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Cadillac V16 (1930 -1937)
by Bill Vance

The Cadillac V-16 was conceived in what were seen as the best of times, the Roaring Twenties. Alas, by the time it went on sale it was the worst of times, the Depression of the thirties brought on by the October 1929 collapse of the stock market.

In spite of the bad times, however, the introduction of a 16- cylinder engine vaulted Cadillac into the front ranks of prestige automobiles. There were private showings in December 1929, followed by its public presentation at the New York Auto Show in January 1930.

Such American marques as Packard, Franklin, Marmon, Lincoln and Pierce-Arrow would respond with large, multi-cylinder engines within three years. Packard revived its V-12 "Twin Six" model, soon renamed the Twelve. Pierce-Arrow, Lincoln and Franklin brought out V-12s, but in sheer numbers of cylinders, only Marmon's aluminum V-16 equalled the Cadillac.

But although the Marmon 16 was an outstanding car, the company would abandon automobiles in 1933. Peerless would not get beyond one prototype V-16. To prove that it was really serious about the ultra-luxury market, Cadillac followed the Sixteen with a 135 horsepower V-12 for 1931. It continued V-8s, its engine type since 1915.

In Europe the Spanish Hispano-Suiza company offered a V-12 in 1931, and six years later Rolls-Royce offered its V-12 Phantom III model. Mercedes-Benz was working on a V-12 in the late 1930s, but it was overtaken by World War II.

The American Duesenberg J, while having "only" a straight-eight, boasted twin overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. This racing car engineering brought to the highway could outperform the Cadillac Sixteen, although it couldn't match the V-16s velvety smoothness.

The Sixteen was capable of approaching 161 km/h (100 mph), depending on the body type and axle ratio fitted. But its forte was the flexibility that allowed it to idle along at walking speed, then accelerate smoothly and quickly, all in top gear.

The Cadillac V-16 engine was an outstanding piece of engineering. The overhead valves had hydraulic zero-lash adjusters, and the cylinder banks were deployed at 45 degrees. Each bank had its own carburettor and manifolding, making it in effect two inline eights on a common crankshaft.

This artist's rendering of the powerful, new sixteen-cylinder Cadillac engine
appeared also in the catalog of Lendrum & Hartman, London, GM's agents in the UK

With a bore and stroke of 76.2 by 101.6 mm (3.0 by 4.0 in.) the V-16 displaced 7.4 litres. It developed 175 horsepower, not as much as the 265 claimed for the normally aspirated Duesenberg (and said to be 320 with a supercharger), but still very respectable during that era.

Much attention was paid to the aesthetics of the V-16. Its engine and engine compartment were enamelled, polished and chromed. Metal plates concealed wires and plumbing.

It was as quiet as it was beautiful. It has been said that at idle the only sound was the noise made by the sparking of the ignition distributor. John Bond, editor/publisher of Road & Track magazine, wrote that "At cruising speeds the only audible sound was from the fan and the twin carburettors pulling air through their large air horns."

In spite of the parlous times, Cadillac surprised even itself by selling 2000 Sixteens in the first half year of production. During all of 1930, with the Depression deepening, 2887 Sixteens were built, although only 2500 were sold.

The carryover of cars into 1931 resulted in production of just 364 Sixteens that year, with sales of 750. When only 300 Sixteens were sold in 1932 Cadillac adopted a build-to-order policy for 1933. From 1934 to '37 only 212 Sixteens would be ordered.

The original V-16 engine was refined, but not changed substantially between 1930 and '37. Body styling of course kept up with contemporary trends, even in some cases leading them. Independent front suspension arrived in 1934, the all-steel "Turret Top" in 1935, and hydraulic brakes in 1936.

interior of Sloan custom car

In 1938 Cadillac replaced the overhead valve V-16 with a new side-valve V-16. With a bank angle of 135 degrees it was almost a flat engine, and compared with the beauty of the original 16, it looked strictly utilitarian. The new 16 was, however, 330 mm (13 in.) lower than the original, which allowed the firewall to be extended forward for more interior space.

With a "square" bore and stroke of 82.5 mm (3.25 in.) the side-valve 16 was slightly smaller at 7.1 litres, but it produced the same 185 horsepower as the last overhead valve 16.

V 16 engine

Cadillac continued building the Sixteen through 1940, when it was quietly discontinued. In its 11-year history just under 4400 were built. While competitors such as Marmon, Pierce-Arrow and Franklin succumbed to the Depression and stopped building cars, the financial resources of General Motors could keep Cadillac's Sixteen going.

It is unfortunate that the Cadillac Sixteen was produced through the worst economic decade of this century, a period in which ostentatious, 6000-pound, nine-mile-per-gallon cars were generally regarded as socially unacceptable. Given these circumstances, it is amazing that the Sixteen survived as long as it did. In so doing, it consolidated Cadillac's position as America's predominant luxury automobile.

Wheelbase 3580 mm 140.9 in  
Length 5090 mm 200.4 in  
Kerb weight 2227 kg 4910 lb  
Manufacturer Cadillac
Type V-16
in 135 vee
32 valves total
2 valves per cylinder
Bore stroke 82.50mm 82.50mm
3.25 in 3.25 in
Bore/Stroke ratio 1
Displacement 7056 cc
(430.584 cu in)
Unitary capacity 441 cc/cylinder
Compression ratio 7.00:1
Fuel system 1 Ca carb
Aspiration Normal
Max. output 187.6 PS (185.0 bhp) (138 kW)
@3600 rpm
Coolant Water
Specific output 26.2 bhp/litre
0.43 bhp/cu in
Top speed 150 km/h
Power-to-weight 83.07 bhp/ton
Engine location Front
Engine alignment Longitudinal
Tyres F 7.50 x 16
Tyres R 7.50 x 16
Transmission 3M
Drive RWD