Monterey | Lot 220
1931 Cadillac V-16 Roadster by Fleetwood
$1,457,500 USD | Sold
| Monterey, California
20 August 2016
- One of the world’s finest Cadillac V-16s
- Formerly of the renowned Briggs Cunningham collection
- Multiple concours award-winning restoration by RM Auto Restoration
- Exceptional authenticity and presentation to original specifications
- A wonderful automobile, beloved by great enthusiasts since the 1950s
Model 452. Body Style 4302. 175 bhp, 452 cu. in. OHV V-16 engine, three-speed selective synchromesh manual transmission, solid front axle with semi-elliptical leaf spring suspension and hydraulic dampers, three-quarter floating rear axle with semi-elliptical leaf spring suspension, and four-wheel vacuum-assisted mechanical drum brakes. Wheelbase: 148 in.
On 2 January 1930, Floyd E. Becker sat down at his desk at Dairy Farm in Roseland, New Jersey, and placed his order for a new Cadillac to the Uppercu Cadillac Company of Newark. The order he wrote out survives, spelling out a request for a V-16 roadster with map pockets in the doors, a top made to the same shape as on the Beckers’ previous Cadillac, no trunk rack, dual rear-mounted spares, wooden artillery wheels all around, and special Cannon Smoke paint color, interior trim, and monograms, not to mention the spare parts for the carriage house. All told, the total price came to $5,750, or about $80,000 US today—roughly the cost of 12 new Fords at the time.
Henry Becker accompanied his father on the trip to pick up their new car in May 1930. The Beckers retained the Cadillac until 1948, when, in the fashion of the time, it was sold upon its retirement to a longtime employee, Harry Travis of Livingston, New York, for $400. Thereafter it was acquired by S. Prestley Blake, co-founder of Friendly’s and a member of the American car hobby since its earliest days. Mr. Blake eventually traded the car in 1959 to Briggs S. Cunningham as part of a transaction on a 1914 Rolls-Royce, an automobile more in line with Mr. Blake’s collecting interests.
Briggs Cunningham was, inarguably, one of the most famous American sportsmen of his time, renowned to every men’s magazine reader for his pursuits in yachting and motorsport. His collection of automobiles was large and varied, with a focus on great performance automobiles from throughout history. It was no surprise that he should seek and find a Cadillac V-16 roadster, nor, with his typical well-connected tenacity, that he procured the best, most pure one that he could find.
The roadster remained in the Cunningham Museum at Costa Mesa, California, until the museum closed at the end of 1986. It passed with the remainder of the Cunningham cars to world-renowned collector Miles Collier. Seven years later, Mr. Collier elected to sell the V-16, which became one of the very few automobiles to leave what is today the REVS Institute for Automotive Research’s enviable collection. Its new owner maintained it for a further eight years before it was acquired, through RM Classic Cars, by the present owner.
A longtime and valued RM client, the owner had sought an exceptional example of the Cadillac V-16 and found exactly what he was looking for in this car. It was subsequently fully restored by RM Auto Restoration to exactly its original condition, as described by the documentation that had been fortunate enough to follow the car through the years, including the original order and invoice, documents from the Becker Family, and a copy of the original build record, all of which remain with it. These allowed the car to be finished, as it was delivered to Dairy Farm in the spring of 1930.
Most incredibly, the car’s wonderful original condition prior to restoration – essentially untouched aside from a 1950s repaint – meant that every piece of hardware was able to be re-used on every original body panel; with the exception only of two small pieces in the rumble seat area, every scrap of body wood is original and in fine condition. The engine has its original pistons and has never been sleeved; every nut and bolt and fastener on the chassis is original, with factory markings.
The restored V-16 was shown at the Pebble Beach Concours in 2001 (3rd in Class) and 2012 (2nd in Class), the Amelia Island Concours in 2006 (1st in Class), and widely in CCCA National judging, reaching Senior status with a 98.5-point score in 2010. It has been withdrawn from judging in the last four years, thus opening up a world of new concours d’elegance exhibition possibilities for the new owner, but has been faultlessly maintained and is still an exceptional example in every important regard. In fact, in selling the John Moir Collection’s own exceptional V-16 roadster in 2013, RM Sotheby’s had the ability to contact several knowledgeable V-16 enthusiasts, all of whom were in consensus that the Moir car was the best in the world—with the exception of that which is offered here.
It is often said that a collector car “ticks all the boxes,” but the ex-Cunningham V-16 roadster needs no such hyperbole. It speaks loudly and proudly for itself, in its documentation, its history, its unblemished authenticity, and its sparkling concours presentation. It is exquisite beyond measure.