[last update: 05.26.2020]

The Cadillac V16

 

Part 5a

Special Job #9002
1938

 

At the end of 1938, two engines of the V-16 production run for that year (# 5270305 and 5270306) were mounted on special, stretched chassis (148"instead of 141¼"). They received equally special, custom-built bodies. They both were commissioned for the most senior of GM  officials: Alfred P. Sloan, former GM President, and William S. ["Big Bill"] Knudsen who took over those functions in 1937.

Where Cadillac got the 148" chassis is a mystery for none were included in the range, either for 1938 or 1939. The wheelbases of the other standard Cadillac chassis in 1938 were 124" (Series 50 La Salle and Series 60 Cadillac), 127" (Series 60 Special), 132" (Series 65), 141¼" (Series 75 and Series 90) and 161" (Series 75 commercial chassis); two enormous, convertible parade cars/security cars were built by Fleetwood on a special chassis with 165" wheel base; they were acquired by the Government and used as White House security cars in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations; both have survived, although converted after WW11 to the V-8 power plant, presumably for reasons of economy. More on these cars here.

There is scant information on the Sloan car, other that it had an Imperial Sedan body, that is a limousine with a divider. The history of the Knudsen (the one described here) was pieced together by Carl Steig and Ron Van Gelderen, both avid admirers like me of the sixteen-cylinder Cadillacs.

This one is reported by its current owner as having been built  on chassis/engine combination  #5270306. However, in the Fall of 2003 I got some conflicting information from V-16 enthusiast and expert, Terry Wenger of the CLC. According to Carl Steig, he told me, the correct engine/chassis number for the Knudsen car is #5270305. Engine #5270306 is purported to have powered the other experimental V-16 imperial sedan built for Alfred P. Sloan. Trust the experts.

The last of the sixteens built in 1938 carries engine/chassis #5270315, so the two custom jobs were among the final ten units. This may account for the presence of some 1939 V-16 parts. Indeed, the Knudsen car is fitted with a 1939 instrument board although it still retains the older 1938 "banjo" steering wheel.  

The history of this custom job is nebulous after WW2. I have one (poor) photo from the early seventies (left, below) that shows it in a state of apparent neglect and disrepair.

 

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This is how the car looked in the early seventies...

 

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...and in the late eighties

 

I found the four factory photos, below, in the Cadillac styling section archives in September, 1994. They are reproduced here courtesy of GM and the Cadillac Motor Car Division.

 

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Upper row: two original factory photos of Job #9002.  Lower row (left)  the driver's compartment; you can see the special, tubular receptacle built into the front seat  to accommodate a collapsible umbrella); right, plush interior with folding opera seats; surprisingly, despite the lengthened chassis, the rear seat is not located aft of the "C" pillar as, for example, in our 1942 Fleetwood Series 75 sedan for 5 passengers (below), built on a 12" shorter wheelbase (mark you, our car has a V-8 motor which probably is already 12" shorter than a V-16!  Also, interior space had to be sacrificed in the Knudsen car to accommodate the stylish roof slope of the car's modern, fastback design.

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Author's 1942 Fleetwood 7519F
[ more spacious passenger compartment ]

 

 

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The Knudsen car was offered for sale
on eBay (internet), in January, 2004

[ Photo:  Pebble Beach, 2003 ]

 

 

 

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Beautifully restored, the special V-16 was exhibited
during The Cadillac-LaSalle Experience
at the Gilmore Museum, Kalamazoo, MI, in 1993

 

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In this rear view, the sleek fastback is
shown to advantage.  A truly stunning car
with exceptionally modern lines for 1938.

 

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[ These photos:  CLC Self Starter ]

 

 

 

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   v638_02v.jpg (10285 bytes)     v638_02z.jpg (10654 bytes)
[ Photos:  Pebble Beach auction, August 2005]

 

 

Knudsen was born in Denmark, in 1879.  He came to America at the age of 20. He was an experienced cycle mechanic.  He worked for a time with Henry Ford but the latter found him to be bad-mannered and rather foul-mouthed so they parted ways. in 1921.  He joined GM less than a year later and soon was VP of Chevrolet production, although the first models for which he was responsible did not live up to the company's expectations;  nevertheless, Knudsen soon put Chevrolet   back on its feet and by 1937 he was made President of GM.

