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Classic Profile: The Mighty Cadillac V16

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.

Posted in: Vehicle Profiles

About the Author:

Steve Evans is a second-generation car guy whose passion for collector cars spans all eras. A Phoenix resident, Steve serves on the committee for the Arizona Concours d’Elegance and is the editor of a vintage motoring blog. A collector of all things automotive, Steve’s current object of interest is a 1927 Locomobile.

6 Comments on "Classic Profile: The Mighty Cadillac V16"

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  1. kevin says:

    I’ve tried to share your story’s through my email address but haven’t had any luck. Would you know why? Great Story’s…

  2. allen noel says:

    Packard started the cylinder war with the twin six. Cadillac, unlike the independendents, was able to lose money throughout the thirties because other GM brands took up the slack.

  3. jay mark says:

    Interesting as I never knew that Marmon and Auburn built V-16 and V-12 engines. I guess I’ll have to do some serious research on the internet and at the library to sharpen my slightly aging brain. I do remember very well, as a young boy in NE Minneapolis just shortly after WW2, there was a man, a Mr. Bills, who lived in our neighborhood and owned two beautiful Packards, a 1934-35 V-12 Phaeton and a 1938 Packard limo closed sedan, both were chauffeur driven. Even then, as a 10 year-old, I “lusted in my heart” for those two cars. The phaeton was driven only in late spring and thru the summer, on nice days. I believe he owned a meat packing/processing company. I still see the phaeton coming down his driveway, Mr. Bills sitting in the middle of the back seat, upright cane in front of him, that beautiful tan/brown Packard purring like a contented kitten, off for another day at his business. In truth, that kind of jump-started my love of older cars, classic cars, leading me to own, over the years a 1957 Chrysler 300C, a hot-rodded 1957 Chevy 210 2door I built up for my wife, a 1930 Model A five window turned into a gasser, a split-window ’63 Corvette with the 340 HP 327; yeah there have been maybe 15 collector cars in my life since those days watching the Packards roll down the roads. I love the cars that had character, individuality, unlike the vehicles of today, a homogenous collection of “I can’t tell what make that car is” look. Give me the cars of the 30s, 40s and the finned beauties of the 50s.

  4. Derrick Milhous says:

    My family had several cad v–16 great driving and running cars

  5. Derrick Milhous says:

    We also owned a marmon v-16

  6. Cindy says:

    This is in regards to your site. I clicked on a pic of a car on here to see all the pics in the as and the site without fail continued to move the pics to the right do far that they were out of view. This defect in the site makes it more hassle than it’s worth

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