Automotive History & Vintage Review: 1932 Peerless V16 Prototype – Stillborn, But On The Road To The Aluminum Beer Can

V16. Let me repeat that again: V16! V16!

(first posted 4/30/2017)    This is the story of the  development of three  distinct AMERICAN V16 engined cars by each of their respective manufacturers seeking the same end goal of status, recognition, and commercial success.  Two of the manufacturers (Peerless and Cadillac) had similar engine architectural features arising from the original Marmon design source, and the third (Marmon) likely developed its V16 as the updated  V16 series 2.0 design once it understood that its design secrets were carried away to its competitors.   The unexpected race to produce the first American production V16 had its winner, but due to the wealth destruction of the Great Depression, this was a pyrrhic, expensive victory for the winner, Cadillac.

The Marmon V16 entered production but was soon swept away by the Depression.

Peerless built its prototype V16, and then did the unexpected, with an interesting outcome discussed in the attached AQ article.

This is the interesting story of how the histories of these three great American car manufacturers were interwoven during the mid to late 1920’s extending into the 1930’s with a most unusual race to be first.  Read and enjoy.


What is the purpose of a multicylinder V16 engine in a car?  One word: PRESTIGE.

In 1914, in an earlier multicylinder race, Cadillac introduced its version of the 1910 French automaker De Dion Bouton V8 engine to the American market, shortly followed in 1915 by Peerless with its V8.


Packard Twin Six


In May 1915, not to be outdone in the multicylinder derby, as an early introduction for its 1916 production, Packard introduced its sensational, relatively light, compact, smooth L-head 60-degree TWIN SIX, 12 cylinder engine, the first Packard V12.

1916 Packard Twin Six


The Packard Twin Six set the prestige bar and essentially crushed the competition from Cadillac, Peerless, Pierce Arrow, Marmon, Stutz, etc. and added to the then developing and growing Packard Legend. This V12 allowed Packard to become the dominant US prestigious marque in the previous prestige 3 P’s (consisting of Packard, Peerless, and Pierce Arrow).


WW1 Bugatti U16 twin crankshaft Aeroengine studied by Howard Marmon

later 1929 T45  Bugatti U16 race engine

Bugatti Twin Crankshaft U16 engine design


While in France, during World War 1, leading the American Air Corp Technical Team, Howard Marmon studied the Bugatti U-16 twin crankshaft sixteen and fell in love with the concept of “The Sixteen” eventually leading to the production Marmon V16 introduced in 1931.

In the early 1920’s, Howard Marmon hired Owen Nacker, born in Highland, Michigan in 1883, as an engineering consultant. The two men developed design concepts for a 16 cylinder single crankshaft V16 45 degree included cylinder angle engine. The initial Marmon V16 single crankshaft overhead valve sixteen had reverse flow outboard intake and exhaust manifolds and was designed by November 1926 under the greatest secrecy.

Then Owen Nacker left Marmon, recruited by Cadillac which started development of their V16 under Owen Nacker’s supervision and direction in 1927, also under strict secrecy. The Cadillac V16 program was publically hidden and disguised when Larry Fischer of GM’s Fischer Body leaked red herring information to the press that Cadillac was developing a V12. In actuality Cadillac was additionally developing, in parallel, a 45 degree cylinder angle V12 derived from the still secret V16.

                                                                                                       Cadillac OHV V16

The most disturbing fact to Howard Marmon, as he later learned, was that his friend and his former engineer, Owen Nacker, had supervised much of the design work and creation of the Cadillac V16 in 1927 with engine architecture similar to the initial Marmon design. This V16 engine design was unusual and atypical for Cadillac, a strong proponent of flathead engine design. It used Marmon inspired overhead valves. Prior Cadillac engines and subsequent prewar engines were typically L-type flat head designs. Additionally it used an aluminum 5 main bearing crankcase, modern type side by side con-rods, with nickel-iron blocks and iron heads, more typical of prior Cadillacs, but with, atypical for Cadillac, Reverse Flow outboard intake and exhaust manifolds with two updraft carburetors. Weight of the Cadillac V16 was massive, reportedly approximately 1300 pounds delivering 175 BPH, later revised to 165 BHP.


Marmon V16

Marmon V16

                                               Side by Side con rods with off-set VS Fork-and-Blade con rod design without rod offset

The later Marmon production design, a second generation V16 design, if you will, would differ from the Cadillac design and the Peerless design by having a single crankshaft, 45 degree cylinder angle, Fork-and-Blade connecting rods, central camshaft, overhead valve, dual downdraft carburetor, a CROSSFLOW design with all aluminum crankcase, aluminum cylinder blocks, and aluminum cylinder heads. This was a truly modern design, except for the archaic fork-and-blade connecting rods, weighing 422 kg (930 lbs) with 200 BHP.