The Knudsen car measures up to the man.  It was designed to be chauffeur driven. There is a partition and division glass between the front and rear compartments; it is electrically powered. The driver's area is trimmed in traditional black leather, the sumptuous passenger area in broadcloth with beautiful cabinetry all round. An umbrella is stored in a special, tubular receptacle under the front seat on the RH side (a feature seen on many low-production sixteens from Fleetwood since 1930).

The car was first delivered to the styling section sans running boards or rear fenders. Standard headlamps, fender lamps and radiator grille were included. The chassis had also the standard front springs but special rear springs were installed. The body is unique in that no parts interchange with any other Cadillac body style.  Hood and fenders are wider.  Flip-up turn-signal indicators are built in to the "B" pillars, as was customary in the UK for years. The body was in primer but for the side panels which were in bare metal. It was a five-wheel job, all tires being fitted with Master Royal white side-wall tires. The routing sheet from the Parts Department of the Cadillac Motor Car Division carries # FAC 9002 and shows William S. Knudsen, President of General Motors in 1938, as the end-user.

The first pictures of the car were taken in the executive showroom at the factory on June 29, 1938 (these are shown above). I saw an ad for the car in the seventies but can't remember the source (I would guess at Cars and Parts to which I was a subscriber at the time). In the piece they did on the car in the Cadillac-LaSalle Club, Inc.  monthly magazine, The Self-Starter, Ron Van Gelderen and Carl Steig recalled seeing a similar ad in Hemmings Motor News for December 1981.

Pictures of the car taken in 1991, before restoration was begun, show the car to have the same chrome front and rear fender spears as were installed on the '39 V-6s. Original factory shots, however, show the car with correct '38 spears, painted body color. The car also has a '39 V-16 dash fitted with a custom radio and center plaque. The center division is electric, whereas a winding crank was the standard in 1938; the controls are located in the rear seat arm rests, as are also the controls for the radio and heater.

There is lots of extra wood paneling in the passenger compartment as well as some special, built-in storage compartments. These features, combined with two lightweight opera seats that are used in lieu of the regular, wide, forward-facing auxiliary seats found in most Fleetwood 7-passenger cars, make the interior very different from stock Sixteen limousines. 

A chrome-plated body tag [original or not?] identifies the car as 1938 experimental body #5.  Which makes me wonder if the other special jobs built made in 1938 also carry such a tag (the Alfred P. Sloan car and the two White House security cars dubbed the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth).

Interesting styling features of the Knudsen car are its general lines. Although it is a four-door sedan, nonetheless, it is reminiscent of the 1933 World's Fair V16 aerodynamic coupe with its more rounded rear fenders, its split back-light, chrome-framed windows, recessed license-plate housing, and twin trunk handles as seen on the aerodynamic Sixteens of 1934, 1936 and 1937.  The lower rear body panels have an interesting curve into which flows the odd-shaped trunk lid. Unlike the 1933 car, 1938 version has no side or belt molding. Owing to the stretched chassis, the running boards too were stretched some seven inches; the added section was tastefully done and was noticed during inspection before restoration. Where standard sixteens have a screw-cap gas filler, the Knudsen car features a flip-up lid on the fender, like Buick models of 1938, giving access to the gas cap below. The tail-lights are pure custom and are vaguely reminiscent of those to come on the 1940 Cadillacs.

The car came out of hiding, in the late eighties when CLC member the late Roy Warshawsky, former CEO of  J.C. Whitney, acquired it and began to have it fully restored. The car made a noticeable public appearance as a fully restored car at a show entitled The Cadillac-LaSalle  Experience, staged at the renowned Gilmore Museum in Kalamazoo, Michigan in June, 1993. It won also 1st in class for closed American classics of thje period 1925-1941.  Restoration was carried out to perfection by Fran Roxas of Alsip, IL. 

In 2001, the completed car was owned by Cadillac aficionado, Richard Zerth.

Late Extra [8/2005]:  the car was sold at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elégance for a reported $297,000.

 

 

© 1996-2020, Yann Saunders, DLM Group, and the Cadillac & LaSalle Club Museum and Research Center Inc.
Background image:  another custom V-16 job, this one from 1930