Throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s Cadillac and cross-town rivals Packard dueled for supremacy in the in the hotly contested luxury car market. Cadillac had the benefit of GM’s backing, while Packard often topped sales charts thanks to its fiercely loyal clientele. Wanting to stamp its authority on the market and live into its motto “The Standard of the World,” General Motors invested heavily to energize Cadillac. In 1927, GM introduced LaSalle as a stylish junior companion brand to Cadillac. LaSalle was a way to fill the ever-increasing gap between Buick and Cadillac, to boost Cadillac’s bottom line, and to draw younger, style-conscious buyers into the showroom. A vital part of that plan centered on Harley Earl, who was hired away from Don Lee Coachworks to design the LaSalle. With its immediate success, became the head of GM’s newly formed Art and Colour Department and would oversee all future GM styling for decades to come. Earl then set his sights on Cadillac, designing a fresh and elegant line to see the marque into the 1930s.
With Cadillac on firm footing, division president Lawrence Fisher, together with Harley Earl, set out to create an all-new flagship that would General Motors at the pinnacle of the American automobile industry. In search of inspiration, Earl and Fisher toured numerous traditional coachbuilders of England and mainland Europe, including Barker, James Young, Saoutchik, and Vanvooren. Meanwhile, in Detroit, Cadillac engineers were hard at work preparing a stunning new engine to serve as the new Crown Jewel at General Motors. Making its debut at the New York Auto Show was the sensational new 452 cubic-inch V16, designed by Owen Nacker. The engines featured overhead valves and twin updraft carburetors, and a headline-grabbing 175 horsepower output. Nine months later, the nearly identical V12 version followed, giving Cadillac buyers an astonishing variety of engine, chassis, and body combinations. Not only was Nacker’s powerplant a technical achievement, but it was also a stylistic masterpiece, and one of the first production engine designs to cross the desk of the stylist after leaving the engineer’s hands.
To accommodate the big, powerful V16 engine, engineers strengthened the chassis and added power-assisted brakes and a “Clashless” synchronized gearbox. General Motors utilized in-house coachbuilders Fisher and Fleetwood to build the bodies for the new Series 452, with only a select few cars going to outside firms. Nearly one hundred body and wheelbase combinations were possible, which ensured the kind of exclusivity that was necessary if Cadillac hoped to lure buyers from the likes of Rolls-Royce and Hispano-Suiza. The basic styling was a product of Harley Earl’s team, while Fisher and Fleetwood crafted some of the most beautiful bodies of the 1930s. Initial sales were robust for 1930, but tapered off dramatically in subsequent years, as the Great Depression worsened. Despite GM losing money on nearly every unit they built, the Cadillac V16 stands as a proud symbol of Detroit in the Classic Era, and it remains one of America’s most desirable motorcars.
Presented in a striking Burgundy and Vermillion paint scheme, this 1930 Cadillac Series 452 wears Fleetwood’s handsome 2/4 passenger coupe coachwork known officially by the catalog job number 4376-S. This gorgeous example in marvelous condition with an older yet gorgeous nut-and-bolt restoration. Fleetwood’s 4376 Coupe is a sporty, elegant body style for the owner-driver, and this particular car has several interesting characteristics. The styling is a breathtaking display of Harley Earl’s mastery, beautifully proportioned on the long 148-inch wheelbase chassis. The scalloped hood/cowl treatment reflects the earlier, European-influenced LaSalle design. The Fleetwood-specific split-V swing-out windscreen is raked at 7 degrees, lending the car a very sporting look in profile. This car’s special features include dual side mount spare wheels with body color metal covers; a period accessory rarely seen on these early V16s. Also, the roof is covered in leather and fitted with landau irons for a faux-cabriolet appearance, also unusual since most of these cars left Fleetwood with a painted roof. There is some speculation that this car and a similarly-equipped V16 with Fleetwood’s 4335 Convertible Coupe coachwork were ordered in period as a matched pair. Today, this car’s older restoration is exceptionally well-maintained, with beautiful paintwork and high-quality chrome plating. Bright red wire wheels wear black wall tires, giving the car a purposeful and sporting appearance, while subtle red coach stripes tie the color scheme together.
The Fleetwood-built coupe was a car intended for the owner/driver, and the cabin reflects its sporting purpose. Red leather covers the seats and door cards, which is pleasingly broken-in with some light creasing and character on the seating surfaces. The same leather repeats on the dash top, while scalloped wood door caps add a touch of formality. The upholstery is outstanding and consistent with this car’s high-quality restoration. The stylish engine-turned dash features a centrally-mounted instrument cluster, housing factory-correct AC gauges and a Waltham clock. Rumble seat passengers enjoy a reasonably spacious seat, covered in matching red leather, and a golf door allows for small items, while the color-keyed factory trunk accommodates plenty of luggage for long-distance touring. Controls for the original radio remain in place on the dash, while the receiver and speaker are included separately.
Crisp and correct detailing continues under the hood, with Mr. Nacker’s multi-cylinder masterpiece proudly displayed in striking black porcelain enamel. Exceptionally presented, the period-correct engine in this car is fastidiously detailed to a high standard. Power goes to the rear wheels via a 3-speed synchromesh gearbox, which, combined with the torque and horsepower of the sixteen, makes for effortless progress. The mellowed restoration makes this is an approachable car, with touring and road events an enticing proposition. With its numerous intriguing features and striking presentation, it is still sure to turn heads in AACA, CCCA, or Cadillac LaSalle Club concours.