- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2003

Spectators at the Detroit Auto Show last winter were bedazzled by a dramatically styled long-nosed concept car by Cadillac with its tantalizing 16-cylinder, 1,000-horsepower engine under the hood.

Those with long memories can remember that 73 years earlier Cadillac Motor Car Co. President Lawrence P. Fisher announced the most fabulous Cadillac to that time, the 1930 V-16 series 452. Cadillac produced a variety of models propelled by V-16 engines for 11 years, through the 1940 model year.

One of those early V-16 Cadillacs was a sporty 1931 Detroit-built model 4235, an 18-foot-long convertible coupe fitted out with a rumble seat and not one, but two, golf bag doors — one on each side. The entire package was supported on a 148-inch wheelbase. It had a base price of about $6,900.

From day one in 1931 that particular Cadillac evidently received kid glove treatment. Jim George first saw the Cadillac in the summer of 1997 when it was put up for sale right after it had undergone a complete restoration in St. Louis.

Mr. George was taken by the beauty of the all-black Cadillac; however, it was already sold by then. “It was neat looking with the top up or down,” he says.

Almost five years later Mr. George saw a list of antique cars to be sold at the annual Meadowbrook auction in August, 2002 and there, amazingly, was the black 1931 Cadillac.

“I’m like a hound on the scent of an animal,” Mr. George says. “There it was, the same car that I had admired earlier.”

Mr. George made arrangements to ensure that he and his wife, Brenda, would be in attendance at the Meadowbrook auction in Rochester, Mich. on Aug. 3, 2002.

As the gleaming black 5,600-pound Cadillac crossed the block, most of the bidders in attendance pulled out their cell telephones in order to be in contact with the monied principals they were representing. Mr. George is convinced that he had an edge because he was doing his own bidding.

Regardless, after less than a minute of frantic high-stakes bidding, the car was his.

After the financial transaction was commplete and as he was walking out to inspect his trophy, he was offered a tidy profit on the spot if he would sell the car he had just bought. Such is the appeal of the 6-foot, 1-inch-tall Cadillac rumble seat convertible. Mr. George declined the offer.

Instead, he quickly insured the car and arranged to have it trucked in an enclosed van to his Haymarket home. The auction was on a Saturday and the car was delivered the following Tuesday.

The history of the car is somewhat elusive, but Mr. George has learned that it was sold new in Minneapolis in April 1931. “It was there just in time for warm weather,” Mr. George concludes.

From there, the well-traveled car spent time in Florida and later California before being auctioned in Michigan and trucked to Virginia.

Records show that the Cadillac was brown when it left the factory. “It was brown then and now it’s black.” Mr. George says, “That’s all I know.”

The leather upholstery matches the light-gray pin striping. Access to the rumble seat is via the three steps up the right rear fender, with the hope that the passenger will avoid stepping on the right taillight stanchion. Rumble seat accommodations are surprisingly posh, including padded arm rests and an unseen courtesy light beneath the cowl that illuminates the compartment to eliminat any surprises in the dark.

The rumble seat, with no exterior handle, can only be opened by using the hidden latch inside the car.

On the valances above both running boards are courtesy lights. Hidden behind the right valance above the running board is the battery. Behind the left valance is a compartment for tools.

Both side-mounted 7.50x19-inch spare tires are shrouded in black material matching the convertible top. All six wheels have 54 spokes.

The front of the Cadillac is dominated by the B-I-G headlights, each with a 13-inch-diameter lens. Between the headlights on a horizontal bar in front of the gravel guard on the radiator is the emblem that bestows bragging rights on the owner. The message on the emblem simply says: “V-16.”

Behind the massive radiator is the 452-cubic-inch V-16 engine under the L-O-N-G engine hood with five ventilating doors on each side.

In addition to the five ventilating doors is a sixth door that further extends the nose of the car.

When opened, the sixth door scoops air into the ankle level of the cockpit to augment the cooling air rushing in from the two cowl vents.

Both vacuum-operated wipers are suspended from the top of the slanted windshield so the glass can be tilted out for even more fresh air.

The slanted windshield and curved carriage sill above the running board are indications that this V-16 was built in Detroit. Pennsylvania-built models had flat sills and perpendicular windshields.

The “suicide” doors swing to the back on three hinges. In the cockpit is a four-spoke steering wheel and on the dashboard is a speedometer that tops out at 120 mph. “There’s a bit of optimism there,” Mr. George observes.

The floor between the front-seat occupants sprouts a pair of chrome-plated levers, one for the hand brake and one for shifting gears.

Unusual on any 1931 car is the dual exhaust system. Likewise, the two taillights — one on either side of the foldable trunk rack — denote a high-dollar car.

Not too many 1931 V-16 Cadillac convertibles with dual side mounts and a rumble seat are seen on the roads today, but there’s a good chance of seeing this one at the 15th annual “Out of the Past Revue” Sunday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. at the Spring Hill Recreation Center in McLean.

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