1931 Cadillac V16 Imperial Cabriolet

Luxury car buyers in the late 1920s seemed to make a contest of one-upping one another, and as such, high-end automobile builders were more than happy to oblige in their extravagant wishes. 1926 saw Cadillac begin development of a new engine that would be smoother and more powerful than anything else on the market and surely capture the attention of buyers who constantly demanded The Best or Nothing. Working in great secrecy, Cadillac engineers developed a 452 cubic inch sixteen-cylinder engine, installed in a heavily upgraded chassis to handle the 165-horsepower output. The purpose of the Sixteen was not only to get huge power, but rather it was about silky-smooth delivery and silent operation – two aspects of motoring that were held in the highest regard at the time. For this magnificent new chassis, Cadillac employed their two new acquisitions – Fisher Body Works and Fleetwood Metal Body to design and build their array of standard “catalog” bodies of which it is estimated there were more than seventy variations possible. A handful of individual chassis were sent to various coachbuilders around the world, however most wore bodies by GM’s highly capable in-house builders.

The timing of the V16’s debut could not have been worse, however. The stock market crash that signaled the beginning of the great depression had happened just a few months earlier and as the decade wore on, such opulence was frowned upon. Thankfully, at the time of its release, the full effect of the economic conditions had not yet reached the top of the market, and demand for this stunning new Cadillac was strong. Sales were encouraging for the first year or so, but gradually tapered off during each subsequent model year. By the time the model run ended in 1940, it was believed that GM lost money on every car built.

Our featured 1931 V16 Cadillac wears handsome and imposing Imperial Cabriolet 5-passenger limousine coachwork by Fleetwood, style #4355. This car, engine number 701758 did some traveling initially before it found its first owner. While V-16s sold well in the first part of 1930, with the onset of the stock market crash sales slowed up a bit and many V-16's went unsold, being shipped from dealer to dealer until their first owner would be found. Such as #701758, first delivered to a dealer in Brooklyn, New York on May 28, 1930. Over a year later on June 19, 1931, it was diverted to Cadillac of Manhattan and then on September 28 it was moved again to Atlantic City, New Jersey. Eventually the car found its way into the hands of a Mr. George Ackerle of Camden, New Jersey sometime in the 1940's. The car later appeared in the June 1971 issue of the "Self-Starter" magazine, and it was featured again in an issue of Automobile Quarterly in 1973, still in the ownership of Mr. Ackerle and still in completely perfect original condition. Mr. Ackerle amassed quite a collection of American classics beginning in the 1940’s and kept the V-16 in his barn until his death in 1988, when the bulk of the collection was purchased by Pennsylvania based collector Bill Houck. The news spread fast, and the collection and its sale were featured in consecutive issues of Cars & Parts magazine in February and March 1988. The Cadillac is prominent in both articles, and at the time had amassed just 9890 miles from new! The car was in a remarkably preserved state, and subsequently traded hands a few more times. The mighty Sixteen eventually wound up in sunny California in recent years, but the decades had taken a toll on the car. The paint, while likely original, had deteriorated to the point that it was time to give this stately motorcar the restoration it deserved.

A meticulous body off restoration was undertaken, and the results are simply stunning. The elegant black livery is adorned with gold coachlines, painted wire wheels, polished spokes, white wall tires, and a padded black leather roof with chrome landau bars. The proud chrome grille is fitted with a stainless stoneguard and topped with a magnificent Goddess mascot. The quality of the chrome on the wheels, headlamps, radiator shell and other body fittings is excellent. Other fine details include dual Cadillac mirrors mounted to the spare wheels, a sun visor, accessory trunk, and toolboxes integrated into the running boards.

The driver’s compartment features black leather upholstery, while the passenger cabin boasts exquisite gray broadcloth—a common choice for chauffeur-driven cars of that era. Beautifully restored inlaid hardwood accents adorn the door tops, central divider panel, and dashboard. A roll-up division window separates the luxurious passenger compartment from the driver’s area. The passenger compartment is 1930’s luxury at its finest, with monogrammed pillows and matching foot warmers fitted umbrella, and a pair of occasional jump seats.

Cadillac’s formidable V16 engine is celebrated as the first engine to incorporate input from a styling department. Per Harley Earl’s directives, all extraneous wiring and plumbing are concealed, and the black porcelain enamel valve covers feature silver fluted accents. These engines are renowned for their refinement, and this example is no exception, as it runs superbly, having only 9990 miles from new, just 100 miles more than when discovered in 1988, and boasts meticulous detailing and period-correct hardware and fittings.

A Cadillac V-16 is one of the most desirable automobiles of the Classic Era®, and the example offered here is simply superb with its collector-grade restoration. The Fleetwood body is handsome and elegant, with passenger space and weather protection that make it an excellent choice for CCCA touring. The sublime and turbine smooth V16 delivers endless torque and the synchronized transmission makes it an absolute joy to drive. This wonderful Cadillac V-16 affords you the opportunity to show it with pride, while being capable of enjoyment on a wide range of today’s classic touring events.


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