliptic leaf springs with hydraulic dampers, four-wheel mechanical brakes. Wheelbase: 148".

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel

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