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1930-1940 Cadillac V-16

Designing the Early Cadillac V-16s

The revolutionary V-16 engine was bolted to a fairly conventional chassis not significantly different from that of the Cadillac V-8, although naturally heavier and longer, with dual exhausts, a larger radiator, and heavier springs. There even was some parts commonality with the V-8 chassis.

Mechanically, the engine was the story -- but there was more to the story than the engine. The other salient aspect of the Sixteen was its lush array of bodies, which for the first time put Cadillac on an equal footing not only with Packard, but with the grand marques of Europe.

cadillac v-16
Though he owed his General Motors ties to Buick,
R. Samuel McLaughlin -- the longtime head of
GM Canada -- owned this special
1932 Cadillac Madam X sedan.

Body design was directed by Fleetwood's Ernest Schebera, who combined an understanding of the needs of Fleetwood's moneyed clientele with an eye for style like that of Harley Earl, founder of GM's Art & Colour Section and pioneer automotive stylist.

Schebera worked to create a family resemblance among all Cadillacs; compared to a V-8 or Twelve, the Sixteen was similar, but longer and more luxurious.

Initially there were 20 Fleetwood bodies, including a roadster, phaetons, cabriolets, coupes, sedans, Imperial sedans, and limousines, priced from around $5,500 to $7,500. But these were soon joined by more, and in 1930 and 1931 (which was mainly an extension of the 1930 model), more than 70 different Fleetwood and Fisher body styles were offered -- some produced in quantities as small as one.

The variety seemed infinite, including, for example, better than a dozen variations of cabriolet. There were sedans, Imperials, landaus, and transformables, many configured for five or seven passengers -- or just two. A Fleetwood two-passenger coupe (production 11) on the standard 148-inch wheelbase must have been a sight to behold.

cadillac v-16
Details of this special 1932 Cadillac Madam X sedan
included a floral needlepoint design on the seats.

The most interesting of the closed Sixteens were those with "Madam X" coachwork, recognizable by their very slender door and windshield pillars, chrome window-edge moldings, and rakishly sloped one-piece or vee'd windshields. The name "Madam X" had been suggested by Harley Earl, after the mysterious female character in a popular 1929 play.

Some Madam X Cadillacs were distinguished by stainless-steel striping instead of the usual paint striping; some even had gold-faced instruments and stainless-steel spoke wire wheels.

The largest array of Madam Xs was offered in 1930-1931: a dozen styles including sedan, cabriolet, Imperial sedan, town car, and coupe bodies. For 1933, the Madam Xs comprised an Imperial cabriolet and Imperial sedan. (There was also one Madam X Twelve, the five-passenger Imperial cabriolet.)

cadillac v-16
Gauges of the Cadillac Madam X sedan
were newly centered in front of the driver.

Hitherto shrouded in secrecy, the 1930 Model 452 Cadillac Sixteen was announced in a series of spot radio ads in December 1929, less than two months after the devastating stock-market crash. Lawrence P. Fisher telegraphed invitations to friends, colleagues, and customers, inviting them to the official showings, first at the Detroit factory on December 27, then at the New York Automobile Show in January.

Read on for more about the early Cadillac V-16s, specifically the 1930-1933 models.

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