In 1930, Cadillac rocked the luxury car establishment with the sensational debut of their all-new sixteen-cylinder engine. The sixteen and its twelve-cylinder sibling kicked off the so-called multi-cylinder war among luxury car manufacturers, which unfortunately coincided with the Great Depression. The race to match Cadillac ultimately spelled the end for Marmon, Auburn, Pierce-Arrow, and others that tried to compete but lacked the budget to survive the ensuing economic meltdown. With few peers, the Cadillac V16 shone as one of America’s most sought-after prestige motorcars, offering 175 horsepower and unparalleled refinement. Named for its displacement in cubic inches, the Series 452 V16 shared its architecture and sophisticated overhead-valve layout with the smaller Series 370 V12. The engine was more than up to the task of propelling appropriately large and heavy coachwork, typically in the form of elaborate, lavishly trimmed limousines and sedans from GM’s primary body suppliers, Fleetwood and Fisher.
To accommodate the big, powerful V16 engine, engineers developed a strengthened 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 exclusivity necessary if Cadillac hoped to lure buyers from the likes of Rolls-Royce or Hispano-Suiza. The styling came from Harley Earl’s newly established Art and Colour Section at GM, while Fisher and Fleetwood crafted the beautiful bodies. 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’s accomplishments in the 1930s, and it remains one of America’s most desirable classic motorcars.
Fitted with Fleetwood’s elegant All-Weather Phaeton body and attractively finished in dark green with black accents, this 1930 Series 452 is a particularly appealing example of Cadillac’s mighty flagship. Comprehensively restored in the late 1990s and 2000s, it was recently freshened and now presents very well throughout. While the car’s early history is not entirely known, production records show it was built on a rush order via General Motors Canada for delivery to the 1930 Shriner’s Convention on June 1st. The car resurfaced in the 1990s and was subsequently restored to its original specification, including the body, which is believed to have been sourced from another chassis. At that time, the V16 engine was fully rebuilt by the noted Cadillac specialist William Rotella.
The elegant livery is accented with painted wire wheels and polished spokes, whitewall tires, and an excellent green fabric convertible top. According to the build sheet and corresponding body tag, this car wears Fleetwood’s Style 4380, a convertible sedan design with “Madame X” style split/opening windscreens and a glass division panel between driver and passenger compartments. Roll-up glass side windows and folding B-pillars seal occupants from the elements when the top is not down for sunny days. Beige leather upholstery is used in the driver’s compartment, while attractive beige broadcloth features in the passenger’s cabin – a common practice with chauffeur-driven cars of the era. Woodgrain accents grace the door tops, central divider panel, and dash top. The soft trim has been maintained in excellent condition since the restoration.
Cadillac’s mighty V16 is recognized as the first engine designed with input from a styling department. Per Harley Earl’s direction, all extraneous wiring and plumbing are hidden, and the black porcelain enamel valve covers feature fluted accents in silver. These engines are renowned for their refinement, and this example is no exception as it is in superb running order. Aside from regular maintenance, the V16 also remains in outstanding cosmetic condition, with excellent detailing and period-correct hardware and fittings.
Elegant, imposing, and powerful, the Cadillac Series 452 is undoubtedly a star of the Classic Era. This marvelous example benefits from years of attentive care and is a superb choice for Classic Car Club of America tours or similar events where the V16’s exceptional power and refinement can be experienced firsthand.
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