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.
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.
For the next 30 years, Cadillac hung its crest on image rather than performance. And then followed dark times, especially during the energy crisis and the foreign invasion from Europe and Japan. But the time for Cadillac change and the passage out of darkness began in the early '90s with the impressive Northstar dual overhead cam (DOHC) 4.6L V-8 engine that debuted in 1993. By the dawn of the new century, the time seemed right to reinforce the idea that Cadillac could also mean performance.
A New Age
Defying inertia, Cadillac shifted its perspective and decided to go back to the most famous 24-hour race in the world, with its LMP, the LeMans Prototype. The purebred racecar debuted at Daytona Beach, Florida, for the Rolex 24-Hour Race, finishing 13th overall and Second in class. Transmission problems held it back, an Achilles heel that would plague the effort throughout its tenure. Cadillac went to LeMans in June and finished well back again with clutch and gearbox problems.
The race effort continued through the 2002 season, with disappointing results, but not from a lack of effort. The Northstar-based engine performed nobly and showed signs of world-class power. So despite the fact that Cadillac had no first-in-class trophies to lean against when it came to bragging rights, it did reveal the new face at Cadillac and that production cars would follow that theme with much more substance than just a stick-on facade.
The first indications came in 2003 with the Cadillac CTS. This Sigma-chassied, rear-wheel-drive platform boasted a 3.2L V-6 with 220 hp and a Getrag five-speed-a real manual transmission. To emphasize the car's performance image, the CTS was also the first American-born car to be tested at the famed German Nurburgring racetrack where the suspension engineers flogged the IRS car mercilessly to ensure a quality package.
This was just the first effort. New for this year is a truly impressive version dubbed the CTS-V. Cadillac didn't just hop up the smallish V-6. Instead, they bolted in an LS6 Corvette engine and an upgraded Tremec T-56 trans. Now here is something that is a true performance machine and, except for the GTO, alone in the world of GM rear-wheel-drive performance sedans. With 400 hp at 6,000 rpm and an impressive 385 lb-ft of torque using 10.6:1 compression and premium fuel, we're talking world-class performance here.
The CTS-V should hit the streets by the time you read this. Cadillac claims the CTS-V will run 13.1s at around 107 mph, which is certainly capable of outgunning more than its share of boulevard musclecar wannabes. This testing was with the stock 245/45ZR18 Goodyear run-flat tires. It doesn't take much to imagine what kind of performance this 4,000-pound sedan could deliver with bigger, sticker tires. The brakes should certainly not be a problem since the CTS-V will come with pizza-box-sized 14-inch rotors and Brembo four-piston calipers on all four corners. According to Cadillac's numbers, these pieces should help deliver a 0.91 g on the skidpad and braking distances of 122 feet.
If you're going to top this, the only way to do it is to build a race car. And that's exactly what Cadillac has planned for the SCCA World Challenge GT class. The race car will compete in the Sebring 12-hour against some of the world's best production sports cars and sedans.
So it would appear that the face of Cadillac is changing. Does this century-old car-builder still make land yachts that appeal to the bluebloods of the world? Of course. But nested not so quietly in the heart of Detroit automotive refinement lives a spirit that is willing to storm the beaches of boring machines with a sophisticated hot rod that everyone could enjoy. At the very least, be mindful of a sinister-looking Caddy sedan sporting a CTS-V badge. Unless you're packin' serious heat, it just might be more than your average street rat can handle. Where do we sign up for a testdrive?