Under The Hood

Dragone Auctions to offer rare 1931 Cadillac V-16 convertible victoria at Lime Rock

V-16 Cadillacs were relatively numerous, especially considering the economic climate in which they were introduced. Somehow, a dawning depression didn’t keep down sales of the new ultra luxury car from Cadillac, which was dubbed the Series 452 for the engine’s displacement. An astonishing 3,251 were sold in 1930 and 1931 – the first two full model years after the Wall Street crash of October 1929. Those fortunes would not last and V-16 sales quickly dropped off.

Cadillac preferred to keep all profits from the sale of Series 452 V-16s in house and so it rarely made chassis of these cars available to coachbuilders, the complete opposite practice of some other ultra cars of the day, such as Duesenberg. By building its own bodies at its Fleetwood plant in Pennsylvania, and then in Detroit, Cadillac (and parent company General Motors) could control the appearance and image of its new super car. With a price of entry starting at $5,350 for the least-expensive model, the roadster, there was surely a fair amount of profit for Cadillac, as long as cars were selling in quantity.

Despite Cadillac’s insistence on building its own bodies, a few chassis were slipped to coachbuilders. On other occasions, a coachbuilder or one of their customers bought a complete Series 452 and removed the General Motors Fleetwood or Fisher body so that an entirely new body could be built to a customer’s order and to the standards of their favored coachbuilder. One of those hyper-rare Cadillac Series 452s dressed with the body from an outside coachbuilder will by offered by Dragone Auctions on Sept. 3 at its Lime Rock Auction at the Lime Rock Park Historic Festival in Lakeville, Connecticut.

English coachbuilder Lancefield built one of those few new bodies on a V-16 chassis, which it received from Cadillac in 1930 as a 1931 model. The car, No. 702873, was also one of the few right-hand-drive V-16 Cadillacs built specifically for export and upon its completion was exhibited at the Earl’s Court Motor Show in London. The original family so appreciated its unique convertible victoria coachwork and quiet V-16 engine that it kept the unique Cadillac for 60 years! The car then came to the United States in the 1990s but went back to Europe shortly thereafter. It’s back in the United States and will be available to bidders in the United States and abroad during the Dragone Auctions sale where it’s expected to fetch more than a half-million dollars. I expect it will do just that given that only a handful of the thousands of V-16 Cadillacs wore convertible victoria coachwork, which is highly sought after today among Classic car collectors.

Cadillac did actually offer its own convertible victoria, a Fleetwood-bodied model, on the first Series 452 models, but just two were built. This Lancefield convertible victoria is very likely a one-off and is the only 1930 or 1931 Cadillac Series 452 convertible victoria from any builder that I am aware of to still exist. As such, I made sure to picture it in my book “Cadillac: 100 Years of Innovation.” The Lancefield convertible victoria certainly has its own character, which is certainly more British character, although all were rather low and sporting in appearance, especially compared to closed-body Series 452 Cadillacs of the era.

A Cadillac connoisseur who seeks a unique V-16 is bound to jump on this rare opportunity. Watch the auction or bid yourself at Dragone Auctions’ Lime Rock Auction next weekend.

 

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