1930 Cadillac Series 37 (V16) Phaeton by MurphySOLD
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Estimate: $850,000-$1,000,000 US

Offered Without Reserve

AUCTION RESULTS: Lot was Sold at a price of $1,056,000

Model 452-A, 165hp, 452 cu. in.45-degree overhead valve V16 engine, three-speed manual transmission with reverse, front and rear semi-elliptic leaf with hydraulic dampers, internal mechanical drum brakes. Wheelbase: 148"

Describing the American auto industry in 1930, one could easily quote the opening lines from the Charles Dickens classic “Tale of Two Cities” by saying, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” On the upside, new technological breakthroughs with improved metallurgy, manufacturing techniques and a better understanding of mechanics was giving the motoring public the power and speed they wanted, while at the same time some of the most talented designers and coachbuilders to ever be involved in the creation of rolling works of art were at their zenith. On the downside, the stock market crash and growing Great Depression that had started in the fall of 1929 was showing no signs of recovery, with smaller car companies and many other manufacturing concerns closing their doors on almost a daily basis. Particularly hard hit were those who produced goods aimed at affluent customers, and for Cadillac, a major portion of their clientele was directly affected.

Already in the engineering and planning stages well before “Black Friday” was a development that Cadillac Motor Car Company President Larry Fisher hoped would be the mechanical coup of the new decade - a V16 engine. In a letter sent to dealers on December 27, 1929, he revealed this secret new sales weapon, and one week later at the New York Auto Show the public got their first viewing of this ultra-luxurious machine. Power was the king in the sales race, so one can only imagine what the public, accustomed to fours, sixes and an occasional 8-cylinder engine, must have thought when this magical power plant was unveiled.

Rather than creating a larger bore V8 type engine whose bigger torque impulses would also require beefin up the drive-line components, Cadillac decided that the smoother torque delivery of a multi-cylinder engine would allow the use of proven assemblies such as clutches and transmissions. With a 3” bore coupled with a 4” stroke, the new engine displaced 452 cubic inches. The cylinders were set in a 45-degree “V” design, and effectively the engine was a pair of straight eights with each bank of cylinders using their own intake and exhaust manifolds, all connected to a common crankshaft.

This engine also featured an unusual overhead valve train – and it was the first automotive powerplant that had its physical appearance actually “styled”. Legend has it that Harley Earl himself claimed that if he was to be in charge of creating beautiful coachwork for these cars, the engines had to present the same clean modern look. As a result nearly all wiring, tubing, many linkages were concealed under streamlined fashion panels and covers. Credit for the design of the engine bay went to a talented young design engineer named Owen Nacker.

Development and testing of the Cadillac V16 had been conducted since late 1926 in total secrecy. Suppliers who were instrumental in providing prototype parts were often misled and given orders through a GM commercial vehicle account or told that their provided parts were for experimental engines to be built and used by one of the lower-priced marques within the company. By the time it went into production the new Model 452 had already been proven to deliver plenty of power – a class leading 165 hp.

Of course, there were those both in the public and within General Motors who couldn’t see the need for an engine with more than eight cylinders. Over the years, multi-cylinder cars had come and gone, with the last domestic multi-cylinder car having been the Packard Twin-Six, which was discontinued in the early 1920s. To counter these arguments and present the marque’s position, a paper titled “Reasons for the V-16 Cadillac Type Engine” was published by William Strickland in the SAE Journal. In his presentation, he cited that modern cars were bigger and heavier than before, often carrying a larger passenger load, and that these owners were demanding new automobiles that “must accelerate in traffic or ahead of the jams, must take all roads over hills or mountains with ease and at the highest permissible speeds, and maintain high speed on the new superhighways multiplying rapidly all over the country.” It would be shown that Cadillac’s new V16 would do everything prescribed - and do it with grace and beauty.

Unlike other luxury car makers of the day, Cadillac did not commonly allow the sales of bare chassis to coachbuilders. As a result, custom-built bodies on the V16 chassis were extremely rare, with Cadillac records showing only five such orders released from the factory. Consequently, if a customer wanted the power and elegance of a Cadillac V16, but a custom body to his own taste, his only choice was to order a complete car, and of course, the choice was almost always the rumble seat roadster, which was the least expensive model in the line. Once delivered the factory body would be removed and discarded or sold off, and the coachbuilder would then install the new coachwork.

The example offered here is one of these cars. It was shipped on April 17th, 1930 as a standard Fleetwood roadster, for delivery to San Francisco for a special project by one of the most noteworthy figures in the early history of the automobile on the west coast, Charles S. Howard.

Although Howard is best known in popular culture as the owner of Triple Crown winner “Sea Biscuit”, he was also the California distributor for Buick – which no doubt influenced his choice of the Cadillac V16, GM’s flagship car.

Howard was also known to Murphy, having commissioned at least one other car from this well regarded Pasadena coachbuilder. In their employ was a talented young designer named Franklin Q. Hershey, who at the age of 23, already had six years of experience designing some of the most beautiful automobiles of the classic era.

