Classic Profile: The Mighty Cadillac V16

Classic Profile: The Mighty Cadillac V16

In the enthusiasm of the late 1920’s, Cadillac developed its trend-setting 16-cylinder engine of 452 cubic inches – developing 175 horsepower.

A 1931 Cadillac 452A V16 Fleetwood is shown off on the beach in the 1930s | Courtesy of the author

A 1931 Cadillac 452A V16 Fleetwood is shown off on the beach in this vintage photo | Courtesy of the author

In the enthusiasm of the late 1920’s, Cadillac developed its trend-setting 16-cylinder engine of 452 cubic inches – developing 175 horsepower.

While it is true that Packard introduced the landmark Twin-Six, its 12-cylinder engine, in the 1916 model year, it was the Cadillac V16 that set off the American “cylinder wars” at a time when car sales were plummeting due to the escalating economic depression.

Even in those difficult times, many American luxury brands join the fray, including Marmon with its V16, Auburn and its 12-cylinder engines, as well as Packard’s re-introduction of the Twin-Six in 1932.

Not to be outdone, Pierce-Arrow and Franklin introduced V12’s, and Lincoln joined in as well. Although it’s hard to image today, these larger engines were not developed for performance but rather for increased torque and reduced vibration. They were intended to pull long-wheelbase, formal cars as smoothly and with as little noise as possible.

Introduced in January 1930, roughly 2,000 16-cylinder cars were sold by Cadillac in the first year. Sales dropped off quickly, although amazingly Cadillac continued production through 1937 and then re-designed their V16. These later 16-cylinder cars were sold through 1940 in very small numbers.

The 1931 Cadillac shown here in a period photograph wears a 1932 New Jersey license plate and is proudly being shown-off on the broad beaches of the Atlantic shore. As with the majority of first-series 16-cylinder Cadillacs, this car wears a Fleetwood body. The Fleetwood company was founded in 1909 in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania, and would be purchased by the Fisher Body Company in 1925. In 1931, General Motors absorbed Fisher/Fleetwood and moved the company to Detroit.

This car wears Fleetwood style number 4376, which was probably made in Pennsylvania prior to the move to Detroit. Originally priced at $5,950, this was one of more than 50 different body styles offered for the V16. What’s interesting about this car is that it was ordered without the typical side-mount spare tires and without the more common wire wheels. Only 98 units of this body style were produced and at least one is known to survive today.

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Steve Evans
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