The Cadillac V16, the world’s first production sixteen-cylinder passenger car, outpaced its rival Marmon by ten months. Despite being conceived during the vibrant Roaring Twenties, these large vehicles faced challenges in the post-Wall Street Crash and the Depression years of the early 1930s. Nonetheless, Cadillac defied the odds and sold over 15,000 V16 cars before the decade’s end.
Under the guidance of Harley Earl, who had been directing GM’s Art & Color Department since 1928, the master stylist and his team seized the opportunity provided by the new V16 chassis to create exquisitely beautiful automobile bodies. Fleetwood offered more than 50 body styles, with the majority being variations on a few basic designs.
Despite the questionable wisdom of producing such a complex car in limited numbers, Cadillac took a bold step by introducing an entirely new V16 model in 1938. Although downsized to 431ci (7,066cc) and transitioning to a ‘flat head’ configuration, the new short-stroke 135-degree motor was lighter and more powerful than its predecessor.
Clever engine placement allowed Cadillac to reduce the wheelbase by 13 inches while maintaining spacious bodies. However, after a few years, Cadillac recognized that the production of the new V16 was no longer economically viable. Consequently, the model was discontinued at the end of the 1940 model year, with only 515 of these magnificent automobiles ever built.