1930 Cadillac 452 Fleetwood Convertible CoupeThe cylinder wars

Talk about bad timing. Just as the Great Depression was commencing, Cadillac trotted out a shinny new toy for 1930.

It’s large, elegant and packs a wallop. Have you figured out what the 452 stands for?

Displacement.



Pistons = 42
It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, modern engines are vastly different than those from the 1930s; even from 10 years ago. Probably one of the most obvious ways in which they’ve changed is in size.

Today, it seems the big motor option for most new cars is a V-6. If your new vehicle has a V-8, there’s a good chance it’s truck-based or not a typical family hauler.

A V-10? I’m only aware of a handful of performance vehicles offering as many cylinders in today’s hybrid-happy world. And a V-12? Maybe two or three Italian brands are still offering a dozen cylinders under the hood (or rear deck lid).

1930 Cadillac 452-CID V-16 engine

How about sixteen cylinders? I’m not aware of anyone that offers one now but it was a production option at one time. Does it sound excessive? Of course, but that’s part of what made it desirable to those that could afford it, and even those that couldn’t.

So what prompted Cadillac’s sixteen gun salute?

1930 Cadillac 452 Fleetwood Convertible Coupe frontApproaching 1930, Cadillac didn’t have any German or Asian brands encroaching on its territory. At that time its threats were domestic and included the likes of Pierce-Arrow, Packard, Lincoln and Peerless. All were reportedly working on V-12s, Peerless a V-16.

Not to be outdone, the Standard of the World decided on two new motors to fend off the competition: a V-8 and range-topping V-16. To realize their dream, the project was turned over to Cadillac’s newly-hired Owen Nacker, a man with an extreme passion for engines. He set to work immediately and had the 452 cubic-inch displacement (CID) behemoth ready for production by the end of 1929.

For 1930, that gave Cadillac’s customers a choice of three cylinder-count options (8, 12 and 16), depending on their chariot.

1930 Cadillac 452 Fleetwood Convertible Coupe passenger sideFrom the bottom up was the 353 CID V-8 which produced 95 BHP. Next, the 368 CID V-12 offered 135 BHP. And the new, 16-cylinder crown jewel displaced 452.6 cubic inches (to be precise) which was good for between 165 and 175 BHP, depending on the source.

One publication sums up the motor’s design in the following way, “In basic construction, the engine was two straight eights mounted on a common crankcase, with individually-cast iron blocks mounted at an included angle of 45 degrees.” (I’m not really sure what is meant by an “included” angle.)

Continued on page 2, below.

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