My Car Quest

July 15, 2024

Marketing: Cars Detroit Should Have Built

The 2003 Cadillac Sixteen Concept.

by Wallace Wyss –

Built for the 2003 Detroit Auto Show, the Cadillac Sixteen was a concept car that payed homage to the V16 cars of Cadillac’s past, even though you could argue that hardly anybody remembered those cars by then.

Unlike a slot of concept cars there are just “pushmobiles” that can hardly drive up onto a stage, but this one was a functioning prototype built by Special Projects Inc. in Michigan with a prototype V16 engine made by by Katech Inc. in Plymouth, MI. The chassis was hand made from welded aluminum and was design uniquely for this car.

2003 Cadillac Sixteen Concept

They lost me on the curve when they said the real fuel gauge was in the trunk. When I said functional, not fully–it had an electronically imposed 40 mph top speed. But still, if you’re unveiling a car on the “dream car lawn” at Pebble Beach it creates an aura of “It could be…” when it drives up to its display spot.

2003 Cadillac Sixteen Concept

There were plenty of drawings leading up to this, going back to the Sixties of long long-hooded cars Wayne Kady drew some in the Sixties that I saw back then over 50 years ago. It took decades to work up their nerve to make a running prototype.

In making this concept in 2003. GM was trying to build a car that would generate words like “exclusivity” and “grandeur.”

It wouldn’t look as imposing if it wasn’t for the 24-inch polished aluminum wheels. Body rigidity would have been challenging in that the four-door hardtop had an all-glass roof and was without B-pillars.

Like prewar luxury cars (even Rolls Royces up to the Silver Shadow) the bonnet boasts dual panels hinged about a center spine that runs the length of the expansive hood. They said the hood panels are power-operated. Actually it lifted the front bonnet panel with the front fender so maybe because of the weight you needed motor assist.

2003 Cadillac Sixteen Concept


Now I envision this car as a chauffeured limousine. Accordingly the right rear seat features power adjustable slope to recline like a chaise lounge. Hand-woven silk carpets the floor in a light cream color that matches the leather upholstery. The dash, door panels, and front and rear consoles are trimmed with walnut burl veneer inlays, just as in many Rolls Royces.

The engine is an achievement in itself—a 32-valve V-16 displacing 13.6 liters mated to a four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission. While it sounds gas greedy by the size alone, it has fuel-saving Displacement on Demand technology, which made its debut in some 2004 and 2005 GM models, basically shutting down half of the cylinders during most driving conditions and automatically and seamlessly reactivating them if you accelerate hard. The engine produces 1000 horsepower and 1000 lbs.-ft. of torque.

The extensive use of aluminum components and structure provide substantial weight advantages over an all steel chassis. Suspension is a high-arm SLA suspension up front with an independent semi-trailing arm suspension in the rear. Four-wheel steering enhances the Cadillac Sixteen’s maneuverability. The front and rear brakes are six-piston calipers with 16-inch rotors.

If they were to finally put this car back on the burner, and think about production, they would have to totally rethink the electronics, which sounded good then but are rudimentary today–a rear-seat DVD information system, a Bose sound system, and the fifth-generation OnStar in-vehicle safety and security communication system.

2003 Cadillac Sixteen Concept

One story said a production version would have been $500,000 each, close to what the last Rolls Royce Phantom Vs sold for in the late ’60s. I think it could be marketed today for $240,000 and still make a profit, with a V8 (but not with a V16 as there would be no other GM model that could use that engine). A V12 option would be possible only if they also offered that in the Corvette.

The transmission is another feature that aged badly. A 4-speed automatic would never make it today. There are $35,000 cars with 9 speed automatics.

One problem with marketing it is demographics. Even at a Cadillac showroom customers come in who could afford, say, a $70,000 car to strive for. By jumping up several tiers to compete with Rolls Royce and Bentley and the very top of the line Mercedes they would have to change their ads and marketing. That alone must have intimidated GM.

2003 Cadillac Sixteen Concept

But I ask, why are we as a nation, automatically being relegated to striving for only the second or third tier of automotive luxury, as if we as a nation aren’t capable of going for the top rung? I already frown when I see a country that doesn’t produce its own cars (most third world countries do someone else’s car under license.) I automatically think “Poor fellers–they can’t get it together to do their own car.” I hate to see the US thought of as a country that just can’t compete with any nation’s product.

Plus domestically, having a car in this price range would vault Cadillac far above any Lincoln. When Lincoln came out with limited edition opera doors (rear hinged) they charged several thousand more. There’s a place for these doors. Lincoln lost their courage by not making these doors standard but Cadillac could show more courage by giving customers everything possible in one halo car, and with that move vault way beyond what Lincoln has the courage to do.

2003 Cadillac Sixteen Concept

Methinks the engine need not be a V16 and, as much as I love a V12 (having owned a four cam V12 Ferrari) I am willing, for the sake of progress and tacit recognition that we are in a moving market, to go all electric just because the Tesla Model S has won so many well-heeled adherents who are perfectly willing to toss 100 years of internal combustion engine development into the ash heap of history. The market in luxury, I must admit, has moved on from internal combustion.

I don’t know who at GM was the champion of this car back in 2003. Maybe Bob Lutz? At present, there’s no champion of bringing back the idea that GM build an ultimate luxury car at over $200,000. There should be. What are we–chopped liver?

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss worked as an advertising copywriter for two GM brands. He is co-host of Autotalk, a show broadcast each week out of KUCR-FM Riverside.


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Marketing: Cars Detroit Should Have Built
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Marketing: Cars Detroit Should Have Built
The 2003 Cadillac Sixteen Concept engine is an achievement in itself---a 32-valve V-16 displacing 13.6 liters mated to a four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission.


  1. Rob Krantz says

    Wallace, I agree. The U.S. car makers used to be much more willing to take risks and make pretty amazing and classy, stylish cars.and some great concept cars. My thought to support this are the Continental Mk. II of the late 1950’s or some of the Ghia designed concept cars Chrysler had in the same era (though never produced), Chrysler Corp. has, IMO, always been a design leader with some of their cab forward styling in the Chrysler LH or Dodge Intrepid in the 1990’s early 2000’s, the Plymouth Prowler, Chrysler Crossfire, PT Cruiser etc. They took more risks than Ford or GM. When Lincoln announced the introduction of the new Continental, I had high hopes based on some of the concept photos. The end result, to me, was very disappointing. I’ve always loved Lincoln but the new Continental was not nearly as nice as the concept car. I sat in one at the SF Auto Show and felt that the materials inside were very cheap feeling and the styling did not translate well from the concept. They could have had a home run if they upped the content quality, made it more substantial feeling and luxurious…..and charge for it like Mercedes, or, try harder like Genesis has with the G90 and put out a substantial, quality vehicle with terrific luxury, for a world beating price. They cannot rest on their past laurels and need a home run car, like Cadillac needs as well. I also checked out the CT6 at the same show and walked away disappointed. It was very expensive for what it was, and I would rather have an Audi A8, BMW 7 Series or Mercedes S Class for not much more or even the same price point. What are they thinking? If they want play with the European marques or even Genesis (Hyundai) for crying out loud, they need to put their best foot forward and get serious, or they will fail. The Cadillac Sixteen concept was a daring car and stylish and probably would have put them back in the game. Maybe the price point would be less than Bentley, Rolls or Maybach and great styling and content….taking a page out of the Genesis playbook. If they do that, then I think Cadillac or even Lincoln, if they want to make a world beater Lincoln, will bring back some luster to the American auto making scene.

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