1930-1940 Cadillac V-16

1930-1933 Cadillac V-16

Too much emphasis is placed on the Cadillac Sixteen's arrival after the Wall Street crash and not enough on the success it enjoyed despite the crash. In fact, the response to it was instantaneous and impressive.

Although dealers were told to expect their first cars in April, by the eighth of that month, Cadillac had shipped 1,000, including 576 in April alone. The 1930 model year total was 2,219, and by June, sales had exceeded $13 million, "far in excess of our expectations," according to Lawrence Fisher.

The 1931 model 452A was unchanged, and production for 1930-1931 combined was 3,250. This success was augmented by the Cadillac Twelve, almost entirely derived from the Sixteen. Its higher-revving, 368-cid engine was not as powerful as the Sixteen's, but it did give Cadillac a slightly lower-priced supercar, and it always outsold its senior counterpart.

Counting 5,725 Twelves, Cadillac built more than 9,000 multi-cylinder cars in 1930-1931, a heady figure for objects that sold for the price of an upper middle-class house. No contemporary or future multicylinder rival ever equaled them. For example, the Packard Twelve, in its introductory year of 1932, accounted for only 311 copies.

cadillac v-16
The 1933 Cadillac V-16's lone Imperial cabriolet sedan
was originally sold to rail magnate Frederick Vanderbilt.

Unfortunately, by 1932 nobody in this market sector was doing well, for the Depression had rapidly deepened. The Model 452B Sixteen for 1932 had many changes to encourage sales: two different wheelbases (143 and 149 inches), "Triple-silent" synchromesh transmission, ride control, free wheeling, vacuum clutch, svelte new body styling with a sloping windshield, inside sun visor, and watch-crystal instruments.

The cheapest 1932 cost nearly $1,000 less than the corresponding 1931. But Sixteen production for model-year 1932 was only 296. It fell to 125 in 1933, and ran about 50 annually in later years.

These were the depths of the Threadbare '30s, a time when GM hastily abandoned peripheral makes like Oakland and for a time even considered that perhaps it would be better off without Cadillac. The division that had profitably sold nearly 20,000 of its 1930 cars bottomed in 1933, when Cadillac's tally was exactly 3,173 for the model year.

cadillac v-16
The dash of the 1933 V-16 bore artful detailing.

Only detail engineering changes were made through 1937, though styling was always on the cutting edge. The 1933 Series 452C, mechanically a repeat of 1932, had a striking facelift, "no-draft ventilation" (windwings), multi-tubular bumpers, a redesigned Cadillac "goddess" hood ornament, and fewer body styles.

Its low sales were certainly owed to the abandonment of price discipline: the cheapest 452C was priced at $6,250. Notable this year was the "Aero-Dynamic Coupe," the Chicago World's Fair show car, a slick fastback displayed with Packard's famous "Car of the Dome" and Pierce's "Silver Arrow" at the famous exhibition.

cadillac v-16
Output of V-16 Cadillacs dropped off sharply in 1933.
Only two examples of the $7,500 convertible were issued.

To learn about the 1934 Cadillac Aero-Dynamic Coupe, continue on to the next page.

For more information on cars, see: