1930-1940 Cadillac V-16

Cadillac L-Head V-16

For 1938, the original ohv V-16 engine was replaced by an L-head version that took much of its technical inspiration from Cadillac's L-head V-8s. Chief engineer Ernest W. Seaholm wrote a booklet on the new Sixteen, which described the reasons for the change:

"Since the total sales volume in this field is necessarily limited, a simplification was indicated. Also, development of the Cadillac V-8 engine had progressed to the point where its power development was almost equal to that of the Twelve [which Cadillac dropped in 1938], and in power-to-weight ratio and general efficiency, the Eight was superior to both the Twelve and Sixteen.

cadillac v-16
As production of the Sixteen waned, as few as one of
a given model was produced in some years.

"To realize the twofold purpose of simplification and improved engine design," Seaholm wrote, "the production of an entirely new model to supersede both the Twelve- and Sixteen-cylinder lines was decided upon."

The design goals for the L-head Sixteen were power output at least equal to that of the previous V-16, shorter length, lighter weight, lower production costs and easier maintenance, and high standards of performance and serviceability.

The most visible difference in the new V-16, aside from its compact dimensions, was its wider, 135-degree angle between cylinder banks, permitting the less complicated sidevalve configuration. Engine dimensions were square at 3.25 inches bore and stroke, giving 431 cubic inches; the crankshaft ran in nine main bearings. The new engine was rated at 185 horsepower, the same as the power plant it replaced.

cadillac v-16
A new engine and new styling injected
new life into the V-16 in 1938.

Although the L-head Sixteen was much criticized by collectors over the years, its main fault seems to be its more practical, less exotic physical appearance. There is no doubt that it achieved all the goals Seaholm had set.

It gave genuine 100 mph capability in more body types, yet its gas mileage was at least as good as that of the earlier engine and its acceleration improved: Cadillac's own figures showed 10-60 mph in 16 seconds, better, they said, than any other American car of the time.

To read about Cadillac V-16s from 1937 to 1940, continue on to the next page.

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