Having come to Murphy at the age of 17, he had been given a very unique opportunity to prove his skills. Hershey had demonstrated that he had the ability to put himself inside his client’s mind and bring out what would be some of the most beautifully styled classic automobiles of the day. Hailed as rolling works of art, Hershey’s designs are highly sought after by collectors today.

For this one-off phaeton Hershey gave it the “California” look – a largely open car, with thin pillars and a light appearance. One of the most notable features of the car is the swept-back rake of the windscreen. Rather than using the industry norm of a nearly up-right flat windshield, Hershey’s design featured a rearward slope at nearly 22 degrees, giving the car the appearance of speed even when standing still.

Perhaps the most attractive feature of the car is its dual purpose character. Although fully enclosed as a convertible sedan, it was cleverly designed such that the windows could be lowered (at which point they would disappear under flush chrome covers), the center posts removed, and the rear windscreen raised, giving the look and feel of a true open car. While others have tried to achieve the same dual purpose design, none were more successful than Franklin Hershey’s design for Charles Howard.

Details of this car’s immediate ownership after Mr. Howard’s tenure (if any) are not known, but by 1961 Norman Taunton of Galt, California heard a rumor about the existence of the car. He was on his honeymoon, driving his Model A Ford, when he tracked down the car in the San Francisco area. He had been looking for a sporty open classic, and made a deal almost immediately. Unfortunately, as Taunton relates in a 1962 letter published in the Cadillac LaSalle Self Starter magazine, on the way home with the car, he was struck by a taxi driver, damaging the car in the right rear.

He decided to take the car apart and restore it, and in the process he stripped the original dark green paint off the car, but never got around to finishing it. In the meantime, he had gotten to know Jimmy Brucker, whose father owned “Movieland, Cars of the Stars”. Brucker tried for ten years to buy the car before he was finally successful in closing the deal in the late 1960s.

According to Brucker, the car was in amazing condition, and so solid that the doors could be closed and latched with one finger. Although Brucker would keep the car for about ten years, he still hadn’t gotten around to starting the restoration when he sold it to another California enthusiast, Don Westerdale, in the late 1970s.

Westerdale completed the restoration over the next four or five years, showing it a number of times. The finished car was featured in Automobile Quarterly, Volume 22, No. 4, published in late 1984. Not long afterward, Westerdale sold it to noted California collector John Mozart - in about 1985. John maintained the car and made small improvements during the nearly ten years he owned it before selling it to well known collector Jim King of Berkely, MA in September of 1991.

King sold the car to John McMullen in September of 1994 where it was treated to a thorough upgrade to return the car to concours condition, including a top quality repaint, changing the car from two tones of red to its current combination of dark maroon and a deep high gloss black. The interior is fitted in plush maroon leather, with the rear passenger compartment fitted with its own roll-up center window as well as a clock and remote speedometer mounted to the back of the front seat in a handsome wooden casing. The steering wheel, dash, and gauges have all been restored to as new condition. It is well equipped, including its original Cadillac Goddess mascot, dual covered side mount spares with rear view mirrors, a permanently mounted rear storage trunk, and stainless steel wire wheels with wide whitewall tires.

From 1996 to 2004, the car has been shown at only a handful of events where it has always been rewarded with top honors. One of the highlights of John McMullen’s ownership of this Murphy Phaeton came at the 1997 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, when the car was judged best in class. On hand was Franklin Hershey, who was reunited with his masterpiece. Sadly, it would be the last concours this talented stylist would be able to attend, as he passed away at the age of 90 just a couple of months later.

In more recent years this car has been invited to be exhibited as such prestigious venues as Amelia Island, Bay Harbor, Meadow Brook, and the Glenmore Gathering, where it has consistently been selected as Best in Class and often Best in Show. It has also gained top honors with the Classic Car Club of America, being awarded National Junior, Senior and Premier awards.

One would expect that with an original restoration nearing 25 years of age – even one as well cared for as this – a certain amount of upgrading would be required. It is a testimonial to the quality of the workmanship to date that even the most particular collector is unlikely to find more than a few areas needing attention to return the car to front rank concours quality.

Any sixteen cylinder Cadillac is an important car, but the McMullen collection Murphy bodied example is one of the most significant V16s extant. A true one-off, designed by one of the most legendary figures of the classic era, it will offer its next caretaker the opportunity to enjoy its beauty for years to come. It seems fitting that it find its next long term owner in this, the 100th anniversary of the birth of its creator, Franklin Q. Hershey.

Award History

1996 Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance First in Class
1997 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance First in Class
1998 Grand Experience CCCA Best of Show
1998 Bumpers for Babies Best of Show
1998 Cars on Campus Concours People’s Choice & Best of Show
1999 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance Most Elegant Cadillac
2002 Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance Most Elegant Car, John Dodge Award & Best Featured Cadillac
2003 Bay Harbor Best of Show
2004 Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance Most Significant GM Product
2004 Glenmore Gathering Award of Distinction

CCCA Grand National Junior, Senior and Premiere

Reference Number 8656

as of 4/17/2007

Car 1930 Cadillac Series 37 (V16) Phaeton by Murphy
VIN 700991 
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