When the Cadillac V16 made its debut at the New York Auto Show on January 4, 1930, the automotive world was gobsmacked. In those days General Motors was arguably the greatest engineering company in the world, with technical resources second to none and a staff that boasted some of the greatest minds in the business, including Charles “Boss” Kettering, Owen Nacker, and Earl A. Thompson. With the Cadillac V16, GM raised the bar in engineering excellence, to a level many automobile manufacturers couldn’t reach.
With a bore of three inches and a stroke of four inches, the 16 cylinders displaced a mammoth 452 cubic inches. But the torque curve was deliberately engineered to mimic the characteristics of the standard Cadillac V8, so the V16 could share the existing V8 drivetrain. Intake and exhaust systems were located on the outboard side of each cast-iron cylinder bank, so the V16 was in effect two overhead-valve straight eights on a common crankcase, if you will. (The two cylinder blocks were cast iron and the crankcase was aluminum.) With the banks separated 45 degrees, the engine and its 135-lb crankshaft were perfectly balanced, and with eight firing impulses per crankshaft rotation (16 per four-stroke cycle) it was dead smooth. There was virtually no perceptible vibration at idle, and the engine could pull top gear from 2.5 mph to over 100 mph, depending on gearing and bodywork.
Naturally, nobody is more aware of the magic and mystique of the mighty V16 than the Cadillac Motor Division itself. The GM brand has periodically revisited the concept over the years, most recently with the XV16 concept engine of 2003 (below). This engine was actually based on the Chevrolet/GM LS architecture and a handful were built, including the one that powers the Cadillac Sixteen, a fully roadworthy test vehicle and show car. Will there ever be another Cadillac V16 production car? As the electric future looms, that seems highly unlikely. But we will always have the original.