The story of the Cadillac V-16 is the saga of not one but two colossal engines. The irony of the story is that these two luxury car powerplants, among the most remarkable the world has ever produced, were spawned during the world’s most far-reaching and destructive economic collapse.
Of course, during the heady days of the Twenties, when speculators in the stock market gave no thought to “how high is up,” the concept of a 16-cylinder engine for the ultimate in luxury machines seemed quite rational. The millionaires of the bathtub gin decade seemed more than willing to exhibit their wealth, and there were lots of car companies, in the United States and abroad, that were perfectly willing to help them in the endeavor.
So it seemed just another step in the advancement of the luxury car to assemble a 16-cylinder engine. After all, if eight cylinders were good, then 16 cylinders must be twice as good. It was as effortless as adding eight plus eight.
Mammoth multi-cylinder engines were nothing new in the aircraft business. Spurred on by the momentum of the Great War, Ettore Bugatti designed a 16-cylinder engine for aircraft use in 1917. Before the war’s end, Read more . . .
Many distinguished cars have gone out of production simply because they didn’t sell well enough. Check the long list of our “Greatest Cars,” and you will see many that fall into this category. But very few famous cars have gone out of production because they sold too well. One of that very select number, though, is the topic of this profile. The LaSalle marque didn’t cease to exist because it faced year after year of deteriorating sales. No, the death of the LaSalle, strange as it sounds, was caused by its success.
Affordable luxury car: Instant win
As Desi Arnaz would say, Okay, I have some serious “splainin'” to do, so let’s start at the beginning, which for LaSalle was 1927, the same year that Lindbergh flew from New York to Paris. By the mid-Twenties it had become obvious that the General Motors strategy of offering a variety of models from low-priced Chevrolet to premium-priced Cadillac was not just successful but, practically, a stroke of genius that would eventually lead to domination of the American market and make GM the world’s biggest automotive company. In fact, it was in 1927 that the GM onslaught finally influenced Henry Ford that he would have to build something other than the venerable Model T to stay in business. Read more . . .
The 1959 Cadillac was the epitome of American automotive elegance taken to the illogical extreme. If you believe in the principle “less is more” and “form should follow function” then the ’59 Cadillac may strike you as some evil alien life-form, as appealing as fungus, as pleasant to the eye as a sharp spike. But if, on the other hand, you believe the objective of a car is to please its driver, to send her or him off into the distance affixed with a smile, then the Cadillac that arrived in showrooms for the 1959 model year was a very big success indeed. Read more . . .
Ironically, the origins of Cadillac, the pre-eminent division of General Motors, revolve around the guy who would become General Motors greatest rival. Even today, the Cadillac’s official history intentionally keeps the union murky, but the fact is that the first Cadillac was designed by none other than the famous Henry Ford. The story is all part of the confusing maze of transactions, incorporations and reorganizations that were part and parcel of the dawn of the American automobile industry. Read more . . .