Long before Bugatti made the 16-cylinder engine 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 452A, which recently appeared on an episode of “Jay Leno’s Garage.” The car comes from California’s Nethercutt Collection, and is presented here by Cameron Richards, the collection’s vice president.
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 says in the episode.
The overhead-valve engine displaces 7.4 liters but only develops about 180 hp. While that didn’t match the high-end Duesenbergs, it was still a very respectable figure for the time because there really was no replacement for displacement. The car’s massive torque allowed it to pull away in any of its three gears, according to Leno, though the big engine needs a “firehose” to supply all the fuel it needs.
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 with a dual-cowl phaeton body 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. 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 says. These Cadillacs weren’t as fast as contemporary Duesenbergs, but their generous torque almost makes the driving experience comparable to modern electric cars, he says. The smooth-running V-16 also offered a more refined experience than most cars of the period.
The car weighs well over 7,000 lb, but it’s easy to drive with an easy-to-use clutch and great brakes, according to Richards.
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.
Toward the end of the video, Jay gets the chance to drive the car. He remarks that it’s incredibly smooth and quiet, and that the manual steering is much better than other old cars.
Watch the full video and revisit a time when a V-16 powered Cadillac to the front of the luxury-car class.