1931 Cadillac Series 37 (V16) Sport PhaetonSOLD

RM Auction - Vintage Motor Cars at Amelia Island - March 10, 2007

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ESTIMATE: $550,000 - $650,000

$561,000 Sold

Series 452A. 185bhp, 452 cu. in. 45 degree overhead valve V16 engine, three-speed manual with reverse, front and rear semi-elliptic leaf springs with hydraulic dampers, four-wheel vacuum assisted mechanical brakes. Wheelbase: 148"

In the latter part of the 1920s, Alfred Sloan ’ s General Motors was gaining on every front – from the new overhead valve six which was pitched against Ford ’ s four to a full offering of middle and upper middle class cars ranging from Pontiac to Buick.

At the high end, however, it was another story altogether. Cadillac had largely failed to make headway against Packard, while Lincoln – bolstered by Edsel Ford ’ s attractive new bodies, was gaining ground. Cadillacs were relatively boring, with old technology under the hood and stodgy styling.

Clearly, a new direction was needed. Utilizing a “ divide and conquer ” strategy, LaSalle was created to provide a relatively more affordable fine car. Meanwhile, the multi-cylinder writing was on the wall, and a crash program was instituted to supplement Cadillac ’ s venerable V8 with not one but two new engines – a twelve and a sixteen.

Equally important, GM created the “ Art and Color ” department, headed by the soon-to-be legendary Harley Earl. The first real styling department, it was an acknowledgement that cars could no longer be sold purely on engineering. The first project was the ’ 27 LaSalle – a stunning new design that cribbed from the best in Europe while retaining a distinctly American flavor. Long, sweeping fenders cradled a beautiful upright radiator shell that was set back and surrounded by large chrome headlights connected by a handsome tie bar.

The same styling was implemented for Cadillac for 1928, but it took the mighty V16, introduced in 1930, to realize the potential of the new design. Longer wheelbases allowed long, graceful hoods, while the chrome and cloisonné “ V16 ” jewelry on the tie bar and hubcaps ensured that everyone knew this car was something special.

Under the hood, the new V16 engine was an engineering masterpiece, featuring an advanced overhead valve design that incorporated automatic hydraulic valve lash compensators that ensured that the engine ran as quietly as any side valve engine. The narrow 45-degree cylinder bank angle produced a compact engine with good inherent balance.

Just as important as the car ’ s mechanical specification was the underhood appearance. It was styled by Owen Nacker, the first engine bay to receive design consideration. Wiring was hidden under covers accented by cloisonné knobs, while gleaming black enamel contrasted with a brushed aluminum raised pattern on the valve covers. Fuel lines were plated, and a false firewall hid the necessary wiring and plumbing from view.

A wide variety of bodies were offered on the V16 chassis, most being Fleetwood designs. A few special Fisher bodies were offered as well, either on special order or, in a few cases, as catalogued offerings.

Original Cadillac shipping documentation confirms the provenance of this car as one of the original sixteen- cylinder Sport Phaetons – style 4260.

Despite the undeniable magnificence of the V16, they proved difficult to sell – in part because of the deepening Depression sweeping across America, but also, in the case of this lovely Sport Phaeton, because its truly open style made it less practical for year round motoring. Consequently, most were sold to wealthy families who could afford to own such an expensive car intended only for fair weather use.

Although constructed in 1931, 703249 was not sold until 1932, when it was transferred to an Ohio Cadillac dealer, who arranged delivery to its first owner, Joseph Vanmeter of Piketown, OH. The Vanmeter family kept the car for many years – reportedly well into the 1950s. Subsequent ownership history is not known, but by 1984 the car was in the care of Cadillac V16 aficionado Fred Weber, of St. Louis, MO.

In 1985, Weber sold the car to Tucson collector Steve Nanini, who immediately sent the big V16 to Tom Sparks, a noted Hollywood, CA based restorer. Sparks reported that upon disassembly, 703249 proved to be in remarkable original condition. Nonetheless, he embarked on a comprehensive, professional restoration to the highest standards. It was a true “ nut and bolt ” restoration, including a full mechanical rebuild and the installation of a high speed rear axle to permit relaxed touring at modern highway speeds.

Among V16s, 703249 is instantly recognizable by its stunning color combination – a rich, dark blue that appears black at first glance, accented by a lovely blue leather interior. The combination clearly impressed the judges at Pebble Beach as well, as the car won its class – first time shown.

Multiple concours victories followed while Nanini and Sparks continued to refine the restoration; their efforts were rewarded the following year at the prestigious Meadow Brook Concours d ’ Elegance, where the car not only won its class, but brought home best in show honors as well.

Club judging results were equally impressive, with the car earning its AACA National First Senior award, as well as scoring a perfect 100 points in CCCA judging.

Unable to resist the car, Fred Weber repurchased the V16 from Steve Nanini, although circumstances lead him to sell it shortly afterwards to Montgomery, Alabama collector, Pat Ryan. Ultimately, Ryan sold the car to the Hogan Family Foundation, from whom the vendor acquired the car about three years ago.

An extremely detail oriented and highly focused businessman, the vendor commenced a program of upgrades to what many would have said was already a perfect car. In total, he spent more than $50,000 with noted restorer Steve Babinsky on a host of improvements, including engine work, a new tan top, correct sidemount covers and mirrors, chrome updates (including all the top bows), and a comprehensive program of detailing intended to return the car to the very highest echelon of competitive concours cars. The result was another string of accolades, including top awards in 2005 at both the Greenwich Concours d ’ Elegance and the Concours d ’ Elegance of the Eastern United States.

Although the restoration is now nearly twenty years old, the vendor ’ s updates have achieved the desired goal - the car still presents beautifully, and gives little sign of the years that have passed since the restoration was completed – a reflection of both the quality of the workmanship and the high regard its owners have felt for this astonishing sixteen-cylinder masterpiece.

It is important to note that even under close examination it seems that the V16 also retains all of important original components, including all gauges and instrumentation. The driver ’ s compartment remains in show quality condition, fitted with the correct Jaeger eight-day trip clock and speedometer, while the rear compartment features an additional speedometer and chronograph – a feature completely unique to the V16 Sport Phaeton.

Accessories include chrome wire wheels with stainless spokes and wide whitewall tires, Pilot Ray driving lights, a radiator stone guard, twin windshield mounted spotlights, dual sidemounted spare wheels with the extremely rare correct metal covers, accessory mirrors, and a correct Cadillac Heron radiator mascot.

As one of just eighteen original V16 Sport Phaetons remaining, this beautiful and correct original-bodied example is one of the most sought after classic cars from the period. The quality of the restoration, and the care taken in its preservation make it quite possibly the finest example of its kind extant.

Reference Number 6332

as of 1/21/2007

Car 1931 Cadillac Series 37 (V16) Sport Phaeton
VIN 452A703249 
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