Long before Bugatti made 16 cylinders its calling card, Cadillac launched V-16-powered cars in a bid to outdo other luxury automakers. A prime example is this 1930 Cadillac V-16, today part of the Nethercutt Collection, which recently appeared on an episode of “Jay Leno’s Garage.”
To keep the V-16 secret, Cadillac initially let slip that it was developing a V-12 to match Packard. So it must have been quite a surprise when the General Motors luxury division unleashed this massive engine on the public. Still, Marmon actually beat Cadillac to the punch, launching its own 16-cylinder engine a few weeks before Cadillac, Leno said in the episode.
The overhead-valve engine itself displaces 7.4 liters but only develops about 180 hp. However, that was still a respectable figure for the time because there really was no replacement for displacement.
This specific car has the earlier body style, thought to be from 1928 to 1929, married to the 1930 Cadillac chassis and engine. The customer wanted a V-16 Cadillac as quickly as possible, and the new body wasn’t ready yet.
Not many people could have afforded this car when new. It cost $6,500 at a time when mass-market cars sold for a few hundred bucks. And with the U.S. in the midst of the Great Depression, the launch wasn’t exactly well-timed.
The V-16 was more about effortless acceleration than raw speed, Leno said. These Cadillacs weren’t as fast as contemporary Duesenbergs, but their generous torque almost makes the driving experience comparable to modern electric cars, he said. The smooth-running V-16 also offered a more refined experience than most cars of the period.
Cadillac continued making V-16 cars for about a decade, but eventually went back to slightly more sensible V-8 engines. Looking to recapture the brand’s glory days, GM unveiled the Cadillac Sixteen concept in 2003, but that never made it to production.
Watch the full video and revisit a time when a V-16 powered Cadillac to the front of the luxury-car class.