Cadillac V-16 Roadster

On January 4, 1930, Cadillac stunned the fine car market at the New York Auto Show with the introduction of its breathtaking new V-16. With it, Cadillac instantly catapulted itself to the head of the luxury class in one brilliant stroke. Until then, only Bugatti had produced a sixteen-cylinder engine – accomplished by bolting two eight-cylinder inline engines together, an innovation that was originally intended for aircraft use.

Cadillac’s V-16 was the first true 16-cylinder engine to be built from scratch, a project led by Owen Milton Nacker under conditions of the utmost secrecy. In order to avoid knowledge of the project leaking from lower-level GM engineering departments and parts suppliers, a well-coordinated disinformation campaign included cover stories and notes on various blueprints indicating that the project was actually Cadillac’s contribution to a new GM bus project.

The 45-degree cylinder bank angle and overhead-valve design kept the V-16 narrow, while its external manifolds allowed easy access to the engine compartment. Furthermore, Cadillac’s V-16 was the first automotive engine ever to be “styled”; all the wiring was hidden, and the engine compartment was dressed up with plenty of gleaming, polished aluminum, porcelain and a pair of beautiful valve covers with brushed aluminum ridged surfaces featuring the Cadillac emblem.

Cadillac managed to survive the rapidly declining luxury-car market of the early 1930s thanks to the financial resources of GM, its massive parent company. Without this support, Cadillac could never have produced such a limited-production, luxurious automobile. Although the V-16 was brilliantly designed, its shrinking Depression-era market meant that the V-16 was, of course, produced in tiny numbers for those few who were capable of paying more than ten times the cost of a contemporary Chevrolet convertible. Without doubt, the few examples remaining today offer a rare glimpse into one of the most exciting automotive eras of all time.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in January of 2010 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix, Arizona, in July of 2010 at the Shotwell Gustafson Pavilion at Meadow Brook Hall, Rochester, Michigan, in January of 2011 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix, Arizona and in March of 2011 at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, Florida.

175 hp, 452 cu. in. overhead-valve V-16 engine, three-speed selective synchromesh manual transmission, solid front axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs with hydraulic dampers, ¾-floating rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel vacuum-assisted mechanical drum brakes. Wheelbase: 148".

Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel

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