Since the day it first claimed to be laboring under the "penalty of Leadership," Cadillac pressured itself to live up to the lofty status the statement implied. Then came the 1930-1940 Cadillac V-16, a lasting monument to that struggle.
Looking back today, there seems to have been no sensible reason for building a 16-cylinder Cadillac. By 1930, the luxury car industry had settled on and refined both the inline- and vee-eights. Builders of some of the finest cars in the world saw no reason for more than eight cylinders.
Cadillac's Sixteen also arrived precisely in time for the Great Depression, when the few people who could afford cars tended to think in terms of four or six cylinders and the handful who could still afford Cadillacs often preferred to keep a low profile in a Chevy or Ford. But from a purely practical view, there's no reason that the world needed Ferraris or Corvettes either.
Cadillac offered a broad choice of V-16 body styles
for 1930 and 1931, including this roadster. See more classic car pictures.
The Cadillac V-16 was built -- and lasted for 11 years, a longer production run than any other car with more than eight cylinders -- because of the passion of great engineers and their management's drive to produce the best. It was a masterpiece, which is why so many examples are still around.
As Theodore MacManus put it in that most famous of Cadillac ads, "The Penalty of Leadership," a great achievement "makes itself known, no matter how loud the clamor of denial. That which deserves to live, lives."
The economic justification for building such a car was that the decision had been made and the development money spent long before the stock market crashed in October 1929, and nobody knew, even in 1930, how long the economic doldrums would last.
In fact, it was production lead times that caused all the so-called "multi-cylinder" classics to appear when they did. Cadillac took its Sixteen decision in 1927, part of a planned assault on Packard for luxury car supremacy, but development had required three years.
A year before, in 1926, the small Marmon company had made a similar decision, but by virtue of its size and efficiency, Cadillac was able to bring out its Sixteen a year before Marmon.
Simultaneously, many other quality car makers were planning twelve-cylinder cars. Twelves from Packard, Franklin, Lincoln, Auburn, and Pierce-Arrow appeared in 1932; Cadillac's own Twelve in 1931. Too much was invested for any of these projects to be canceled, even if the result appeared at the very bottom of a depression nobody had expected in the heady days of the 1920s.
Cadillac's V-16 engine was considered
an aesthetic triumph.
Learn about the development of the Cadillac V-16 on to the next page.
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