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SNAPSHOT 34: Cadillac 1933

Given the car’s make and date it is not really any surprise that it is a substantial vehicle even though it is only has two-doors. In fact this is a rather special American automobile, the flowing shape of the ‘Coupe’ bodywork with its ‘fastback’ rear profile being very dramatic given that it is as early as 1933. Beneath the bonnet (or hood) is a large engine with two 8-cylinder blocks on a common crankcase and a single crankshaft, a configuration that is rarely encountered – Cadillac having introduced this, the very first V-16 engined motorcar in 1930.

Cars so equipped present a very short list. Only Cadillac, and Marmon from 1931 to 1933, in the passenger car world built such vehicles, whilst in the realm of motor racing there were the successful 1934-37 Auto Unions, plus the stillborn Alfa Romeo Type 162 of 1940 and the problematic post-WW2 BRM V-16s. There were other 16-cylinder engined vehicles made, such as those with paired straight-eight engines geared together, but they are irrelevant in this context.

The bore & stroke of the Cadillac’s cylinders was 3 by 4 inches, giving a capacity of 452 cubic inches – 7.41-litres – resulting in the model being designated the ‘Series 452’. The angle between the two cylinder blocks was 45º and the outcome was a neat compact unit. There were push-rod overhead valves with hydraulic tappets, and a carburettor for each bank of cylinders. Noise from the engine when running was virtually non-existent whilst the car’s performance was of course more than adequate. Total production of the ‘452’ from 1930 to 1937 was 3,878 cars, with around 2½-thousand finding customers in the year of their introduction. Thereafter annual output declined steadily as the Depression took hold.

This particular car was specifically created for exhibition at the Chicago World Fair of 1933, the byline of which was ‘A Century of Progress’, reflecting the city’s establishment 100 years earlier. Several of the major automobile makers put on spectacular displays of their products, and this imposing Cadillac was undoubtedly one of the stars of the show.

When production of the ‘452’ finished in 1937 Cadillac had other models available but a different V-16 was introduced for 1938, this having the blocks placed at a 135º included angle and side valves. Just over 500 of these were sold in their 3 years of production.

V-16 engines then became a fascinating footnote in the history of passenger automobiles until very recent times when for reasons beyond the comprehension of mere mortals the concept has apparently been revived.

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