1938 Cadillac Sixteen Town Car by Fleetwood

Sold For €134.400

Villa d'Este

Chassis No.
Engine No.
Series 38-90. 185 bhp, 7,063 cc (431 cu. in.) L-head V-16 engine, three-speed manual gearbox, coil spring independent front suspension, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, four-wheel hydraulic brakes. Wheelbase: 3,619 mm (141.25")

- Offered from the Estate of John O’Quinn

- Very rare Fleetwood Town Car; one of only ten built

- Delivered new to Countess Rosaria de Larecchea de Schiffner in Paris

- Stored for many years at the Vatican

- Ex-Nicola Bulgari Collection

For years, automotive writers have struggled to find suitable superlatives with which to describe Cadillac’s majestic 16-cylinder motor cars – and for good reason. At a time when the competition offered eight cylinders, and a few were considering 12, Cadillac offered its 16-cylinder masterpiece.

The Cadillac Motor Car Company surprised the industry by introducing an all-new V-16 at the New York Auto Show in October 1937. Unlike its overhead-valve predecessor, the 16-cylinder motor of this new Series 90 model was of a monobloc L-head design, cast in a 135-degree vee. As before, the car sat at the very top of the model list with limited production and was intended for heads of state and very prominent personalities. Twelve body styles were catalogued, a full range including coupés, convertible coupés and sedans, and a full complement of five- and seven-passenger sedans and limousines.

Chassis no. 5270310 – Extraordinary Provenance

This new Series 90 had its best year in 1938, with 311 built. Most popular was the seven-passenger Imperial Sedan, with 95 sold and a further 17 built as Formal Sedans with division partition. This car, however, the Style 9053 Town Car with open chauffeur compartment, was built as a run of only ten cars, with an additional car built with a fastback contour.

Chassis 5270310 was ordered from the main Cadillac agency in Paris by Countess Rosaria de Larecchea de Schiffner, who was the Italian widow of German millionaire Baron Friedrich von Schiffner, a flying ace in World War I and evidently a close friend of the Red Baron.

Her imposing town car was completed in Antoinette Blue, a deep navy hue, and shipped to General Motors Near East S.A. in Alexandria, Egypt, in order to avoid delays at the European branch in Antwerp. From Alexandria it was shipped aboard the S.S. Excalibur to Naples. It was delivered to the widowed Countess in Paris, where she kept an apartment in the Hotel Ritz. She used it regularly to visit her daughters in Rome.

Upon the Countess’s passing in 1948, her daughters gifted the car to Francis Cardinal Spellman, a family friend, who visited them frequently on his trips to the Vatican. Two years earlier he had been elevated to position of Cardinal by His Holiness Pope Pius XII after previously serving as Archbishop of New York. A man of tremendous national and political influence, he became a close confidante of President Franklin Roosevelt, and ultimately, his 28-year tenure as New York’s Archbishop was and remains the longest one in history. His influence on the American political arena was evident throughout his life as he played a defining role in everything from McCarthyism to Lyndon Johnson’s Presidency and the Vietnam War.

Cardinal Spellman left the car at the Vatican in Rome, where it would have been parked next to the 1940 Cadillac Series 75 Fleetwood “throne car” custom-built for Pope Pius XII. History does not record whether Pope Pius XII ever rode in the car, but the car did remain in the Vatican Collection for quite a long time.

In 1966, to make room for a more modern fleet, some of the older Vatican cars were sold, including the Countess’s Town Car. As confirmed by a signed document in the file, it was purchased by Nicola Bulgari, well-known collector and Vice Chairman of the family jewellery firm. In the mid-1970s, Bulgari sold the car to a French businessman, Noel Lambert, owner of a trucking company near Lyons. M. Lambert had built up a modest collection of Classic Era motor cars and opened a small private museum.

By the late 1980s, M. Lambert had closed his museum as he began to downsize his collection, and the car was eventually acquired by a Mr. Amman from Arrau, Switzerland. It returned to France briefly in the 1990s and was subsequently sold to Richard Beguhn in the United States. Noted car collector John O’Quinn finally acquired the car in 2006.

A highly original example, this Cadillac has been nicely preserved. The paint presents well, and there are no major flaws in the brightwork. The roof covering over the passenger compartment may also be original. The rear compartment is upholstered in brown cloth and shows no significant wear. There is a matching brown carpet on the floor, and jump seats fold up from the floor for the sixth and seventh passenger. The chauffeur sits on black leather, and the dashboard is clearly original with an odometer showing nearly 63,000 kilometres, just 12,000 of them reportedly covered in the last 45 years. The car has been in climate-controlled storage since its acquisition by the O’Quinn Collection.

America’s most powerful automobile engine in 1938, the Cadillac V-16 is also one of the most docile, being whisper-quiet at idle and having the smooth torque to propel the 2,430-kg car from 15 kilometres (ten miles) per hour to maximum speed in top gear. This car’s new owner should be able to motor silently and with considerable style. With its fascinating provenance that includes a European countess, Cardinal Spellman and the Vatican itself, the offering of such a unique Cadillac Sixteen is unlikely to be repeated.

As part of a large private collection, this car has seen limited exercise. RM strongly advises the successful bidder carry out a thorough service before driving the car on the open road.


Please note that this car is eligible for import into the UK at 5% VAT.

Lot Number

Suggested lots in Villa d'Este 2011


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