Cadillac’s V16 of the 1930s is fairly well known, as is its 2003 Sixteen (as in V16) concept car. But what is not generally known is that Cadillac toyed with the idea of a 16-cylinder car in the 1960s.
Back in the 1920s, Cadillac was seen as the top rung of General Motors’ ladder rather than a serious luxury car, such as Packard. Cadillac’s surprise launch of the world’s first production 16-cylinder motor car in 1930 changed that. The introduction of a powerful and efficient overhead-valve V8 after World War II cemented Cadillac’s position at the top of the American luxury heap, and it remained on top until imports started making serious inroads in the ’70s. In 2003, Cadillac displayed a Sixteen concept car at auto shows to burnish its luxury car image. Although enthusiastically received, the Sixteen wasn’t approved for production.
In the ’60s, America enjoyed a strong economy and cheap gas. Cadillac executives thought the time might be ripe for another multi-cylinder car. Two engines were contemplated: an overhead-cam V12 and a V16 composed of two V8s. Neither engine got farther than the prototype stage.
It seems that more work was exerted on styling proposals. In 1961, a scale model with an extremely long hood and sweeping fastback was completed. In 1963, Cadillac designer Wayne Kady drew an open speedster proposal with a plethora of hood air intakes. Another 1963 drawing was of a notchback coupe with rear fenderlines that would show up on the 1967 Eldorado. Also in 1963, a model with an extreme vee’d grille and windshield was photographed.
By 1965, Cadillac was serious enough about the multi-cylinder project to give it the project number XP-840 and build a full-sized mockup for a two-seat V16 fastback coupe. XP-840 continued the long-hood look and added a few new features. There was no rear window; instead, a narrow slit was cut in the roof for a rear-facing TV camera. Ribbed “cuffs” spilled out and down the hood to recall the external exhaust pipes of the Classic era.
Unfortunately, the project didn’t go beyond the mockup phase. Former GM design director Chuck Jordan, who then headed Cadillac Styling, recalled: “We finally dropped the project after the full-sized model was completed. We had a lot of other things to do, and here we were playing with a full-size clay we never intended to expose. It was strictly a styling exercise.”
But what an exercise it was. One wonders how a Cadillac V16 flagship would have fared in the prosperous, pre-OPEC embargo days of the late 1960s.