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1930-1940 Cadillac V-16

Building the Cadillac V-16

To create the new engine, more cubic inches were needed, but why not get them from a narrow-angle V-16, which would permit a smaller bore and stroke and improve thermal efficiency, combined with the power benefits of high compression and the accessibility of overhead valves?

Thus the spec: a narrow-angle (45 degrees) V-16 with a three-inch bore and four-inch stroke, displacing 452 cubic inches; a 5.5:1 compression ratio (lower ratios were available via different head gaskets); 175 horses (although dynamometer tests suggested horsepower was closer to 200).

Torque was an unprecedented 320 pound-feet (the 1930 Cadillac V-8 had only 208) and peaked at just 1,200-1,500 rpm -- which gave impressive pickup, even for the longest, heaviest custom bodies.

The 130-pound, five-main-bearing crankshaft, carefully weighted to minimize vibration, was made of forged carbon steel, bored to allow lubrication of the lower control rod bearings, and each rod in turn was bored to lube the piston pins.

The huge cast silicon aluminum alloy crankcase was mounted to the frame at five rubber-cushioned points. Cylinder heads contained pushrod-operated rocker arms and valves; pistons carried triple rings and were carefully designed for silent operation without scuffing.

cadillac v-16
The Cadillac V-16 featured torque that
was an unprecedented 320 pound-feet.

The distributor served both banks of the V-16 with two sets of contact points, connected to separate coils. The vacuum fuel system also included a separate vacuum tank and carburetor for each cylinder block, with an automatic fuel pump. Starting in 1932, a mechanical fuel pump and Detroit-Lubricator carburetors were used; modern neoprene now allows these to be rebuilt to operate with the original fuel system.

The Sixteen engine was physically beautiful, finished in glossy enamel, porcelain, polished aluminum, and chrome. The wiring was hidden, accessories attached sparingly; the ribbed cylinder head covers were polished and detailed.

Cadillac liked this look so much that it adopted similar covers to hide the wiring on the concurrent L-head V-8 (and possibly to imply that the V-8 also had overhead valves). Indeed the V-16 was so eminently gorgeous that Cadillac took to promoting the car with photographs of the engine alone, captioned, "works of the modern masters."

cadillac v-16
The Cadillac V-16 engine was called
the 'works of the modern masters.'

Of what they had achieved, William Strickland concluded: "The smoothness of operation gives the term a new significance; silkiness would be a more appropriate world. The pick-up, the running on the road, and the overrunning are all smooth and quiet."

Maurice Hendry, author of Cadillac: Standard of the World, wrote that if anything, Strickland was understating the case: The Sixteen "gave all the performance desired, and the level of silence and smoothness set the world's highest standard of luxury car refinement -- criteria, in fact, equaled in their time by only Marmon, and probably never surpassed to this day."

Learn about the design of the first Sixteens on the next page.

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