What a great classic! This beautiful fastback 1938 Cadillac was custom-crafted for William S. Knudsen, then-president of General Motors Corporation, at an undisclosed cost. Since most V-16 Cadillacs were then priced in the $6,000-plus range, this one-of-a-kind, widened and lengthened limousine (with an electrically controlled glass dividing window between chauffeur and passengers) probably cost more than $10,000!
Mr. Knudsen relinquished the use of this car for a time, so it could be displayed at the 1939 New York World's Fair.
Cadillac, in addition to its V-8s, also offered V-12s from 1931 to 1937 and V-16s from 1930 to 1940. Until 1937, the V-16s had overhead valves, but the '38 to '40 models switched to side valves (L-head), the very opposite of what most manufacturers eventually would do. The L-head engine was produced by virtually no one after the 1960s. Overhead-valve and overhead-cam engines have been the thing since then. By the way, the reworked Cadillac V-16 engine of the 1938 model was spread out at a much wider V angle than before. True to its form, the L-head engine was much quieter than the new OHV version.
Mr. Knudsen lived from 1879 to 1948, and his car has passed through several hands since then. Completely restored, it was shown at the 1993 Concours d' Elegance at Pebble Beach, Calif., then put up for auction at Pebble Beach in 2005, where it was expected to fetch $250,000-$300,000. Not a bad estimate, as it sold for $297,000 to an American car collector, according to the auctioneers (whom I telephoned).