By on February 10, 2021

In the midst of the Great Depression, Cadillac offered a new range of ultra-expensive motorcars that featured 16-cylinder engines – a count never offered previously by a domestic automaker. One of the V-16’s most prestigious variations is today’s Rare Ride.

Presenting the extremely exclusive All-weather Phaeton sedan.

The launch of Cadillac’s most expensive line of cars occurred with some unfortunate timing. In development since 1926, the V-16 debuted a year after the start of the Great Depression, 1930. All the figures on this new Cadillac were superlative, not only the cylinder count. The enormous 7.4-liter engine produced 165 horsepower, at a time when a common Chevrolet Eagle sedan made just 65 horsepower with its inline-six. In 1930, the V-16’s base ask in cabriolet format was $6,500 (about $99,000 adjusted for inflation) before any customer personalization. The All-weather Phaeton was the most expensive version and started at $8,000 ($122,377 adj). And they were all made-to-order. For reference, the normies buying a standard Chevrolet sedan in 1933 paid $445.

Customers could choose from among 10 different body styles, built by the coachbuilders in and around Detroit. Each firm assembled their bodies atop a wooden frame. Available body styles included five- and seven-passenger sedans and limousines, convertibles and coupes for two, larger coupes that carried five, as well as town car styles for five or seven, and large convertible sedans (phaetons). Pictured above is the Brougham, where your hired driver sat outside because they were poor. Customers consulted with their Cadillac dealer to personalize the V-16 in almost innumerable ways, adding their own personal sense of style inside and out.

The first run of V-16 cars was from 1930 to 1937, and Cadillac sold around 3,800 in total. For the 1933 year in particular, 126 cars were built. A second generation V-16 debuted for 1938 and merged Cadillac’s prior V-12 and V-16 engines into a singular offering in the newly-designed 7.1-liter V-16. As WWII heated up, production ended in December 1939 with less than 500 second-gen V-16s completed. It was the only time Cadillac made a production V-16 engine.

Today’s Rare Ride started out in life with a standard Fleetwood-built sedan body. Through a couple of owners, this car made its way from New Jersey to St. Louis in the Sixties. There, it had its sedan body swapped with an original All-weather Phaeton body from the same model year. It was then restored to the highest order and kept in pristine condition since. In beautiful navy over navy, the Cadillac sold recently for an undisclosed sum.

[Image: Cadillac]

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35 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1933 Cadillac V-16 All-weather Phaeton...”

  • avatar

    “And well may these staunch Cadillac advocates take for granted the excellence of their cars – for their trust will never be misplaced.”

    From this to the Cimarron in 49 years…

    • 0 avatar

      @PeriSoft – I think that the demise of the Three P’s ultimately was to Cadillac’s detriment, as it eased pressure to focus on quality. Eventually, Mercedes would exploit that. That’s far from the complete story of those five brands, of course, but I think it’s an aspect of it.

      My surviving Silent Gen relatives still speak favorably of a Cadillac that was in the family from ’26 (bought new) to ’41. It was a conquest sale from Pierce-Arrow.

      • 0 avatar


        That’s an interesting take I hadn’t considered, and might be part of the problem. I think the other thing is that in the ’30s, high-end cars were still pretty low volume, and the total available market was smaller, meaning that a (2021 money) $150k car would be much lower volume than a $150k car became in the ’50s and ’60s and now. The volume means some things get more efficient, but it also forces you into different manufacturing techniques and component sharing that mean that a $150k car becomes less and less ‘special’ as the economy grows and the market size grows with it.

        So, yeah, they were able to sell Cadillacs for $120k and then $100k and then $80k as the quality pressure from other marques dissipated, but they probably would have been forced in that direction anyway. As part of GM they couldn’t stay upmarket like Rolls (and Rolls had its own financial issues through the 20th century for just this reason, too) so they were kind of boxed in, ironically, by the expanding ability of more people to buy more expensive cars.

  • avatar

    From this to the Cimarron in 49 years… and Northstar, HT4100, V8-6-4, 1st Gen Escalade. I could go on…

    Driving a V-16 Cadillac is a real workout, there is a reason you had a Chauffeur.

    • 0 avatar

      People complain about the new ‘slade, but honestly it’s one of the most Cadillac-y Cadillacs in decades, IMO. I wouldn’t choose one over, say, an X7, but at least now I can understand why someone *would*.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      Any Escalade says sweet nothings to my inner pimp. Loud, brash and undoubtedly American. Body on frame, rear or 4WD, and a big stonking GM V-8. Bonus points: built by GM true believers and GM has been doing this combo right for oh, the last 7 or 8 decades; yeah, they’ve got that down.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t they make a Batwing engine now?

  • avatar

    “The enormous 7.4-liter engine produced 165 horsepower”

    ThAt’S lEsS tHaN a BaSe CaMrY!!!

    • 0 avatar

      “ThAt’S lEsS tHaN a BaSe CaMrY!!!”

      Yeah, but I’d like to see a comparison based on torque instead of HP.

      • 0 avatar

        Would stump puller be an appropriate descriptor? I’m thinking so.

