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Cadillac - The Passage

Photography by General Motors archives

Let's play a word association game. We'll give you the word-Cadillac-and you tell us what comes to mind. If you immediately conjured up a 5,000-pound El Dorado with a balding, overweight guy behind the wheel and a Geritol dispenser under the dash, you're not alone. That's exactly the image Cadillac wants to change.

It may have started with the introduction of the Cadillac CTS at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in 2001. The inevitable television ads arrived soon after, with a not-so-subtle impact on the senses. The shift was the music-here was an ad for a Cadillac but the music was Led Zeppelin. At first, the connection seemed a dichotomy. Who puts '60s rock 'n' roll tunes on top of a Cadillac ad? Then the realization hits you: They're chasing affluent baby boomers, and Chuck Berry's children are now the ones buying new Cadillacs. Forget the anthem of the '60-"Trust no one over 30"-the new theme is, "Sell 'em a Cadillac that hauls."

There's the true song. The rock 'n' roll generation grew up on musclecars like Hemi 'Cudas, 454 LS6 Chevelles, and 428 Super Cobra Jet

Mustangs. Those high-compression cars ruled the streets with a big stick stuffed with torque and horsepower. It was a time when you could buy a solid-lifter-cammed small-block with a monster carburetor right off the showroom floor. Life was all about doing a burnout in the high school parking lot until your car disappeared behind a cloud of tire smoke. Now the retro movement is attempting to recapture that spirit, with great handling and enough horsepower to thump that young kid in his 5.0 Mustang. To get a glimpse of the future, the best place to begin looking is in the past. For Cadillac, those times are just buried a bit deeper in history than when LBJ was president. You have to set your Way-Back machine to the Great Depression-back to 1930.

Sweet Sixteen
There was a time between 1930 and the mid '50s when Cadillac was the big dog with big power. Cadillac had a straight-eight, but that wasn't good enough. The call came for more power, so the company squeezed two of its massive cast-iron inline engines together to create a monstrous 45-degree V-16 engine that displaced 452 ci making 165 hp. The engine boasted a 3-inch bore and a 4-inch stroke, and while we couldn't dig up any lb-ft figures, with that many cubes, you know the torque had to be stupefying, especially at very low engine speeds. Cadillac later developed a V-12 and at one time boasted a lineup of engines with 8, 12, and 16 cylinders. Of course, Cadillac needed those huge engines because even back in the '30s the cars weighed in around 4,800 pounds.

Power was a major Cadillac selling point right through the '50s when in 1949, the automaker debuted its 331ci overhead valve V-8 that started at 160 hp. This was the engine that powered an amazing Cadillac entry in the 24 Hour Race at Le Mans, France, entered by sportsman Briggs Cunningham. He actually entered two cars, the first a stock-bodied '50 Cadillac along with an aerodynamic effort dubbed "Le Monstre" (The Monster) by the French. The stock-bodied Series 61 sedan driven by Sam and Miles Collier performed admirably, finishing 10th overall with Le Monstre coming in right behind in 11th. To add further luster to Cadillac's performance image, a Caddy-powered Allard two-seat sports car finished Third in that same race. By '52, Cadillac had the most powerful production car in America with 190 hp that would eventually grow to 270 hp. Leap forward to 1970, and Cadillac again topped the charts with the largest production engine in American history twisting the 500ci Eldorado engine, but by this time Cadillac's emphasis was more concerned with comfort. Power and acceleration gave way to the siren song of luxury.

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