Do you remember... 2003 Cadillac Sixteen Concept

18th April 2018
Ethan Jupp

Most segments in the motoring industry come with a good amount of variety. Supercars are ten a penny with everything from Ford’s to Ferraris. Even in the hypercar upper echelons of the genre there are getting on for ten cars to choose from released within the past five years or so.


What genre of car could possibly offer less to choose from than that of the most exotic and expensive? The ultra-luxury saloon, of course. By and large your choices are two-fold and they both hail from ol’ Blighty. You’re either a Bentley person or a Rolls-Royce person. Well, we’re here to tell you that there was once nearly a third competitor from America, of all places…

This is the Cadillac Sixteen concept. It’s been 15 years since this three-gallon tank of top-drawer 16-cylinder USA-flavoured decadence debuted so we thought we’d revisit what could have been a very big, fat, chrome-plated fly in Rolls-Royce’s ointment. 

Though it was rather garish in its day (and the Phantom wasn’t!?) we happen to really love the way the Sixteen looks. The massive proportions wear the now typical Cadillac edges confidently and with class and the interior by the standards of many modern production cars, seems minimalist and airy. The enormous bonnet is split down the middle and opens sideways for ease of access – open it and you’re met with that monstrous 16-cylinder power plant complete with the intestinal yet artistic medley of manifolds. 

The weirdest thing about this gargantuan prototype is that it works. Most concepts of this type with their ridiculous styling, untenable size and pie-in-the-sky party pieces exist purely to reflect the flutter of camera flashes at motor shows. Most are whisked off either to the crusher or a warehouse to gather dust. The Sixteen, for all its excess and absurdity, was as much an engineering exercise as it was a show floor jaw-dropper.


That 13.6-litre (see three-gallon reference earlier) V16 provided an early preview of the cylinder shutoff technology that now allows Corvettes to do 30mpg on the highway. Twelve of those 16 cylinders can be shut down if the car thinks they’re not needed affording this 1,000bhp yacht 20mpg cruising capability. 

Most concepts that run, do only that. Fire them up and hope the lights come on. Not this. It was a fully drivable car with working steering and brakes. It was even driven for a few laps here at Goodwood with the presenter of a little-known BBC motoring show at the wheel. 

Realistically, its chances of production were slim. Cadillac was in a reasonable amount of trouble at the time and this along with a couple of other concepts were signs of life for the future. As we know now the CTS and subsequent models went on to adopt the distinctive styling language that the Sixteen helped introduce. There was talk of a ULS (Ultra Luxury Sedan) – a V12 flagship in the Sixteen’s image – but that was never to be. Should this have been the car to reaffirm Cadillac’s place as a luxury marque? They still like to tiptoe around the idea of a luxury halo model with the recent Ciel and Elmiraj concepts but seem uneasy about committing.

For us, the Sixteen is everything a Cadillac should be – an amalgam of decadence and class with a glossing of American tastelessness. It’s the perfect modern vision of old-school Cadillac luxury. If only more of the spirit of this prototype had found life in subsequent production models.

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  • Do you remember...

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