Peerless V16

James A Bohanon, who had been Howard Marmon’s Purchasing Agent for 6 years, left Marmon in July 1929 for the Peerless Presidency bringing extensive knowledge of the all Aluminum Marmon V16 with him to Peerless. This had the earlier Marmon design features similar to the Cadillac design, also with an aluminum crankcase, but with alloy blocks and heads. Similar to Cadillac, it had a single crankshaft, central camshaft, overhead valves with both reverse flow intake and exhaust manifolds outboard,  not the ultimate crossflow design used in the production Marmon engine. The Peerless engine was considerably lighter than the iron heavy and weighty Cadillac design. It was a blend of earlier and later Marmon engineering ideas.

So, in short order, in the late phase of the seemingly endless wealth and prosperity of the Roaring Twenties, Marmon, Cadillac, and Peerless had caught the prestige fever and were in the race for multicylinder V16 prestige.

Cadillac won the race for the ultimate prestige shortly after the stock market crashed on Tuesday, October 29, 1929, introducing the V16 on January 4th, 1930 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel New York Automobile Show. Due to pre-crash orders and persisting post crash auto enthusiasm, Cadillac built and delivered, depending on the sources cited for reported production figures, approximately 2887 in 1930. Thereafter as the reality of the depression deepened, only relative, comparatively speaking, handfuls of V16 cars were built in dwindling numbers in the remaining years.

1930 Cadillac V16.  The first engine with official styling input for visual effect.

1938 Cadillac Flathead 135 degree V16

The Cadillac V16 lived through two engine series—the first, the Marmon inspired, Owen Nacker designed OHV V16 from 1930 to 1937 and then the second, known as the 90 Series, the lower, wider 135 degree Cadillac designed flathead sixteen engine, produced from 1938 to December 1939, installed through model year 1940. This second flat head V16 had less expensive production costs compared to the two related 45 degree angle sibling Cadillac OHV V16 and V12 engines. This flat head design replaced both OHV engines, but was soon consigned to history, replaced, it seems, ultimately by the combination of Cadillac V8’s and the Oldsmobile Hydra-Matic automatic transmissions beginning in 1941 (An excellent review by Aaron Severson of Ate Up With Motor is recommended reading).

The total production of Cadillac V16 engines from 1930 to 1940 was approximately 4397 cars, ohv V16’s 1930-37 of approximately 3889 in number , and side valve 1938-40 V16’s of approximately 508 in number.

The Marmon V16 was introduced for a short production run of 3 years from 1931 to 1934 after which Marmon went into Depression related receivership ending Marmon V16 production after only 390 Marmon V16’s were produced and sold.

Between Marmon and Cadillac the total V16 production was 4,787 cars. The most cars produced and sold in a single year were the OHV Cadillac 16’s, 2887, sold in the introductory year of 1930 alone, and comprising 74.2 percent of total V16 production between 1930 to 1940.

The Great Depression crashed the country into a deeper reality making the V16 irrelevant as a production engine type. It is likely that none of the actually produced Marmon or Cadillac V16’s were sold for a profit. Not surprisingly, Cadillac later estimated that they lost money on every single V-16 they sold. The first and second Cadillac V16’s series production was sustained only by the production and wealth of GM, and did buy Cadillac its sought after prestige, and that then lasted for decades.

The story of the Cadillac and Marmon V16’s deserves to be told and will be told later in more detail.

The Peerless V16 never entered production. Interestingly the aluminum engine V16 and advanced predominately aluminum body and chassis body of the V16 Peerless weighed slightly over 4000 pounds compared to the 5,850 pounds of the Cadillac V16. The Marmon V16 even with its predominately aluminum engine but conventional steel body and chassis weighed just over 5500 pounds.

This is the story of the remaining sole 1932 Peerless “Sixteen” aluminum intensive prototype.

As discussed earlier, Peerless elected to stay in business canceling car production and its V16 project, conserved capital, converted the car factory to a brewery for the production of a new product, Carling Beer.

The story below was written by Stuart W. Wells for Automobile Quarterly Volume 40, Number 1, and published March 2000.







From 1902 Cars to 1933 Beer, eventually delivered in the aluminum Carling Black label beer can,  the story of  Peerless.