1936 Cadillac V-16 Convertible Sedan by Fleetwood

Sold For $715,000

Inclusive of applicable buyer's fee.

RM | Auctions - HERSHEY 2017

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  • One of the very finest late first-generation Cadillac V-16s in existence
  • Only two private owners since 1949
  • Exhibited for six decades at Chicago’s Museum of Science & Industry
  • Sympathetically restored from an outstanding original example
  • Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance class award-winner
In the vast, cool Art Moderne halls of Chicago’s Museum of Science & Industry, crowds of millions of buzzing people have paused to reflect upon mankind’s greatest achievements. The objects displayed within include everything from the first Boeing 757 to the legendary streamliner train Pioneer Zephyr and the German submarine U-505. It is among this rarefied crowd that, from 1949 until 2008, a 20-foot-long Cadillac rested, quietly demonstrating the superiority of great American engineering from behind velvet ropes.

The 1936 Series 90 convertible sedan had been one of only six built that year, the second-to-last season for Cadillac’s original V-16. Its original build sheet, a copy of which is on file, notes that it was shipped to New York City, and eventually directed to Brooklyn for its original owner. Interesting for a late V-16, the owner’s name is not “tagged” on the sheet, indicating that the car was perhaps built for showroom display. If it was meant to stand and draw attention – foreshadowing its decades to come in Chicago – it had certainly been trimmed for the purpose. The body was finished in the wonderfully named Phantom Metallic, with Vincennes Red wire wheels with full discs, dual side-mounts with painted covers, a Master radio, and a gold Goddess mascot.

By the 1940s the car had been acquired by John B. Hawley Jr., of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was modified during this era with streamlined, curved running boards; front fenders reworked with built-in headlamps; and deletion of the dual side-mounted spares (one of which was moved inside the trunk). Despite this custom work, the car’s interior remained original, as did the balance of its body. Mr. Hawley enjoyed the Cadillac until 1949, at which point, with only 17,000 miles recorded, he was compelled to gift it to the Museum of Science & Industry, then holders of perhaps the best-known antique automobile collection in the country.

Over the next 59 years, even as the Museum’s interest in automotive history waned and its collection was gradually sold off, the V-16 stayed, perhaps because of its impressive, imposing grandeur, which made it a visitor favorite. It resided on display for much of that time, and can safely be said to have been seen by more people in the modern era than any other automobile of its type. Indeed, the writer remembers viewing the car as a 17-year-old visiting Chicago in 2006.

Finally, in 2008, the famed Cadillac was deaccessioned by the Museum and acquired by its current owner, a longtime enthusiast and collector who was impressed by how original the car still remained. Inspecting the car upon its delivery to the famed Stone Barn Automobile Restorations of Vienna, New Jersey, it was found that the body had never been removed from the chassis, which showed the excellent preservation and condition of only 17,000 miles of use. Many of the original trim pieces, including the “sun dial” wheel covers, remained intact, aside from two door handles, the Goddess, and the bumpers, correct replacements for which were sourced. The engine was opened up, serviced, cleaned, and reassembled, with the rare proper carburetors, vacuum tanks, distributor, spark plug cover, and valve covers – all of which are the originals to this very car.

The only major restoration work required was to return the fenders to their original configuration and refinish the clean, rust-free body in that stunning original Phantom Metallic, with a proper interior in the correct leather. Original paint remains on the firewall, which carries original factory chalk marks, and the chassis beneath is still clean and original; the body has still yet to be taken from the frame, and yet the doors close beautifully and solidly.

Since completion of its restoration work, the Cadillac has been exhibited only selectively, to preserve its desirability for future owners, including a class award-winning appearance at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2015.

The significance of this V-16 among its brethren cannot be overstated. It has spent nearly 80 years with just two caretakers – one a well-known collector, and the other a renowned museum in whose care it became perhaps the best-known example of its type, the background for so many wistful photographs and fond memories. One imagines that wherever it goes from here, it should, if only occasionally, go back to Chicago . . . just so three or four generations can once remember a part of America’s past that once touched their own.

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