In the Rearview Mirror: Standard of the world

May 31, 2013

Hagerty Drivers Club Magazine
A Word from McKeel

THE COOL THING ABOUT OWNING A 1931 Cadillac 452A V-16 all-weather phaeton is that everybody loves it. Kids think it’s a car from a Disney movie. Their eyes positively glow looking at it. Casual car fans think it’s something straight out of The Great Gatsby. As they study it, you can see them picturing themselves behind the wheel, wearing Leonardo DiCaprio’s version of a Gatsby grin and a straw boater. Then there are the serious car buffs—my people. For them, the fascination is always and for- ever the V-16 engine: Can I see it? Can you fire it up? What’s it like?

Truth be told, I enjoy the attention that goes with owning a slice of automotive history. People are drawn to this car, which means I get to talk a lot about it, something every classic car owner loves doing. Here’s what I’m usually asked:

Where did you find it?
Honestly, I was looking for something else. A collector I know had a couple of Packards that I really liked. We looked at those, and then he took me over into the corner and showed me the Cadillac. It blew me away. This car has serious presence. It’s the automotive equivalent of owning an Indian elephant.

Is that why you ended up buying it?
In part. The night I bought it, I parked it facing the house and went outside with a glass of wine and sat there and stared at the front end for a while. I remember thinking, “Wow, I get to own one of these.” The other big reason I bought it is because it’s a Full Classic. (Full Classics are defined by the Classic Car Club of America as “fine” or “distinctive” cars built between 1915 and 1948.) You only get so many chances to buy a Full Classic, so I couldn’t resist.

Is it your dream car, then?
Not at all. I’m a sports car guy and al- ways have been. But this car fascinated me. I wanted to experience it. There’s quite an involved process, not so much in driving it, but in operating it.

How so?
Well, like many cars from earlier eras, you have to take a bit more of a considered approach to operating a Cadillac V-16. You have to think more like a pilot. Is the battery turned on? Is the fuel system turned on? Do I have the spark advance in the right position? I like the fact that it slows you down, makes you think, and puts you in the moment.

What about that V-16 engine?
It’s simply spectacular. It’s beautiful. And it’s nearly silent. As our Don Sherman points out in his incredible deep dive into the V-16 beginning on page 110, Cadillac insisted it make no sound louder than the click of the ignition points.

How long are you going to keep it?
Forever, probably. Our company’s mission is to save driving for future generations. Part of that mission is preserving what I call the “muscle memory” of how to operate a car like this. I see a lot of value in keeping these cars running and on the road. I view myself as a caretaker, in a sense, because that’s what you do with a piece of history.

If you’re lucky enough to own a slice of automotive history—whether it’s a Camaro, a Bronco, or something older like a Full Classic—I hope you’ll do the same. We’re all custodians of history, after all.  Onward and upward.

McKeel flashed his best Gatsby grin behind the wheel of his Cadillac V-16 at the Amelia Island Concours in Florida in March.

130 Photo by Kayla Keenan