Today in Transportation History – 1930: The Debut of A Full-Size Luxury Automobile

The Cadillac Motor Car Division of General Motors (GM) formally unveiled a pioneering type of automobile at the 30th annual National Auto Show at Grand Central Palace in New York City. “The first sixteen-cylinder engine to appear on an American motor car is introduced by Cadillac in its V-16 ‘super’ automobile exhibited for the first time at the show,” reported the New York Times. “The car is said to achieve great luxury, comfort, and safety, the motor developing from 165 to 185 horsepower.”

Cadillac, which had spearheaded the development of eight-cylinder automobile engines back in 1915, sought to create a 16-cylinder version to outperform GM’s competitors and leave them in the dust. Along with creating a more powerful-than-average engine for a new automobile, Cadillac also gave high priority to the aesthetic appeal of these vehicles. The division’s chief Lawrence P. Fisher and GM designer Harley Earl even took a trip through Europe to draw inspiration for topnotch Cadillac chassis from the leading coachbuilders on that continent.

The Cadillac V-16, which was designed by renowned automotive engineer Owen Nacker, became a huge sensation not only at the 1930 National Auto Show but across the United States. The innovative full-size luxury automobile possessed nearly five times the horsepower of that year’s version of the Ford Model A. The engine built for the Cadillac V-16 was basically two eight-cylinder engines, each having its own fuel and exhaust systems, tied together with a common crankshaft. These generally unattractive engines were carefully concealed from the view of Cadillac V-16 owners and others by highly polished and elegant chassis.

The exteriors for these automobiles were available in a total of 54 semi-custom styles manufactured by the Pennsylvania-based Fleetwood Metal Body coachbuilder. The Cadillac V-16 became a particular favorite of various Hollywood luminaries, including director Cecil B. DeMille, actress Joan Crawford, and actor Robert Montgomery. A total of 2,887 versions of the Cadillac V-16 were built and sold during the 1930 model year, with 1,019 more first-generation versions manufactured up until 1937.

For more information on the Cadillac V-16, please check out

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