18th Oct 2023
Wednesday One-Off: Cadillac Sixteen
by Collecting Cars
Concept cars are often guilty of being mere artist renditions of what a production variant could be, featuring striking designs and oversized wheels, but often lacking interior details or even drivetrains.
Our Wednesday One-Off is not a member of such a deceptive crowd. Unveiled at the 2003 Detroit Auto Show, the Cadillac Sixteen received a fantastic reception; just what executives of the then financially challenged GM had hoped for.
While attendees were attracted by the Sixteen’s low-slung, angular 5.5-metre-long silhouette sitting on 24-inch wheels, they became fascinated by what laid beneath the protracted bonnet. Far from concept cars that were effectively eye-catching rolling chassis, the Sixteen was fitted with a Katech-built 32-valve 13.6-litre (829ci) V16, said to produce at least 1,000bhp and 1,000lb-ft of torque.
The V16 could reportedly achieve around 16mpg; a woeful figure today, but not far from what the Bentley Arnage or Rolls-Royce Phantom of the era could manage. It did however feature the fuel-saving ‘Displacement on Demand’ technology, which could shut down half of the cylinders, therefore only using all 16 when called for.
The phenomenal power was delivered to the rear wheels through an electrically controlled four-speed automatic gearbox, so while its ability to translate 1,000bhp to the road remained questionable, it did drive, and featured in a 2003 episode of Top Gear, piloted by a cigar-equipped James May.
Four adults could sit comfortably in the spacious cabin, and the opulence of the exterior was continued with lavish helpings of leather, dark wood, aluminium trim, and a Bulgari clock. The steering wheel also featured a large, Cadillac logo-etched crystal.
During an era when Cadillac's pre-war attained reputation for luxury was fading across global markets, the Sixteen aimed to rejuvenate the brand's associations with affluence and aspiration. While the car never found its way into production, notes of its angular design concept could be seen in the subsequent XLR and CTS models, the latter of which was considered a sales success for the marque.
The design philosophy was also evident in the more curvaceous Elmiraj concept revealed 10 years later at the 2013 LA Auto Show, though sadly the V16 had been replaced with a 4.5-litre twin turbocharged V8.
Sparingly seen since its 2003 unveiling and limited press outings, it is assumed that the Sixteen resides in manufacturer storage, not unlike previous Wednesday One-Offs including the Bentley Hunaudières and Toyota EX-7. While the concept was perhaps always destined for this fate, it is tempting to imagine just what a pioneering halo car it could have become for the marque.