Which Cadillac Was The Largest In History?

Greg Zyla
Q: Greg, I am a big fan of Cadillacs and would like to know which ones were the biggest in wheelbase and engine size. I know Cadillac one time had a V-16 and also were the first with an engine cylinder deactivation engine. I enjoy your columns on cars and nostalgia. Bob L., retired and living now in Oregon.

A: Bob, thanks for your letter and I‘m happy to oblige and go over Cadillac's history as it is rich in different engines, mechanical ideas, and truly "big" vehicles.  

As for engines, I’d like to start with your note about Cadillac and its cylinder deactivation V8-6-4 engine, which Cadillac produced from 1982 through 1984. These engines were 368-inch V8 designs that were the first mass produced U.S. manufacturer to use deactivation of cylinders for better fuel mileage. Cadillac tried to refine this new engine treatment that found the cylinders being deactivated from 8 to 6 and then to 4 cylinder operation upon reaching highway speeds.

It was not to be.

Although they failed to perfect this engine back then, I give Cadillac all the praise as the Godfather of today’s modern engines that use the cylinder deactivation perfectly and seamlessly to achieve excellent fuel mileage, especially in high performance applications. So, with today's modern marvel engines putting out 450 horsepower and allowing for 20-plus MPG highway, I give Cadillac all the credit as the forerunner of this technology. And, although Cadillac struggled and the V8-6-4 engines which were prone to problems and removed from production, they sure did have the right idea 36 years ago.

As for Cadillac engines, the largest Cadillac engine ever was a 500-cubic inch V8 that debuted in 1970 in the Eldorado. The other Cadillacs utilized 472-inch V8s available in the DeVille models and Fleetwoods from 1968 through 1974. Then in 1975 and 1976, the Cadillac DeVilles and Fleetwoods came with the 500-inch V8s as standard equipment. I was a proud owner of two Cadillacs in my lifetime, a 1972 Sedan DeVille with the 472-V8 and a 1975 Coupe DeVille with the 500-inch V8. My ’75 Cadillac, finished in burnt orange, was eventually stolen although I did receive the car back that same day as the police were sure in control of the situation from the get go.

To this day, Cadillac is truly an innovative company and still autonomous from other GM brands, sans the Corvette and they share ultra high performance drive trains as found in the Corvette and Cadillac CTS-V models. Cadillac and Corvette are both noted manufacturers that compete in GT and Prototype classes of road and endurance racing successfully.

As for engines other than the V8, in 1930 Cadillac offered a 353-inch V8, a 368-inch V12, and a 452-inch V16. In 1936, two new V8s joined the V12 and V16, in 322 and 346-inch designs. Then in 1937, only one V8, the 346, was available as were the larger V12 and V16. In 1938, Cadillac dropped the V12 and reduced the V16 to 431-inches. The V16 lasted through 1940, and was then replaced by V8 engines from there on. Important to note that these V8, V12 and V16 engines were NOT overhead valve designs (OHV), as Cadillac did not introduce the OHV until 1949 with a 331 inch design along with Oldsmobile and its 303 inch version, both noted as mechanical masterpiece designs for the time.

As for wheelbase, those 1975 and 1976 500-inch V8 models carried the same 130-inch wheelbase that first appeared back in 1959. However, the longest wheelbase standard Cadillac, (not limo or stretched Fleetwoods) was the 1930 Cadillac, which was built on a 140-inch wheelbase that to this day, remains the longest standard size Cadillac ever built.

Notable is that Cadillac didn’t always go after the upper-class consumer, as in 1941, Cadillac promoted a Series 61 “five passenger economy” two door fastback model for $1,345 (see attachment). At that time the Series 61 was the lowest priced Cadillac, but we have to remember that in 1941 that $1,345 was still some decent money. However, it is one of the few times the words “Cadillac,” “economy,” “middle-class” and “lower-priced” appeared in an advertisement for the prestigious motorcar. Following the war, I can’t remember a Cadillac ad that used these four words ever again in an advertisement for its full-sized luxury vehicles.

Hope this all helps, Bob, and thanks again for the nice comments.
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