Long before the advent of the muscle car, supercar and hypercar, certain automobiles distinguished themselves not just by their enormous cost and complexity, but by their coachbuilt bodies. Such automobiles, especially those from the Roaring Twenties and early 1930s—right as the Great Depression took hold—are among the most enduring icons in automotive history. Parked aside their contemporary descendants, they tower over even the most substantial luxury nameplates. And their presence was no less easily ignored in the day when boxy Ford Model As were the most common sights on American roads.
On October 5 and 6, RM Sotheby’s brings its 16th annual Hershey sale to the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) Eastern Division fall meet in Hershey, Pa. Of the many prewar standouts up for auction is a 1930 Cadillac V-16 Sport Phaeton with body by Fleetwood, the Pennsylvania coachbuilder acquired by Fisher Body in 1925. The Fleetwood name has since been associated with the most exclusive Cadillac models for decades.
Few cars from the Classic Era (1925 through 1948) have the panache and swagger of this Cadillac V-16 Sport Phaeton. An open touring car, a phaeton conveyed the essence of speed and performance, and was built for real sporting types. Unlike dual-cowl phaetons with a separate windscreen for rear passengers, Fleetwood’s body style 4260 eschewed the second screen to preserve a sleek, streamlined appearance.
Although Cadillac built 85 Sport Phaetons on its V-16 chassis between 1930 and 1931, historians acknowledge that a mere 17 authentic survivors remain today, one of which is kept in the General Motors Heritage Collection. “The Sixteen,” as the Cadillac model with a V-16 drivetrain became known as known as, was equipped with the first V-16 engine built in the United States. The model was the marque’s premium offering, with a total of 4,076 examples of all styles built from 1930 through 1940, though the Depression slowed production to a trickle soon after the launch.
Alongside the V-16 was a “mere” V-12 built from the same year until 1937, of which 10,903 were made. The Sixteen carried a big engine, displacing 7.4 liters and making about 165 hp with 270 ft lbs of torque. On lighter models—a relative term, considering some Sixteens weighed upward of three tons—top speed could eclipse 100 mph.
The original owner of this car was Perry Williams Harvey, a multimillionaire from Cleveland, Ohio, who enjoyed his prize only briefly, as he expired in 1932. Its next two known owners were from California, the latter being Joseph Runyan from Pasadena who acquired the Caddy in 1952. Runyan paid $25 for the car, which was basically left abandoned on the seller’s property, and then commenced to “restore” his discovery for $2,500—a substantial sum to pay on what was, at the time, just an old used car. Its proud owner continued to lavish attention on his Cadillac, which by the 1960s—along with other important prewar marques like Duesenberg—had ascended to the status of collector car.
A fresh restoration was begun in 1990 and completed in 1995. The car then entered the important collection of Otis Chandler, and after additional work, was shown later in the decade. After Chandler’s death in 2006, it passed to automotive publisher Keith Crain, selling in 2020 and since receiving additional attention prior to being shown at the 2021 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.
The Cadillac Sixteen—and certainly this Sport Phaeton by Fleetwood—is regarded as one of the most significant prewar automobiles, rated by the Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) as a Full Classic, and could fetch upward of $1 million.
Click here to see more photos of the 1930 Cadillac V-16 Sport Phaeton.