        I’m constantly amazed at how far things have come. It was a surprise to me a few years ago when Chevy and Toyota got ~ 200 horsepower out of 2.5 litre 4 pots with similar torque. As anything but an engineer, I’d like to know if there’s a theoretical max that can be accomplished with a given displacement/cylinder configuration.

    • 0 avatar

      Sadly, in the seventies the even more enormous 8.2 litre engine produced 190 horsepower. So, not a lot of progress in the intervening years.

      • 0 avatar
        Funky D

        That is not quite true. HP figures used SAE net figures from 1972 on, which saw HP numbers drop from 25~40% from the 71 and earlier numbers. So that 165 HP might be more like 110~120 net, plus they didn’t have to deal with the performance killing emissions-reducing systems of the 70s. A 1970 500/8.2 was rated at 400 HP, whilst a 1972, using SAE net figures was still rated at 235. Smogging choked another 45 HP away.

  • avatar

    This is all very interesting but why is nothing whatsoever said about towing capacity?

  • avatar


    And everyone should go check the other cars at this site – this dealer’s inventory is absolutely drool-worthy.

  • avatar

    Back in the 70s a friend of mine was rebuilding the engine for one of these.
    I don’t know how much that engine weighed, but when we put it on my build stand, it needed a 4×4 piece of lumber under the front of the pan rail to help hold it up. Serious iron.

    • 0 avatar
      schmitt trigger

      These types of autos gave the US in general, and GM in particular, a head start when ramping up production for large military vehicles.

      I have mentioned this previously; the reason that in later years communists were so jealous of the US was that Americans could drive these type of vehicles, while they were stuck driving Ladas.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        The US government realized the power of television and convinced Hollywood to produce programs showing the ‘average’ American family living in a single family, suburban home with all the modern conveniences and appliances. Why do you think the ‘housewife’ was always a stay at home mother, wearing a house dress, with access to things like a dishwasher which was actually relatively rare until the mid 1970s?

        Portraying this as the ‘American way of life’ was meant to demonstrate the ‘superiority’ of America.

        The Soviets were left to counter by using their so called ‘amateur’ Olympic athletes.

  • avatar

    – That distributor cap is impressive.
    – The deep navy paint is magnificent.
    – I am digging the door checks.
    – GM has forgotten a lot about how to assemble a dashboard.
    – What is going on with the text/controls in the center of the steering wheel? (Hard to make out the details and google isn’t helping.)

    Cadillac would do better if they aimed for excellence and charged more. At the top of the market, the high price is part of the appeal.

  • avatar

    All-weather, you say. Except for the chauffeur of course. Oilskins for him and a tip o’the hat with one hand to m’lord and milady as they entered and exited, while with the other hand he held the door open wide for their convenience while his socks squelched in his boots. Wouldn’t you like to be an oligarch lording it over the hired help? Looks as though James ran the wipers by hand-crank too, unless Charlie Sloan had invented the world’s smallest electric or vacuum motor to fit in the windshield header.

    Very nice. For some.

  • avatar

    Here’s a very similar one that belonged to Joan Crawford and sold for $362,500

  • avatar

    What does the pedal to the right of the accelerator do?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    An exceptional find, Corey. This 16-cylinder has to be a record-holder for cool factor – 95 years.

    Actually, the entire inventory at Hyman is incredible. It’s funny to see the grille-less nose of the 1921 Detroit Electric, which was way ahead of its time.

  • avatar

    That car is f*cking gorgeous.

    I remember my father talking about people running only one bank of the V-16 during the depression to save on gas.

    When I was in high school a friend of mine’s older brother had a 1950-ish cadillac. (You know the kind of people with ten+ cars in the yard maybe one or two of which actually run.) That Cadillac was very nicely put together — definitely much better than the average car of that vintage. But, by the late ’60’s they had become not much more than a rebadge of a chevy.

    And, how could I forget? They had two Borgwards

  • avatar

    That was very interesting, and so is the Hyman website. Thank you for that Corey. As to the perceived decline in quality, that website provides a brief timeline. The Fleetwood they have listed from the 40s already shows aspects of mass production that reduce the apparent quality of the cars. More years ago than I care to think, I drove for a livery company which had a series of Cadillac Fleetwood 75s when Cadillac still made limousines. The rear interior of the ’66 was lined with real, if dour, wood. The 70s were obviously and cheerfully plastic.

    • 0 avatar

      In the 70′ and 80’s Detroit put out some of the most horrible interiors ever. Full of fake wood, fake chrome/metal trim, and, can’t forget, some really ghastly upholstery.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Personally I believe that the tufted velour upholstery of 1970’s brougham luxury vehicles is/was the absolute best ever used in vehicles.

        As others have noted, once GM allowed their lesser marques to include previously Cadillac only options, and once they decided to make Cadillac more ‘affordable’ it lost its way. Exclusivity is a primary requirement for a premium brand.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Well you don’t have to worry about horrible interiors on today’s new vehicles you can have any interior color on most vehicles so long as its black and a wide variety of whites, blacks, grays, and silvers for exterior colors.

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