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452 A V16 Fleetwood Phaeton
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  Cadillac 452 A V16 Fleetwood Phaeton

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Country of origin:United States
Produced in:1931
Designed by:Fleetwood
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:February 21, 2007
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Click here to download printer friendly versionEven today a vehicle is regularly judged by the number of pistons propelling it, but this was even more so in the formative years. A major restriction in those years was the strength of the crankshaft in long multi-cylinder engines. The V-engine with two banks of cylinders was a major step forward and by the mid 1920s several companies had a V12 in their line-up. Towards the end of the decade three American companies (Cadillac, Marmon and Peerless) were busy developing an even more glamorous V16 engine, but it proved more difficult than first imagined and one of them never even materialized.

Cadillac's engineers were the first to get the V16 engine ready and in January 1930 the wraps were taken off the Cadillac 452 V16. With the help of a former Marmon designer, the sixteen cylinder engine was constructed using two blocks of the new Buick eight cylinder engine. The two blocks were mounted on a common crankcase at a 45 degree angle. A single camshaft mounted inside the V operated the valves by pushrods. As the type indication suggests, the engine displaced 452 cubic inches or just over 7.4 litres and produced 175 bhp and had torque in abundance.

The huge engine was installed in a simple ladder frame, almost identical to the one used in the V8 engined Model 51. Suspension was equally conventional and by live axles and semi-elliptic leaf springs on both ends. Stopping power for the heavy machine was provided by servo assisted drum brakes on all four wheels. Unlike many of the competitors in the high-end market, Cadillac predominantly offered complete cars rather than rolling chassis to be bodied by custom coachbuilders. Many of the 'standard' bodies were constructed by Fleetwood and Fischer, which had just become part of General Motors.

Despite being the most expensive Cadillac ever, the V16 proved a hit in the first months of 1930. Over 2000 cars were ordered in the first seven months of that year, but then sales dropped dramatically and it would take another ten years to double that number. This was most likely caused by the looming depression and the introduction of a V12-engined Cadillac in the second half of 1930. Marmon's more advanced answer was ready in 1931, but it proved to be too late. Cadillac continued to develop the V16 with a completely new engine introduced in 1938 as the biggest change.

In its various forms the Cadillac V16 remained in production until 1941, but apart from the first seven months it was a failure; a very glorious one. Today it's considered as one of the finest American cars of its era and a welcome guest at concours d'elegance all over the world. All of them were constructed to custom order and it is estimated that over 70 different body variants were constructed by Fleetwood and Fischer alone. The V16's prominent position in Cadillac's history was underlined by the aptly named 'Sixteen Concept' built to celebrate the company's 100th anniversary in 2003.

Featured is a beautiful Fleetwood bodied V16. It sports a luxurious phaeton body clearly constructed for a chauffeur driven customer with its second set of dials for the passenger compartment. Recently restored, it is seen here in the General Motors Heritage Center.

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  Article Image gallery (12) Specifications