As the Depression raged, the market for these cars turned as dry as the Oklahoma dustbowl


Cadillac's introduction of the magnificent V16 in 1930 sent the competition reeling. While others were working on new V12s, Cadillac leapt right past them. Then in 1931, while they were still struggling to respond, Cadillac introduced its own V12, creating an unbeatable lineup of engines-V8, V12, and V16.

In 1933, Cadillac gave the V16 a separate visual identity for the first time, with horizontal hood-vent spears and matching chrome trim on skirted fenders. Also unique were massive four-bar bumpers, chrome wheel covers with spinner caps, and striking multi-coned art deco horns. Fender edges were highlighted with stainless trim and the headlights and marker lights were painted for the first time.

Cadillac was so confident that the new look would be successful that it advertised production would be limited to "just 400" examples in 1933. In fact, only 126 were built. Of those, just two were the striking Style 5585 Convertible Victorias, designed by Fleetwood.

The dark maroon Victoria pictured here has benefited from a full professional restoration by noted Illinois restorer Fran Roxas. The car has a colorful history of owners including Cameron Peck and Roy Warshawsky (founder of J.C. Whitney). It runs and drives as good as it looks, is a multiple show winner, and remains in concours condition.

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Vehicle:2009 Dodge Challenger SRT

This magnificent 1933 V16 Convertible Victoria sold for $335,500, including buyer’s premium, at RM Auctions’ Meadow Brook Hall event held August 2, 2003, in Auburn Hills, MI.

Sixteen-cylinder cars have always had a near mythical spot in automotive history. Even today, when Cadillac chose to build its ultimate contemporary show car, the Sixteen, this was the engine configuration they used.

The original Cadillac V16 model was introduced early in 1930 at the New York Auto Show, a 452-cid, 185-hp marvel. It had been developed for a specific market: “The Four Hundred,” the wealthiest members of society. Designed for quiet operation and smooth acceleration, the V16 also offered sufficient power for the increasingly large and grandiose cars the well heeled were commissioning at the onset of the Depression.

By April of that year, 1,000 V16s had already shipped and another 1,000 were out the door by June. An instant commercial success, 3,878 Cadillac V16s were built over its seven-year production run, and if you count the flathead sixteens built in 1938-1940, that number increases to 4,386.

However, by 1932, declining demand resulted in the V16 being available only as a special order and just 300 cars were sold. Only 126 were built the following year, as the Depression raged and the market for these cars turned as dry as the Oklahoma dustbowl. Many would-be V16 Cadillac buyers were either forced to join the soup lines or, if able to maintain their wealth, hunker down and abstain from flaunting their fortunes.

All the high-end automakers were hit hard in the 1930s and the majority did not survive. Cadillac was fortunate to have General Motors’ deep pockets to see it through. Others that put forth great efforts but still met with market failure included the 1932 Marmon V16, built by the Hayes Body Company to a design by Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, and a single 1931 Peerless V16 that currently resides in the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. Both are exceptional cars from the era, and on the rare occasion when an open V16 Marmon is offered they sell in the same range as this Cadillac. However, should the Peerless ever come to market, the price would push seven figures.

While Cadillac’s V16 was a sound design, not everyone is convinced of its relative merits compared to its competitors. The Marmon V16 is thought to be of superior engineering and the allure of the Duesenberg name puts it in a class by itself. But for this kind of money, any Duesenberg you might lay your hands on would have a much less striking body style (not to mention it would drive like a Mack truck up to about 40 mph, compared to the more precise-handling Cadillac). To my mind a whisper-quiet V16 Cadillac Victoria sitting on a massive 149-inch wheelbase is the more desirable car, providing far greater value for the dollar spent.

Regardless of how the V16 stacks up against the Duesey, it’s hard to understate the prestige it brought to Cadillac, perhaps as important even as GM’s money in keeping its “Standard of the World” image viable in those lean years. Demonstrating its market dominance, sales of Caddy’s V16 and V12 in the ’30s almost equaled the combined sales of both Packard’s and Lincoln’s twelves.

The Fleetwood-bodied Cadillac V16 convertible Victoria pictured here sold previously at RM’s Amelia Island auction in March 2001, for $286,000. The buyer was noted collector Otis Chandler, who has lately been shifting his collection out of muscle cars and into full classics. (Is there a message here for us?) Now, two-and-a-half years later, he cut the car loose and realized a return of about 50 large. Minus expenses and the cost of money, at best he probably broke even, but it’s doubtful anyone would turn down the opportunity to own a classic Cadillac V16 for two and a half years, for free.

The new owner can hope for similar luck, as this car is an exceptional example that’s well worth the final figure.-Carl Bomstead

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