Image credits: © Cadillac. GM Corp.

1937 Cadillac Series 90 V16

As the cylinder wars of the 1920 continued to escalate, Cadillac went all-in with the development of a new, 'multi-cylinder' car that was both powerful and smoother. The work was done in secrecy over the following years, and a number of prototypes were created and tested as the new engine was developed. While development continued, GM introduced the LaSalle marque, which was similar to the Cadillac but priced slightly lower and with fewer amenities.

In May of 1925, Lawrence P. 'Larry' Fisher (the third of seven brothers of the Fisher Body Company), was appointed Cadillac's general manager. While visiting the Don Lee Cadillac dealership, Mr. Fisher met Harley Earl. Impressed by his work, he tasked Mr. Earl with designing the 1927 LaSalle. The success of the LaSalle convinced General Motors president Alfred P. Sloan to create the Art and Color Section of General Motors and to name Earl as its first director.

For creating the bodies of the Cadillac, Mr. Fisher and Mr. Earl toured Europe to gain inspiration from some of the finest coachbuilders of the era. The tradition of the time was to build the chassis and then have outside coachbuilding firms create the body. General Motors had acquired the coachbuilders Fleetwood Metal Body and Fisher Body to keep all the business in-house. Although the bare Cadillac chassis could be purchased by buyers, Cadillac insisted they create the coachwork.

The ending of the 1920s was dismal, with the stock market crash of October 29th of 1929. Black Tuesday, as it was called, saw investors trade roughly 16 million shared on the New York Stock Exchange in a single day. Fortunes were lost and the industrialized world spiraled downward into the Great Depression, which would last a decade. This was the deepest and longest-lasting economic downturn in the history of the Western industrialized world up to that time.

A short time later, on January 4th of 1930, Cadillac introduced their most expensive Cadillac yet, the new V-16.

The V-16 engine had a narrow 45-degree V angle, overhead-valve arrangement, with a displacement size of 452 cubic-inches. The list of body styles was vast, from both Fisher and Fleetwood - with the total list of options reaching 70 different choices. Production began slowly, with just a few cars built per day, but by April, over 1,000 examples had been built. By June, over 2,000 had been built. This euphoria was short-lived, as the Great Depression continued to eliminate potential buyers, and production dropped drastically. Among the slowest production months were August of 1931, with just seven examples built. Six examples were built in November of 1931. Just 50 examples were built both in 1935 and in 1937. 1940 was marginally better with a total of 51 examples.

Despite the Great Depression and economic hardships, Cadillac had created a styling and mechanical tour de force. It was powered by the first true 16-cylinder engine to be designed and purpose-built from scratch. Working under legendary GM Engineering chief Charles Kettering, Owen Milton Nacker led V-16 development. Work had begun in 1926 and would take several years to perfect and complete. The engine featured modern overhead-valve cylinder heads, a 45-degree cylinder bank angle, and external manifolds. The Cadillac V-16 allowed ease of access within the engine compartment for maintenance and repairs. This was the first automotive engine ever to be 'styled' with completely hidden wiring and the use of polished aluminum, porcelain, and a pair of beautiful valve covers with brushed aluminum ridges prominently featuring the Cadillac emblem.

The V-16 engine offered a (conservatively rated) 175 horsepower (the straight-8 engine in the Duesenberg Model J offered 265 horsepower), with a tremendous amount of torque - 320 foot-pounds at just 1,200 to 1,500 engine revolutions. This output was more than sufficient to carry the elegant and majestic bodies by Fisher and Fleetwood. The V-16 engine was also praised for its smoothness, thanks to evenly-spaced firing intervals and a massive but well-balanced forged crankshaft, supported by five main bearings. Its operation was very quiet, thanks to ingenious hydraulic valve-silencers. Other special V-16 innovations included a silicon-aluminum crankcase, five-point engine mounts, carefully engineered pistons and rings, plus a single distributor with two sets of breaker points, controlled by two separate ignition coils.

The fast-shrinking Depression-era market meant that just 4,378 examples of the V-16 were built through 1940, including a completely redesigned engine for the last three years – for those few who were capable of paying more than 10 times the cost of a contemporary Chevrolet or Ford.


by Daniel Vaughan | Jan 2020

Related Reading : Cadillac Series 452/90 History

Henry Martin Leland and his son Wilfred were partly responsible for making Cadillac one of the finest of all American Automobiles. Henry was renowned for his precision engineering and for standardizing manufacturing. He helped make Cadillac into one of the finest of all American Automobiles. Later, he founded Lincoln. Even after the Lelands departed from Cadillac, the marque remained a top-of-the-line....
Continue Reading >>

1937 Vehicle Profiles

1937 Cadillac Series 90 V16 vehicle information

Imperial Sedan

Chassis Num: 5130313

The Cadillac V16 was a magnificent automobile, but it was not immune to the worsening of the Great Depression. As the 1930s progressed, the V16 Cadillac's became more and more difficult to sell. Ownership of these exclusive and pricy vehicles were ge....[continue reading]

1937 Cadillac Series 90 V16 vehicle information

Convertible Sedan
Coachwork: Fleetwood

Grand Style of the Late 1930's....[continue reading]

