Hooniverse Editorial: The Standard of the World and How to Reinvent Cadillac – Part 2

Yesterday, I brought up a question as to the viability of Cadillac in the Post GM Bankruptcy World, and how I thought it was time to move the “Standard of the World” upmarket to compete directly with Rolls Royce, Bentley, Mercedes-Benz, and even Lexus. It has been done before, and in this edition on How to Reinvent Cadillac, I highlight one of the most decadent motorcars ever produced by Cadillac, the V-16. The Cadillac V-16 was produced between 1930 and 1940 which was the first golden age of the fine automobile. This was the period in which there were more cars defined as true classics by the Antique Automobile Club of America than any other era. Magnificent vehicles were produced with unheard of levels of luxury, size, and power. They also came with equally large asking prices and this was the market that GM targeted, but it wasn’t going to be easy. The wealthy businessman or aristocratic family could choose any number of fine automobiles, both domestic and imported. They include such storied marks as Pierce Arrow, Duesenberg, Marmon, Packard, Cord, Rolls Royce, Isotta Fraschini, Delage, and Bugatti. Even the Ford Motor Company offered a true classic at this time in the form of the Lincoln Model K. Into this competitive market Cadillac announced to the world the availability of its most expensive car to date, the new V-16. This new class of Cadillac was first displayed at New York’s automobile show on January 4, 1930 and could be ordered with a wide variety of bodywork, as was the norm for all coach built cars of the era. The Fleetwood catalog for the 1930 V-16 included 10 basic body styles; and with research performed by the Cadillac-LaSalle Club, Inc., the number of different styles offered for the new Cadillac of Cadillacs is thought to be around 70, built by both Fisher and Fleetwood. Sales for the series started with great expectations, but production and sales soon fell off, with only six units produced in November 1931. While profit was not the main motivation in producing the V-16–think of it as an early “halo” car–sales hovered at between 50 and 60 units annually throughout most of the thirties with only 51 units produced in 1940. Clearly it came as no surprise when Cadillac later estimated that they lost money on every single V-16 they sold. What was less well known is the fact that there were two entirely different V-16 engines offered during this time period, and this alone could be the main reason for the money losing venture. The original Cadillac V-16 could be said to be two straight-8 engines on a common crankshaft and crankcase, because each bank operated entirely independently of the other with no other shared components. The design was rather narrow, because the engine compartments of the day were both upright, and narrow. Engineering advances included a counterweighted crankshaft, and hydraulic valve-lash adjusters, which are taken for granted with modern engines. The Cadillac V-16s of the 1930 to 1936 were classics in every sense of the word and were the car of choice of heads of state worldwide as well as celebrities and athletes; heavyweight champion Joe Louis was among the owners after reportedly originally having difficulty buying one because he was black. The second generation V-16 featured an unusually wide V-angle of 135 degrees giving a much lower engine to suit the styling tastes of the late thirties, when aerodynamics were just starting to come into vogue. Some of the latest thinking went into the new engine which included hydraulic valve lifters and an external oil filter to safeguard internal engine components. Cadillac rated both of their V-16’s at the same 185-horsepower. However, the excesses of the V-16 were rapidly coming to a close by the end of the 1930’s, and Cadillac (as well as other makers) were discovering that a well engineered eight cylinder engine could produce the same power output as a V-12–or even the Cadillac V-16–with less moving parts that cost less to produce and with no loss of smoothness associated with the finest luxury cars of the day. Join me tomorrow as I highlight one of the most outrageous cars ever produced by Cadillac, the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. This was a car so over the top, even by the flashy standards set by the 1950’s. If you want to read more, go over to Automotive Traveler to read the entire article.

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