1939 Cadillac Series 90: The Grand Masterpiece of Cadillac

On December 10th, 1929, Cadillac President Lawrence Fisher sent a letter to dealers and the motoring press, announcing the forthcoming arrival of the 1930 Cadillac Series 90. This 16-cylinder Cadillac made its grand debut on January 4th, 1930, at the New York International Automobile Show. The introduction of this magnificent vehicle marked the beginning of the “cylinder wars” and sent shockwaves throughout the automotive world. Its stunning design, combined with its exceptional performance, posed a significant challenge to its competitors, ultimately reshaping the luxury car landscape.

The Birth of a Masterpiece

The Cadillac Series 90 featured coachwork by Fleetwood, whose design office conveniently resided on the second floor of the prestigious Cadillac Salon in New York City. This prime location proved vital, as about a quarter of all V-16 Cadillacs sold in 1930 and 1931 were delivered to the discerning buyers of the “Big Apple.”

Despite being launched during the Stock Market Crash and the Great Depression, the Cadillac Series 90 showcased the pinnacle of automotive engineering and craftsmanship. Its development took place in the late 1920s, when Cadillac had the resources and time to create a truly extraordinary vehicle. This magnificent creation signaled the end for many of its competitors, who struggled to keep up with the elegance and grandeur embodied by the mighty Cadillac.

The Unrelenting Cylinder Wars

While the economic downturn impacted sales, Cadillac continued to push the boundaries with its engine technology. In 1930, they introduced the V-16 model, followed by the V-12 model in 1931. While the V-16 and V-12 models garnered much attention, it was the V-8-powered Cadillacs that sustained the company during the challenging economic times. These models, often referred to as the “bread-and-butter” of Cadillac, sold consistently well, bolstering the company’s finances. Cadillac’s association with General Motors further strengthened its position, benefiting from the vast resources and diversification of the empire.

The Power and Prestige of the V-16 Engine

The heart of the Cadillac Series 90 was its narrow 45-degree V-16 engine. With overhead valves and a 452 cubic-inch displacement, this engine was a pioneering masterpiece. Unlike other manufacturers who used two inline eight-cylinder engines paired together, Cadillac purpose-built the first true sixteen-cylinder engine from scratch. The engine boasted stylish design elements, such as hidden wiring, polished aluminum, porcelain, and valve covers adorned with brushed aluminum ridges featuring the iconic Cadillac emblem. The engine’s key features included a silicon-aluminum crankcase, five main bearings, external manifolds, evenly-spaced firing intervals, whisper-quiet operation, and hydraulic valve-silencers.

Evolving Design and Specifications

The initial Cadillac Series 90 had a wheelbase of 148 inches and a length of 222.5 inches. In 1932, the wheelbase options changed to 143 and 149 inches, accompanied by lengths of 216 and 222 inches. Subsequent iterations, from 1934 to 1937, featured a wheelbase of 154 inches and a length of 240 inches (238 inches for the 1936 and 1937 models).

The 1939 Eight-Cylinder Cadillac

The 1939 Cadillac lineup included the Fleetwood Series 39-60S and 39-75, as well as the Fisher Series 39-61. These models were powered by an eight-cylinder engine, offering a blend of performance and luxury. Among them, the standout model was the Series 90 Fleetwood, which continued the legacy of the Cadillac V-16.

The Fleetwood Series 39-60S Eight had a wheelbase of 127 inches and prices in the low-$2000s. The Fisher Series 39-61 featured a 126-inch platform, with prices ranging from $1,700 to $2,270. The Fleetwood Series 39-75 Eight, with a 141-inch platform, commanded prices from $3,200 to $5,250. The eight-cylinder Cadillacs were equipped with a 346 cubic-inch engine, producing approximately 135 horsepower. These models featured cast iron blocks, hydraulic valve lifters, three main bearings, a Stromberg carburetor, and selective synchromesh manual transmission. They boasted hydraulic brakes on all four wheels, ensuring smooth and safe stopping power.

The Unification of Power: The Series 90

In 1938, Cadillac merged the V16 “Series 90” and V12 “Series 80 and 85” production into a single model. The result was the introduction of a new L-head V-16 engine. This 431 cubic-inch V16 featured a wider 135-degree V-angle, twin carburetors, in-block valve design, twin distributors, twin water pumps, twin fuel pumps, and a nine main bearing crankshaft. With enhanced smoothness, quiet operation, and slightly improved fuel economy, this new engine propelled the Series 90 to become the epitome of performance. The vehicle featured a three-speed selective synchromesh manual transmission, disc wheels, and hydraulic brakes on all four corners.

Unveiling the 1939 Fleetwood Series 39-90 Sixteen

The 1939 Fleetwood Series 39-90 Sixteen took the Cadillac experience to new heights. Priced between $5,240 and $7,300, this model was the embodiment of luxury and elegance. With various body styles to choose from, such as sedans, coupes, and convertibles, the Series 90 offered unparalleled comfort and sophistication. Optional equipment, including spotlights, fog lights, windshield washers, heaters, radios, seat covers, and automatic battery fillers, allowed buyers to customize their vehicles to their exact preferences.

Legacy and Rarity

Production of the Series 90 lasted from 1938 to 1940, with a total of 315 units sold in 1938, followed by 138 units in 1939, and 61 units in 1940. Despite its limited production numbers, the Series 90 became a symbol of prestige for Cadillac. Its true value extended beyond financial profitability, as it cemented Cadillac’s reputation as a manufacturer of luxury vehicles.


The 1939 Cadillac Series 90 stands as a testament to Cadillac’s commitment to excellence and innovation. In a time marked by economic challenges, this grand masterpiece captured the hearts of automotive enthusiasts worldwide. With its timeless design, unmatched performance, and luxurious amenities, the Series 90 remains an icon of automotive history.

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