1938 Cadillac V16 Convertible Coupe

When Cadillac launched their flagship sixteen-cylinder Series 452 in 1930, America was staring down the barrel of an unprecedented economic depression. In the first year of production, Cadillac managed to sell 2,887 V16s – an impressive figure for such an exclusive automobile. But sales dropped immediately after and continued their downward trend throughout the model’s nine-year production run. By 1937, sales of the V16 sank to just 49 cars. However, General Motors remained committed to keeping Cadillac ‘The Standard of the World,’ and the V16 was an effective marketing tool despite low production.

General Motors needed to revitalize their most prestigious model, and for the 1938 model year, Cadillac introduced an entirely new flagship Sixteen (now named Series 90), with a redesigned engine, chassis, and body. The 1938 Series 90 ushered in Cadillac’s second-generation V16 engine. Owen Nacker’s original V16 was a brilliant and ambitious piece of engineering, and while it was exceptionally refined, it was also massively complex. Cadillac’s new V16 was a simplified yet effective L-head, monobloc design with a 135-degree V-angle and square bore/stroke. The new engine was considerably less expensive to produce, with 1,627 individual parts compared to 3,273 for the original, and at 1,050 pounds, it was about 250 pounds lighter. Cadillac engineers accomplished all of this without sacrificing output, as the new engine was rated at 185 horsepower at 3,600 RPM.

Fleetwood was the primary coachbuilder for Series 90 production bodies. The styling fully embraced the Streamline Moderne era, with bullet headlamps mounted to pontoon fenders and side-mount spares concealed beneath metal enclosures. GM’s Art and Colour Section, still under the direction of Harley Earl, took full advantage of the grand 141-inch wheelbase chassis, with graceful and elegant forms and finely judged art-deco details. The new car was well-received, and sales improved for 1938, yet still, Cadillac built just 311 of the Series 90 that year, and the magnificent V16’s days were numbered.

This grand and imposing Cadillac is one of just ten 1938 Series 90 V16s fitted with Fleetwood’s Convertible Coupe body. It has been part of a significant private collection since 2005 and is presented in outstanding condition, with a quality that is equally suited to the concours field or touring the open road. The deep maroon paintwork is beautifully finished and is complemented by excellent brightwork, a beige canvas top, and a richly appointed tan leather cabin. Cadillac’s elegant goddess mascot sits proudly atop the radiator, while twin spare wheels tuck into the pontoon fenders and are fully encased in metal covers adorned with discreet V16 badges. Shortly after acquiring this Cadillac, the owner thoroughly serviced and detailed it to his exacting standards, ensuring it presented beautifully and ran flawlessly.

Since the initial restoration, the soft trim has been extremely well-maintained and is beautifully supple, showing an inviting character that encourages regular enjoyment. The instrument panel is finished in woodgrain-effect metal, which is beautifully done and in superb condition, showing only some slight crazing in the lacquer on the glovebox door. Equipment includes a banjo steering wheel, heater, clock, and column-shifted 3-speed gearbox. While cataloged as a two-seat model, this example features the optional jump seats, accommodating two occasional passengers behind the front seat. There’s also a cavernous trunk with enough space to swallow about a month’s worth of luggage.

The L-Head V16 is a very different animal from the previous OHV version. Whereas the early models featured enameled valve covers and decorative shrouds to hide extraneous wiring and plumbing, there’s no such need on the second-generation V16. The unique 135-degree V-angle means the engine sits very low in the chassis and is largely hidden by the fenders and side panels. Two downdraft carburetors feed the individual banks, and twin oil-bath air cleaners dominate the engine bay. Records show this car received an extensive engine-bay detailing and thorough mechanical service when the owner acquired it, and it has been maintained in top-running order since, with the signature refinement for which these engines are renowned. Receipts on file also show the gearbox was rebuilt in 2006, ensuring the car is up to the task of serious touring.

In 2007, this Cadillac earned a Classic Car Club of America Senior National 1st Prize award at the CCCA annual meeting. It has rarely been shown since, making it a perfect entry into a wide range of prestigious concours. Whether on the show field or the road, this shining example of Cadillac’s late-30s masterpiece is ready to take pride of place in your collection.


Offers welcome and trades considered  

Sorry this car has been sold. Are you looking to buy or sell a car like this? Contact a representative

For immediate assistance please call us at +1-314-524-6000 or please fill out the following form and a member of our team will contact you.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.