During the 1930s the stately flagship of General Motors’ extensive empire was the Cadillac Sixteen, a luxury car aimed at America’s most status-conscious auto buyers. GM’s cunning plan got off to a great start at the beginning of the decade, but ended in tears.
The 1930 Cadillac Sixteen had an all-new V16 engine, the first such power plant to reach a production car in the USA. The most expensive Cadillac yet, the Sixteen made an attention-grabbing debut, at the 1930 New York Automobile Show. It also went on a promotional tour of Europe, a cavalcade of six cars visiting ten countries – stopping off at Cadillac in France even though there was no connection between town and car beyond the name.
The Sixteen was a sensation, offering over 30 different models when each body style mid option was added up. This variety was possible because Cadillac had purchased coachbuilders Fleetwood and Fisher Body in order to offer buyers an in-house custom service, though a few Sixteens were sold in rolling chassis form to be bodied outside. As always, the rarer coupes, phaetons and convertibles are deemed most desirable today – though in truth every one of the 3,882 Sixteens built before 1938 looked fabulous, whatever the body style.
The company sold more than half the entire production run in the first six months of manufacture and estimated that it made a profit on not a one. Though this splendid series was a commercial disaster, today’s classic car buffs regard original Sixteens as super-desirable (forget the lesser 1938-40 Series 90s) and any coming up for sale is priced accordingly. Expensive then, expensive now – but always offering drivers a refined experience as they change smoothly up through the three-speed synchromesh gear box then swiftly slow the stylish behemoth with servo-assisted brakes.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1930 (until 1937)
7.4 (452 Cid) OHVV16
The sportiest models could reach 100 mph (161 km/h)
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The possibilities for customizing these plush V16 models were endless – as illustrated by the fact that Prohibition-era gangster Al Capone was able to request a gun cabinet when ordering one (but not, unfortunately for Big Al, an in-built tax lawyer).