If automobile companies in the 1930s were judged purely on their confidence, Cadillac would stand leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. When Lawrence P. Fisher took over the leadership of Cadillac in 1925, Packard had surpassed GM’s flagship to become America’s most popular luxury car. Under Fisher’s guidance, Cadillac swept back to the forefront of innovation, style, and technical excellence. It was Fisher who hired Harley Earl away from Don Lee Coachworks to lead GM styling, with the LaSalle companion brand serving as his first task. As the 1930s approached, Cadillac was bursting with confidence as they wrested back the number one spot from Packard. Their secret weapon came in the form of one of the most potent and exotic production engines of the era. Designed by Owen Nacker and packing sixteen cylinders, overhead valves, 175 horsepower, and 452 cubic inches, the new flagship V16 engine was an overnight sensation. Not only was the spec sheet impressive, but it was also a work of mechanical art - and among the first automobile engine designs to cross the stylist's desk before production. Initially, sales of the Series 452 V16s were robust; however, even Cadillac’s buoyant attitude couldn’t overcome the economic effects of the Great Depression.
Despite tapering sales, Cadillac soldiered on in the “multi-cylinder race” with an equally impressive twelve-cylinder follow-up to the V16 coming some nine months later. The twelve was, for all intents and purposes, a V16 with four fewer cylinders. It shared the larger unit’s architecture and stunning, sleek style. At 135 horsepower, it remained competitive with Packard and Lincoln. Officially known as the Series 370 (for its displacement in cubic inches) the new V12 Cadillac was the sleeper of the range. It offered nearly all of the refinement, prestige, and power of the V16, on the smaller and more agile V8 chassis. It was available with a 140-inch or 143-inch wheelbase, sharing many of the body styles with its larger sibling. In its first year of production, the V12 outsold the V16 by a substantial margin, yet by the end of 1937, Cadillac left room for only one flagship engine and dropped the overhead valve V12 in favor of a new L-head, wide-angle V16.
This stunning 1931 Cadillac Series 370 brilliantly captures the sporting character of the V12 with its evocative, original Phaeton coachwork on the 140-inch wheelbase chassis. Restored in the late 1990s under the stewardship of Mr. D. Richard Shonk of Ashton, Maryland, it is an exquisite example and a recipient of numerous accolades from the CCCA, Cadillac LaSalle Club, and AACA. With Mr. Shonk, the Cadillac won consecutive AACA National First Prize and a Grand National First Prize awards in 1997 and 1998. It tied for first prize at the 2002 Dearborn, Michigan Cadillac-LaSalle Club meet, earning senior badge number 418. Other well-known collectors to count this Cadillac as their own include Robert Perry, followed by Richard and Linda Kughn in 2008. While part of the impressive Kughn collection, the Cadillac continued to be shown, earning a CCCA Senior badge along the way. Benefitting from expert care through the years, it remains in outstanding condition, with signs of light maturation now beginning to appear. Factory build records verify this as a genuine Phaeton, retaining its original body, engine, steering gear, and other components.
The impressive array of awards speaks to the quality of the restoration. The color combination of burgundy fenders and top surfaces, with dove gray body sides, and a scarlet red chassis makes a bold statement. Scarlet coach stripes tie the color scheme together nicely, with an effect that is elegant yet breathtaking. This particular body is style number 4760 from the Fleetwood catalog. Similar in style to Fleetwood’s Sport Phaeton, it does without the latter’s division window and rear compartment instruments. It is believed that just 128 V12s received this magnificent coachwork. This car carries many period-correct accessories, including dual Pilot Ray spot lamps, Goddess mascot, dual side-mount spare wheels with painted steel covers, folding windscreen, and a color-keyed genuine Cadillac accessory trunk. A small integrated trunk in the body houses the full set of matching side curtains for the tan canvas top.
The exquisite interior is a particular highlight of this car. Oxblood red leather covers the seats and door panels, complemented by matching high-quality carpets. The driver’s seat shows some slight creasing from moderate use, which adds to the rich, inviting character of the cabin. As with the sister V16 models, the instrument panel of the V12 is a work of art on its own. Engine turned alloy panels flank a centrally mounted gauge cluster, which is finely detailed in an art-deco style. This car retains its correct original AC instruments, Waltham clock, and factory switchgear.
The breathtaking presentation continues under the hood, with the twelve-cylinder engine exquisitely detailed as original with black porcelain enamel, chrome hardware, and meticulously finished painted surfaces. For the Twelve and Sixteen, Cadillac designers carefully routed plumbing and wiring away from the eye to show off the impressive design, which period advertisements compared to a work of art. The condition of the paint, chrome, and enamel on the engine only underscores the remarkable quality of this restoration, and the professional care it has received since. The undercarriage shows signs of careful road use yet it remains extremely clean and tidy.
Multi-cylinder Cadillacs are elegant, highly collectible symbols of Detroit’s exuberant confidence of the 1930s. This car’s combination of the V12 engine and sporting open coachwork make it an ideal candidate for the enthusiast to participate in road events and tours. A fabulous motorcar in every respect, it is suitable for continued enjoyment in CCCA, AACA, and CLC concours events, and would be a welcome addition to virtually any collection of Classic Era automobiles.