Cadillac V-16 Presidential Convertible Parade Limousine
The story of this remarkable and extraordinary Cadillac begins in 1938. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was halfway through his second of four presidential terms, and the turmoil in continental Europe was on the verge of escalating into World War. Much of FDR’s first six years in office were characterized by his New Deal recovery programs following the Great Depression and the isolationist policy that would eventually have to be abandoned in favor of full-scale involvement in the Allied war effort.
It was in this climate that Cadillac and its coachworks Fleetwood were charged in 1938 with special order 9006: two virtually identical 16-cylinder open limousines to be constructed on a massive, stretched 165-inch wheelbase (11 inches longer than a standard V-16 Cadillac!) and delivered to the White House for use by President Roosevelt.
Cadillac’s second-generation V-16 had just been introduced. While the first generation 16 and its V-12 stable-mate had been 45-degree overhead valve designs, the new engine was a 135-degree L-head, developing 135 hp from 431 cubic inches. Each bank had its own distributor, carburetor and manifolds. The engine was six inches shorter, 13 inches lower and 250 pounds lighter than its overhead valve predecessor and had significantly fewer parts. Nevertheless, it developed the same power despite its smaller displacement.
Sharing chassis and bodies with the V-8-engined Series 75, the Series 90 Sixteen was offered in 14 body styles, all by Fleetwood, Cadillac’s in-house coachbuilding company. This sharing was enabled by the compact dimensions of the engine, which could be tucked under the firewall, permitting a shorter car without loss of interior space. Its styling was the work of William J. Mitchell, the young designer who had penned the dramatic Sixty Special.
Both the 9006 cars built for use by the White House, chassis 5270064 and 5270075 (the car presented here), were reportedly built with armor-plating and weighed in at a massive 8,000 lbs. Furthermore, they were equipped with special running boards, grab handles, communication equipment, special compartments for firearm storage, sirens and lights to accommodate their Presidential duties.
Leased by Cadillac to the U.S. government, both cars were used through 1956 as part of the White House fleet to carry Secret Service agents or directly chauffeur the President. One was nicknamed the “Queen Mary” (this car, chassis 5720075) and the other “Queen Elizabeth,” a lighthearted reference to the large cruise ships of the same name. Period photos clearly show President Roosevelt being chauffeured in one of the two cars. Roosevelt also had the Ford “Sunshine Special” at his disposal, and the “Queens” were instrumental in transporting agents in his motorcade.
Following FDR’s death, the “Queens” were enlisted for use by the Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower administrations as well. Truman took delivery of two Lincoln “Bubbletop” Limousines in 1950, but both Cadillacs remained in the official fleet.
Over the course of their use by the government, they were returned to Cadillac from time to time to be updated and rebuilt as necessary. In 1946, following the end of WWII, the V-16 engines were replaced with L-head V-8s, which in turn were replaced by 331-cubic inch OHV V-8s in 1952. The Queen Mary still retains its OHV V-8 that was installed in the early 1950s.
Following its use by the White House, the Queen Mary was purchased directly from Cadillac by Mr. Jack Tallman, a third-generation Cadillac dealer from Decatur, Illinois. RM Auctions spoke with Mr. Tallman prior to his recent passing, and he recalled having fond memories of his ownership of this car. He remembered visiting the factory as a young boy with his father, who was also a Cadillac dealer, and seeing both ’38 Presidential Cadillacs being worked on from time to time. It was his hope as a young man to buy one, if not both, of these cars.
According to Mr. Tallman, every few years, the cars were brought back to Cadillac, the bodies were removed, and the chassis and running gear were thoroughly gone over. He witnessed this work being carried out at the factory on more than one occasion. Given postwar supply shortages, V-16 engines were not only costly but quite difficult to rebuild, and Mr. Tallman suggested this was the initial reason for the installation of the flathead V-8.
In the early 1950s, this flathead was replaced by an OHV V-8, which also achieved better fuel mileage. Once the opportunity to buy one of these Presidential Cadillacs presented itself in 1956, Mr. Tallman inspected both cars and chose the Queen Mary, which he deemed to be in better condition and lower mileage than the Queen Elizabeth. In fact, Cadillac asked if he wanted to purchase both cars, but he already owned several collector cars and simply did not have the storage.
Prior to his acquisition, the car was used through the re-election in November 1956 of President Eisenhower. Immediately thereafter and following his acquisition of the car, Mr. Tallman had it photographed on the street directly in front of the White House.
The Tallman family owned the car for over four decades, putting about 30,000 to 40,000 miles on the odometer. It was driven to various meetings and events and participated in many VMCCA, AACA and CCCA tours, the badges of which are still visible in the passenger compartment and on the front bumper. By this time, Mr. Tallman had also acquired one of the 1956 Cadillac Presidential Limousines, both of which were favorites at family events as the entire family, children included, participated in the tours.
The engine was overhauled in his ownership, and selective restoration work was conducted, namely to the interior. The badly deteriorated leather upholstery was replaced with vinyl to replicate the original and was originally intended to complement the Midnight Blue finish of the car, a color combination that reflected the Presidential Seal. Since that time, the car has been refinished in limousine-appropriate black and is distinguishable from its sister car by virtue of this color change.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in March of 2010 at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, Florida and in January of 2012 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix, Arizona.
210 bhp, 331 cu. in. overhead valve V-8 engine, three-speed manual transmission, coil spring independent front suspension, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 165"
Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel