1931 CADILLAC V-16 ROADSTER
RECREATED COACHWORK TO CORRECT FACTORY STYLE
Engine No. 702368
Maroon, black canvas top and gray leather interior
Engine: Overhead Valve V-16, 452ci, 175bhp at 3,400rpm; Gearbox: three speed transmission; Suspension: front and rear, semi-elliptic leaf springs; Brakes: four wheel mechanical brakes. Left hand drive.
At the onset of the Great Depression, many of the leading luxury automobile manufacturers in America were engaged in a battle to develop and market the largest multi-cylinder models possible. The power and inherent smoothness of these engines was recognized as a major asset in meeting the needs of ever more discerning motorists.
By 1932, Packard, Lincoln, Marmon, Pierce-Arrow, Auburn and Franklin all had V-12 powered cars at the top of their ranges. They were playing a game of catch-up to Cadillac, who had trumped them all in 1930 with the surprise introduction in New York of their majestic V-16. Marmon did try to match them with a sixteen of their own, but it never achieved the volume production of the GM offering. Adding insult to injury, Cadillac responded that year with a V-12 as well, thereby offering both a directly competitive model as well as the ultimate in luxury with the V-16.
The V-16s were built, as expected, in very small numbers. Fewer than 4,100 were completed in the decade between 1930 and 1940, with most constructed in the first year of production, before the Depression really took hold of the country. Legendary GM stylist Harley Earl looked at the best of European custom coachwork in designing the bodies of the V-16s, built in-house at GM-owned Fleetwood and Fisher facilities. It is believed that more than 60 different designs were offered to clients on the chassis.
In spite of the high prices charged for the V-16, it is said that GM lost money on the car and after production slowed to a trickle as the thirties ended, the V-16 was gone from the Cadillac lineup forever.
Among the most attractive of the V-16s has to be counted the Fleetwood bodied roadster. Cataloged as the lowest-priced V-16, at over $5,000 it nevertheless cost more than ten times the price of a contemporary Chevrolet. Only 105 of the V-16 Roadsters were ever built and they have become among the most valued of classic Cadillacs.
Due to the rarity of the V-16 Roadster, many who have wanted to own one were unable to find the car they wanted. The car which Christie's is proud to offer is the vision of several owners, brilliantly realized by one who wished to create the Roadster of his dreams. It began with a collector in Oklahoma who acquired a V-16 5-passenger sedan, engine no. 700917 (Cadillacs of this time were identified by engine number rather than chassis number). The next owner removed the sedan body and commissioned an accurate re-creation of the Fleetwood roadster. During the work, the engine was found to be in very poor condition and was replaced with number 702368, a 1931 unit. The car was completed and sold on to the next owner. Unsatisfied with the way the car ran, the new owner engaged noted Cadillac restorers Automotive Restorations of Bernardsville, New Jersey to rebuild the power plant. When the engine was removed from the chassis, it was discovered that the front end of the frame was not in proper condition. A correct 1931 front chassis was sourced and work undertaken to join it to the Roadster's frame. This was the start of what became a four year, body off, total restoration of the car to the highest standards possible. Over $300,000 in work went into the project.
The result is a virtually as new 1931 Cadillac V-16 Roadster. The maroon paint is deep and lustrous, without a polish mark or scratch. The gray leather and polished wood of the interior is almost as new. No effort or cost was spared to make the car exactly as it should be. The level of detail in the four-year restoration withstands the closest scrutiny. Complete with Pilot Ray spot lights, Tilt Ray headlamps and tail lamps with the correct engraved "V Sixteen", the car is correct down to the smallest details. This helped it to win an AACA National First Prize in 2004 and today the car is nearly as perfect as it was at the time of the win.
The V-16 Roadster not only impresses visually, but it drives as well as it looks. As the sixteen cylinder engine should, it has smooth, abundant power and runs cool. The handling is as precise as can be, a testament to the superb balance of this large car.
Cadillac dominated the top end of the luxury car market in the United States in the thirties with their V-12 and V-16 automobiles. Any V-16 Cadillac can proudly be the centerpiece of a collection of big classics. This one offers the discerning collector the opportunity to experience the ownership of one of the most important American classics, restored in a cost-no-object fashion by one of the most respected Cadillac specialists.