In 1930, Cadillac fired the opening salvo in the so-called multi-cylinder war among American luxury car companies. The new overhead-valve V16 was unmatched in power and prestige, and Cadillac’s competitors scrambled to react, some betting – and losing – their very existence. With few peers, the Cadillac V16 was one of America’s most sought-after luxury cars, offering 175 horsepower with exceptional refinement. Named for its displacement in cubic inches, the Series 452 V16 was suitably updated with a more robust chassis and running gear to handle the engine’s power. 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. However, a select few customers opted for something altogether more sporting, and a comparatively small number of more flamboyant roadsters and open convertible coupes found their way to style-conscious owners.
Cadillac wanted the V16 to remain at the pinnacle of the market and updated it annually. For 1934, the entire Cadillac line was redesigned with beautiful new styling, influenced by the Streamline-Moderne period. The new design was lower and longer than before, with pontoon fenders, bullet headlamps, and clean, linear details. Intricate touches like the fabulous bi-plane bumpers revealed the aviation inspiration. Mechanically, the V16 was uprated to 185 horsepower and sat in a massive 154-inch wheelbase chassis. Yet America was still in the throes of the Great Depression, and despite all the visual splendor and engineering excellence, Series 452D sales amounted to a mere 56 chassis.
This breathtaking one-off Cadillac V16 exemplifies the elegance and grandeur of the Classic Era and is a stunning piece of early Streamline design. According to the accompanying build records and expert research, chassis number 51-44 was ordered through Randall-Donaldson Cadillac of Brooklyn, New York. The build sheet specifies Fleetwood’s magnificent 2-door Convertible Coupe “Victoria” body, style number 5885, in the Fleetwood catalogue. Equipped for long journeys, the 5-passenger convertible coupe features a cavernous built-in trunk, as well as a trunk rack for even more storage. Other options include a radio, banjo steering wheel, chrome hubcaps, silver goddess mascot, and a single trunk-mounted spare wheel. Records indicate it may have been ordered for New York financier Allan J. McIntosh, though it is unclear if he ever took delivery, and it is accepted that the car’s first documented owner was Hugh McLeod Fenwick, as his initials are engraved in the steering wheel hub. An heir to a California lumber fortune and resident of Bernardsville, New Jersey, Mr. Fenwick was an experienced aviator and served as the European sales agent for Vultee Aircraft (which later became Convair). Fenwick’s role required frequent extended stays in Europe, and his magnificent Cadillac often accompanied him. With a 154-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 21’ 6”, the massive V16 undoubtedly made a bold statement.
Hugh Fenwick returned home in 1940, eventually retiring in Aiken, South Carolina. While it was customary for wealthy owners to trade their cars regularly to stay up with the latest fashion, Hugh Fenwick was a notable exception, holding on to his one-off Fleetwood Cadillac until 1970! It was then when a young New Mexico-based car enthusiast named Robert Friggens caught wind of a V16 being offered by a dealer in North Carolina. His hunt for the car first involved a trip to Chicago to pay a tipster for the lead. He then flew to Washington, D.C., and hitchhiked 400 miles southwest to Hickory, NC. There, he found a run-down old building with a bunch of worn-out government surplus cars for sale. The proprietor, Joe Smart, asked for payment ($6,000), and in return, gave Friggens a receipt (for a “16 sil cat”) and directions to Mr. Fenwick’s estate – a further 200 miles away!
Fenwick was there to greet them, and the men finalized a deal. He was particularly pleased that the car would be restored, as he had a deep affection for it after caring for it for all those years. Photos from immediately before and after Friggens’ acquisition show the Cadillac was exceptionally well kept, though showing its age. The black paint was original, the body complete, straight, and trim intact – down to notoriously delicate bi-plane bumpers. The interior was original, including the leather seat upholstery, lovingly maintained by Fenwick. With the deal done, Friggens serviced the big V16 and drove it home to New Mexico. He later noted it had only 80,000 miles at the time and was by no means a worn-out automobile – a testament to the quality of the Cadillac Series 452D and the care it received from Mr. Fenwick.
Friggens performed an extensive restoration, and after three years in his care, reluctantly sold the Cadillac to finance the purchase of an ex-Al Jolson Packard. Subsequent owners are well documented, and around 1980, Mr. Jon Freeman of Illinois commissioned Fran Roxas to perform a meticulous restoration. It subsequently achieved several 100-point results in CCCA competition in the early 80s and appeared on the lawn of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 1982, taking Best in Class.
It eventually passed to Jerry Moore of Houston, Texas, then to the noted collector William Parfet of Hickory Corners, Michigan. After Parfet’s time, it was shown by James Raisbeck at the 2002 Pebble Beach Concours, then sold to Mr. Steven Plunkett of London, Ontario. Mr. Plunkett had created one of the world’s premier collections of Cadillac automobiles, displaying them at his famous Fleetwood Acres Estate, and the Fenwick V16 served as the centerpiece of his superlative collection. He showed the car frequently, taking a Best in Show at the 2017 Hilton Head Concours. During Plunkett’s tenure, mechanical work and cosmetic freshening were entrusted to the renowned experts at RM Restorations in Ontario. The most recent owner acquired the car from Plunkett in 2018, and it has continued to rake in awards and accolades.
As offered here, this extraordinary Cadillac is presented in superb condition, with a world-class restoration that remains remarkably fresh. It accurately restored to its original specification, excepting only a color change from black to maroon and the fitment of period-correct rear wheel arch skirts, which subtly enhance the marvelous Streamline-Moderne design. The deep burgundy leather upholstery and black canvas top round out the elegant presentation. It is superbly detailed inside and out and is ready to carry on its winning ways on the show field or enjoy the unparalleled refinement on tour.
This extraordinary one-off Cadillac represents the pinnacle of American Motoring in 1934 and remains a truly breathtaking display of Classic Era extravagance.
Offers welcome and trades considered