1937 Cadillac Series 90 V16 vehicle information

Aero-Dynamic Coupe
Coachwork: Fleetwood

The 'Aero-Dynamic Coupe' was introduced as a prototype at the 1932 World's Fair, and joined the Cadillac lineup as a production model in 1933. The V-16 models were built on a massive 154 cubic-inch wheelbase chassis, the longest ever used on a Cadil....[continue reading]

1937 Cadillac Series 90 V16 vehicle information

Sedan

The V-16 was Cadillac's top-of-the-line car from its January 1930 launch until production ceased in 1940 as the war in Europe extinguished sales. All were finished to custom order, and the car was built in very small numbers; only 4,076 cars were co....[continue reading]

1937 Cadillac Series 90 V16 vehicle information

Aero-Dynamic Coupe
Coachwork: Fleetwood

In 1937, Cadillac was in the last year of production of its legendary first generation 45-degree V-16 motor. (A new 135-degree Sixteen was slated for the start of the 1938 model year.) The first generation V-16 is widely regarded as the quintessent....[continue reading]

1937 Cadillac Series 90 V16 vehicle information

Stationary Coupe
Coachwork: Fleetwood

Like many expensive cars of the era, this magnificent Cadillac was a 'statement' by its original owner, in this case, George Hummel of the Lorillard Tobacco Company. It is built on a massive 154-inch wheelbase chassis (largest available at the time)....[continue reading]

1937 Cadillac Series 90 V16 vehicle information

Convertible Sedan
Coachwork: Fleetwood

Chassis Num: 5130349

1937 was the last year Cadillac offered its overhead-valve V-16 engine and produced only twenty cars so equipped. Only five V-16 convertible sedans were built during that year and this example is the very last one produced. Cadillac made big news wit....[continue reading]

1937 Cadillac Series 90 V16 vehicle information

Imperial Cabriolet

There were fewer than 50 Cadillac V16s produced in 1937, and this example is one of only two Imperial Cabriolets. This imposing car was custom-built for Edgar Mannix, the executive vice president and general manager of MGM Studios. He frequently used....[continue reading]

Limousine (Modified V Windshield
Coachwork: Fleetwood

Chassis Num: 5130347
Engine Num: 5130347

This Cadillac was the third-from-last of the first Generation V-16 built and one of only 49 cars assembled in the original V-16's last year of production. Of these, 24 were produced as the seven-passenger limousine by Fleetwood. This particular examp....[continue reading]

1937 Cadillac Series 90 V16 vehicle information

Cabriolet
Coachwork: Hartmann

In 1937 Cadillac built fifty of their most expensive Series 90 V-16 chassis, and all but two were bodied in-house by Fleetwood. This chassis was delivered to Lausanne, Switzerland, to be bodied by Carrosserie Hartmann per an order by local resident P....[continue reading]

1937 Cadillac Series 90 V16 vehicle information

Limousine (Modified V Windshield
Coachwork: Fleetwood

Engine Num: 5130306

This Cadillac V-16 Seven-Passenger Limousine by Fleetwood is one of 54 V-16s produced in the last year of production. It was given a restoration and fitted with custom-made 17-inch wire wheels with radial tires, modified suspension, and custom intake....[continue reading]

Imperial Sedan
Chassis #: 5130313 
Convertible Sedan by Fleetwood
 
Aero-Dynamic Coupe by Fleetwood
 
Sedan
 
Aero-Dynamic Coupe by Fleetwood
 
Stationary Coupe by Fleetwood
 
Convertible Sedan by Fleetwood
Chassis #: 5130349 
Imperial Cabriolet
 
Limousine (Modified V Windshield by Fleetwood
Chassis #: 5130347 
Cabriolet by Hartmann
 
Limousine (Modified V Windshield by Fleetwood
 

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  • Concepts by Cadillac

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    Performance and Specification Comparison

    Price Comparison

    $152-$7,350
    1937 Series 90 V16
    $7,950-$12,075
    1937 Cadillac Series 90 V16 Price Range: $7,350 - $7,950

    $1,445 - $12,075

    Model Year Production

    #1#2#3Cadillac
    1942Chevrolet (254,885)Ford (160,432)Plymouth (152,427)16,511
    1941Chevrolet (1,008,976)Ford (691,455)Plymouth (522,080)66,169
    1940Chevrolet (764,616)Ford (541,896)Plymouth (430,208)12,984
    1939Chevrolet (577,278)Ford (487,031)Plymouth (423,850)
    1938Chevrolet (465,158)Ford (410,263)Plymouth (285,704)
    1937Ford (942,005)Chevrolet (815,375)Plymouth (566,128)14,164
    1936Ford (930,778)Chevrolet (918,278)Plymouth (520,025)12,913
    1935Ford (820,253)Chevrolet (548,215)Plymouth (350,884)
    1934Ford (563,921)Chevrolet (551,191)Plymouth (321,171)
    1933Chevrolet (486,261)Ford (334,969)Plymouth (298,557)6,655
    1932Chevrolet (313,404)Ford (210,824)Plymouth (186,106)4,740

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