Cadillac's V16 was the first true 16-cylinder engine built from scratch, a project led by Owen Milton Nacker. The resulting engine was an engineering tour de force designed concurrently with Cadillac's own V12 engine with wide interchangeability of parts. The new V16 engine was an engineering masterpiece, featuring an advanced overhead valve design that incorporated automatic hydraulic valve lash compensators that ensured that the engine ran as quietly as any side valve engine. Its 45 degree cylinder bank angle and overhead valve design kept the engine narrow, while the external manifolding provided good access.
Just as important as the car's mechanical specification was the under hood appearance. Wiring was hidden under covers, while gleaming black enamel contrasted with a brushed aluminum raised pattern on the valve covers. Fuel lines were plated, and a false firewall hid the necessary wiring and plumbing from view.
While the horsepower output of the V16 engine was rated by Cadillac at 175 horsepower, in truth it produced approximately 200 horsepower. Its mission, however, was not absolute performance and speed but rather to propel Cadillac's massive chassis, which could accommodate a multitude of relatively heavy and luxurious custom coachbuilt bodies.
A wide variety of bodies were offered on the V16 chassis, most being Fleetwood designs. A few special Fisher bodies were offered as well, either on special order or, in a few cases, as cataloged offerings. The cars instantly catapulted Cadillac to the head of the luxury class.
In the face of a declining luxury market, Cadillac managed to survive thanks to the financial support of its massive parent company, General Motors. Without this financial support, Cadillac could never have produced such a low-production, luxurious automobile. The shrinking Depression-era market meant that the V16 was produced in tiny numbers for those few who were capable of paying more than ten times the cost of a Chevrolet convertible.
The few examples that remain today offer a rare glimpse into one of the most exciting automotive eras of all time. Of these rare cars, the open two-seater style V16 cars built on the massive 148-inch wheelbase are some of the most sought-after. The least expensive model was the Style 4302 Roadster at $5,350, while the most expensive was the Style 4235 Convertible Coupe at $6,900.
The V16 Roadsters pictured here are all Style 4302.
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