There was time that automobiles were often judged by the number of cylinders their engines had. It could be argued that this is sometimes the case today, but in 1931 the Cadillac 452A and it’s 16 cylinders said a lot. The car was an all-time great for Cadillac. Cadillac produced two of only three production, gasoline-fueled V16 engine models in automotive history.

cadillac v-16
1931 Cadillac V-16

Cadillac Unveils Their Expensive V-16

The Cadillac 452A V-16 was introduced at the New York Auto Show on January 4, 1930. This was a bit over two months after the great stock market crash. Timing could have been better but nobody could predict the future. The style of the car was a collaboration between Cadillac GM Lawrence Fisher and GM stylist Harley Earl. The body for all 1931 Cadillacs were longer and lower than previous models. Theses cars also had a longer hood. The 1931′s also had a chrome plated screen that covered the radiator and gave the car an expensive look. Cadillac used it’s longest wheelbase and very elaborate bodies for the V-16’s.

Cadillac led the way in developing the V-16 although both Peerless and Marmon were attempting to do the same. All three automakers were working on this project during the last years of the Roaring Twenties. The goal was to design a smooth running engine that would provide more than adequate power. Cadillac used the term “continuous flow” to describe their V-16. Continuous flow implied that the engine multiplies power and subdivides it into a continuous flow, always at full volume efficiency.

cadillac 452a
Cadillac’s top of the line vehicle

The engine debuted in 1930. The V-16 Cadillac was highest priced Cadillac to date however this did not turn buyers away, even a year after the stock market crash of 1929. Interestingly enough, while Cadillac had orders for over 2,000 of these vehicles during the first six months the car was out, sales dropped in 1931. In fact, it would take another ten years for Cadillac to get decent sales numbers for it’s V-16. During that period of time Cadillac was producing only about 50 of the V-16’s per year.

The Cadillac V-16 was a success if you look at it’s first year. After that the Great Depression was in the wings and sales were not good. Regardless, Cadillac’s 452A V-16 did outperform the Packard’s Twelve.

The V-16 was designed by an ex-Marmon engineer, Owen Nackler. Cadillac’s first V-16 engine was a combination of two new Buick eight cylinder engines. The two engine blocks were put on a common frame with each block at a 45 degree angle to the other. Crankshaft and crankcase were of course common. The V-16 could put out 165 HP and achieve a speed of 90 MPH. It’s said that the V-16 could get 8 miles per gallon.

A Status Automobile

A status automobile might be one with a custom coach build and with a high price tag. It was an automobile for the very wealthy and in some cases celebrities. Customers could have their V-16 Cadillac as they wished. Cadillac provided some 70 different styles for the customer to choose from. If the customer chose, he or she could take a finished chassis to an independent coach builder.

cadillac v-16
View of the dashboard

To help secure status, a buyer of the Cadillac 452A might pay $6,500 for the automobile. With this being said, the Cadillac V-16 remained the top of the line Cadillac from it’s inception straight through to 1940.

1930-31 Cadillac 452A V-16 Specifications

As mentioned above, the engine was a combination of two Buick V-8’s with a common crankshaft and crankcase. The engine was 452 cubic inches. Horsepower was rated at 165.

Transmission was a three speed manual.

The wheelbase for the 30-31 model was 148.0 inches. Vehicle length varied due to model. Vehicle eight averages about 6,000 lbs.

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v-16 engine
V-16 engine

Collector Values for Cadillac’s V-16

The restored Cadillac V-16 can be quite costly but has also returned good appreciation. All body styles designed for this automobile are rare for each model and thus are valuable.

Production numbers, as mentioned above, were low. Aside from 1930, on;y about four dozen Cadillac V-16’s were built per year. As a result, the automobile is rare and fully restored models have sold for several hundred thousand dollars. 1930 and 1931 models have sold anywhere from $150,000 to $500,000 often times above the asking prices. The two highest selling models were the Sports Phaeton and the Fleetwood Roadster.

Reference material includes FLeetwood:  Individual Body Styles…Cadillac V-16 (sales brochure) and The Cadillac That Followed Me Home: Memoir of a V-16 Dream Realized by author Christopher W. Cummings.

(Article and photos copyright Auto Museum Online)