The spectacular Cadillac V16 first stunned audiences at the New York Auto Show in 1930. The order books filled quickly, but after initially strong sales, production had dwindled as the American economy faltered on the cusp of the Great Depression. As the 1930's wore on, such lavish motorcars were frowned upon by even the wealthiest of buyers who preferred discretion over flash. Despite the dire economic conditions, the V16 soldiered on as GM’s halo model, and it stood proudly as a symbol of Cadillac’s unrivaled engineering excellence.
For the 1938 model year, Cadillac completely redesigned the car with an all-new engine and body design. The new V16 replaced Owen Nacker’s exotic and costly overhead valve design, which Cadillac was said to have lost money on every one built. Displacing 431 cubic inches, the new V16 was a more conventional design based on that of the V8, with a simple side-valve configuration and unusually wide 135-degree cylinder bank angle. The engine produced 185 horsepower (about ten more than the old unit) and weighed a staggering 250 pounds less than the original V16. Most importantly, it was significantly cheaper for Cadillac to produce, and therefore it stood a chance at finally making the Sixteen profitable.
Cadillac’s new V16 Series 90 rode on the same 141-inch wheelbase as the V8 series 75, allowing for the sharing of bodies from the Fleetwood and Fisher catalogs. Twelve catalog body styles were available for the 1938-1939 model years, designed under the guidance of the masterful Bill Mitchell; the young protégé of Harley Earl. 1938 saw a dramatic shift in design as the influence of the streamline era became more prominent. The 1938 Cadillac marked a very significant point for GM, as it bridged the gap between the traditional classic form of the early 1930's and the fully integrated style of the early post-war period.
We are pleased to offer this outstanding 1938 Cadillac Series 90 V16, wearing the elegant and imposing Imperial Limousine body with division window, style number 9033 from the Fleetwood Catalog. It is one of just 95 built, equipped from new with numerous interesting options and features. The factory build sheet shows this car was specified with dual heaters, footrests in the rear, radio, special upholstery, and opening rear quarter lights. This unique Cadillac was delivered through John D. Wendell Cadillac of Albany, New York and is believed to have been purchased new by Herbert Lehman, who served as New York’s Governor from 1933-1942. Lehman’s ownership has yet to be verified, however, subsequent owners are known to include Clarence Stanbury, who owned it from 1968-1988, followed by Keith Isoman of Hornell, NY who kept it from 1988-1993. The next owner was Gene Kahn of Coupeville, Washington who was responsible for this breathtaking, concours-quality nut-and-bolt restoration. The car was sound, complete and rust-free, yet the project consumed six years, costing Mr. Kahn more than $160,000. Since its stunning restoration, it has had two subsequent owners and logged fewer than 3,000 miles.
The quality of the restoration is remarkable, looking resplendent in gorgeous black paint, concours quality bright work and exquisite detailing of the fittings and trim. Fleetwood’s body is a formal yet wonderfully elegant design with an integrated trunk and dual side-mount spare wheels hidden beneath full steel covers. It sits proudly on the road, rolling on wide-whitewall Firestones with full wheel covers. Accessories include dual Trippelite driving lamps and a beautiful goddess mascot that also cleverly doubles as the handle for the hood locking mechanism.
Factory records show the interior was ordered with several unique touches. The gray broadcloth upholstery was faithfully reproduced using the original interior as a pattern. Rear occupants ride on an opulent wool-upholstered rear bench, and a pair of opera seats fold out of the floor, upholstered in complementary tan cloth. Beautiful detailing includes a functioning intercom for driver and passenger, working clock in the division panel, and beautifully refinished wood trim. Up front, the driver rides on hard-wearing black leather, which repeats on the door panels. The factory-fitted radio has been restored, and the dash is exquisitely refinished in wood-graining and tan paint on steel panels.
Detailing under the hood is up to the same standards set by the rest of the car. Some of the porcelain finish has flaked off the intake manifolds, which is not uncommon for a car that has seen moderate use. However, the overall presentation is strong with plumbing and wiring true to original, and correct fittings and hardware used throughout the engine bay. Powerful and incredibly smooth, the V16 engine is completely rebuilt and runs beautifully. It is a delight to drive, wafting along on ample torque, with sublime smoothness and poise.
This is an impressive example of the rare and highly exclusive Fleetwood Imperial Sedan. Restored to a standard rarely seen on these cars, it has been lovingly maintained and is beautiful in nearly every respect. As a CCCA Full Classic, it is eligible for shows and CARavan Tours, as well as events with the AACA, Cadillac Club, or numerous other tours and shows. Few cars in history have matched the Cadillac Sixteen’s stature and prestige, which is faithfully represented through this car’s impeccable, high-quality restoration.