Driving Cadillac's Sixteen Concept

April 15, 2003

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It creaks and groans…and roars.

Since its introduction at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show, last January, Cadillac’s sweet Sixteen ultra-luxury concept sedan has been the star of the auto show circuit. But the incredible ultra-luxury sedan is more than just a static display, as TCC discovered when an invitation recently arrived, offering us the chance to take the massive machine for a short spin through New York.

As you might expect, we jumped at the opportunity, fighting Monday morning traffic into the city in order to reach our designated rendezvous. Lavish and sprawling Wave Hill is one of those enormous old estates that once dotted the Hudson River shoreline, serving for a while as a home for not-so-rough-riding Teddy Roosevelt.

2003 Cadillac Sixteen concept

2003 Cadillac Sixteen concept

Enlarge Photo
Set in the southern tip of the Bronx, you’d have a hard time imagining you were in the city. And considering the blinding sunlight, it was equally difficult to imagine that it had snowed barely a week before. But there was no denying that the 20-foot sedan sitting in front of the ex-President’s old home was the same car we’d first set eyes on at the Detroit Opera House last Winter.

There are plenty of concept vehicles that look great on a stand but lose much of their luster when they’re actually taken off their pedestals and put on the road. Not Sixteen. If anything, the car seems even more well-balanced, and distinguished. It seemed absolutely at home in front of the sprawling colonial manse.

After spending a bit of time on photography, we grabbed the digital key fob and jumped behind the wheel, accompanied by Brian Smith, the 30-year-old designer who was given the plum assignment of penning the ultimate Cadillac.

“You don’t get many opportunities like this in your career,” he conceded, with a mix of pride and resignation. Turning 31 in a few weeks, he can only hope a project anywhere near as grand will ever come along again.

2003 Cadillac Sixteen concept

2003 Cadillac Sixteen concept

Enlarge Photo
The idea for a quarter-million dollar Cadillac has been kicking around for some time, and only became more urgent as Caddy’s European rivals announced plans of their own for the ultra-luxury market. The project got the green light in October 2001, and was quickly adopted by General Motors’ then-new “car czar,” Bob Lutz. Indeed, it was the former Chrysler President who decided to go for a V-16, rather than the V-12 powertrain originally under consideration.

That required the Advanced Design team to not only come up with a body, but an entirely new engine, as well. But thanks to recent development in math-based design and engineering, they were able to pull the project into shape in barely 15 months. Actually, they just met their deadline. Some of the final hand assembly tasks were completed mere hours before Sixteen’s formal debut at the Detroit Opera House. And in the three months since, quite a bit more work has been quietly underway to get the big sedan ready to roll.

To bring Sixteen to life, you simply press the “Start” button on the dashboard. You’re immediately rewarded with a whooshing noise, almost like firing up a jet, then a deep rumble pours out from under the hood as all 16 cylinders kick into action.

With an awe-inspiring 13.6 liters of displacement, Sixteen is rated for 1000 horsepower and roughly the same amount of torque. On paper, notes Smith, that should launch the sedan from 0-60 in barely 3.6 seconds.

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