In 1938, two custom-built Cadillacs were delivered to the White House garage. Dubbed the "Queen Mary" and the "Queen Elizabeth" for their size, they were Series 90 V16 convertible sedans, built on an extended 165-inch wheelbase.
Cadillac's second-generation V16 had just been introduced. While the first generation sixteen and its V12 stable mate had been 45-degree overhead valve designs, the new engine was a 135-degree L-head, developing 135 hp from 431 cubic inches. Each bank had its own distributor, carburetor and manifolds. The engine was six inches shorter, 13 inches lower and 250 pounds lighter than its overhead valve predecessor and had significantly fewer parts. Nevertheless, it developed the same power despite its smaller displacement. Introduction came at the October 1937 New York Automobile Show.
Sharing chassis and bodies with the V8-engined Series 75, the Series 90 Sixteen was offered in 14 body styles, all by Fleetwood, which was Cadillac's in-house coachbuilding company since 1929. This sharing was enabled by the compact dimensions of the engine, which could be tucked under the firewall, permitting a shorter car without loss of interior space. Its styling was the work of William J. Mitchell, the young designer who had penned the dramatic Sixty Special. The V16 was given a massive frontal appearance highlighted by a vertical die cast egg-crate grille, thrust forward almost to the bumper. The hood side panels, in a tribute to the 1933 V16, had simple horizontal louvers which were repeated, in inverse order, on each of the four fenders. Sidemount spares were optional, but most cars had them concealed under smooth metal covers. A new "goddess" hood ornament served double duty as the latch for the new "alligator" front-opening hood.
Cataloged body styles, all by Fleetwood, ran the gamut from two-passenger sport coupes and convertibles to five-passenger convertible sedans and from five-passenger sedans to the seven-passenger formal models. Prices ranged from $5,135 to $7,170. Most popular was the Style 9033 Imperial Sedan, a seven-passenger, six-window car with division partition. A variation on the Imperial Sedan was the Formal Sedan, Style 9033F, with blind rear quarters and a padded leather roof. A few V16 chassis were released to outside coachbuilders. Production, however, was minuscule: 315 cars in 1938, 138 in 1939 and just 61 in 1940, the final season.
The Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth carried armor-plating, but not bulletproof glass, and were fully equipped for Secret Service personnel, with special running boards, grab handles and communication equipment, hidden compartments and warning lights and sirens. They remained in White House service until 1956, by which time they had served presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower. President Harry Truman had taken delivery of two new Lincoln Cosmopolitan "bubble top" limousines in 1950, but the Queens remained in the official fleet. Unfortunately both cars were re-powered with new engines in 1953. The car in this gallery still has this engine, a 331 cubic inch overhead valve Cadillac unit, but still wears its V16 emblems. The car has a number of remnants of its presidential service: two ROTC training rifles, two telephones and holsters built into the front kick panels.
Source: RM Auctions.
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