History of the Cadillac Motor Car



In 1902 the Cadillac Motor Car Company was founded out of the ashes of Henry Ford’s second attempt at commercial car production. But to back track a few years to explain the events leading up to the formation of one of the world’s great car manufacturers is in order.

Henry Martyn Leland was born near Barton Vermont in 1843, the son of a farmer. At the age of fourteen he became an apprentice mechanic working sixty hours per week. As a mechanic, he was employed by the arms industry right at the time of the American Civil War. He became enamored by the concept by the concept of parts from one gun able to be used on another without fitting or modification. This single thing would lead him to greatness and the title of “Master of Precision”. During his employment with the firm Brown and Sharp, he developed and patented a universal grinder from which components could be made identical to one another within one thousandth of an inch. In 1890, by this time an accomplished engineer and designer, production man, efficiency expert, and technical advisor, he became a partner in the firm of Leland and Faulconer. This would be the stepping-stone to the automotive industry. They produced many components for the young automotive industry, followed by stationary engines and finally a single cylinder engine that was offered to Ransom Olds for use in his motorcar. Olds rejected the engine in favour of one produced by the brothers John and Horace Dodge.

At about this time, Leland was contacted by Messer’s Murphy and Bowen of the failing Henry Ford Company. They wanted his appraisal of the equipment and plant for liquidation. Seeing a unique opportunity, he proposed to keep the organization viable and produce cars under his leadership using the engine he had developed for Olds.

In the summer of 1902, a heavily re-engineered version of the Ford car was introduced as the Cadillac Model A. In 1903, the first production Cadillac was offered for sale at $750. It was a simple buggy like contraption not unlike many contemporary vehicles. Its’ main claim to fame was its’ precision of manufacture and the first use of interchangeable parts on an automobile. The performance of its’ single cylinder ten horsepower engine enabled the little car to go just about anywhere. Given the state of American roads, this was definitely an asset. Word of the performance and dependability of the Cadillac spread fast and soon Cadillac was the leading manufacturer of cars in the world in terms of numbers. It took the introduction of the Ford Model T in 1907 to unseat Cadillac as the larges producer of cars.

Cadillac’s reputation spread overseas where a small manufacturer of motorized tricycles by the name of Fred Bennett took to import Cadillacs to England. He was impressed with engineering and especially the interchangeability of parts. This practice was unheard of in England at the time, so he set about to promote it to its’ greatest advantage.

With the co-operation of the Automobile Club of Great Britain, he set up a trial where the cars were driven about the new Brooklands racetrack. They were then disassembled, the parts scrambled up and many parts substituted from stock. The next day, the cars were then reassembled. The cars were then driven again on the Brooklands track were one of the cars went on to break the track record at over thirty miles per hour. This accomplishment awarded Cadillac with the first of its’ two Dewar trophies.

In 1905, Cadillac introduced the Model D. It was a four-cylinder car, which sold for $2800. It was the first up market car Cadillac built. Experience beginning with this car would eventually lead to Cadillac’s dominance of the luxury car market. However, the sale of the single cylinder cars would remain strong, for the time. They were offered in many forms and models, including a light delivery van, until they were discontinued in 1908.

Sales of the four cylinder cars were never high, and in time the single cylinder cars became obsolete and sales began to fall. Development of a new car was undertaken. Cadillac decided to take a risk and offer only one model in its’ line. In 1909, the Model Thirty was introduced. It, like the Model D before, was a four-cylinder car but sold for $1700. This included lights, a top, and windshield, which for the time made it a well-equipped car.

The name was derived from its’ rated horsepower – thirty, which made it a relatively high-powered car. Actual horsepower ratings were consistently higher than advertised.

To Cadillac’s relief, sales of the new car took off selling largely on Cadillac’s reputation of quality. Its’ value for the dollar didn’t hurt, either.

At about this time, a Cadillac engineer was mortally when he

attempted to start a lady’s stalled Cadillac. While cranking the engine, it kicked back causing him injuries from which he later died. Vowing to never again have one of his cars kill any person, Leland set about to develop a device that would revolutionize the car. It would also earn Cadillac its’

second Dewar trophy. This would be the self-starter and its’ accompanying electrical system.

The systems were developed by C.F. Kettering who formed Dayton Engineering Laboratories (later Delco). Kettering previously developed an ignition system employing points and coil, which was the predominant ignition system for decades. Cadillac took over Delco and employed Kettering as the chief engineer, where he developed many groundbreaking ideas, one of which was the self-starter.


General Motors


In 1909 Cadillac was taken over by General Motors in a cash/stock deal. William Crapo Durant had been after Cadillac to become the flagship of his new enterprise. Durant was originally involved in the manufacture of buggies in Flint Michigan. He became the largest manufacturer of buggies in the world. Durant was also heavily involved in the stock market and became a master in the trade of stocks. From this he began to acquire several smaller companies, some of which produced parts for his buggies. He saw the automobile industry as the wave of the future and set about to build a company that would dominate the fledgling industry. His firs major acquisition was the Buick Motor Car. From this, he acquired several more automobile companies including Oldsmobile, Oakland and a group of truck manufacturers, which later became GMC Truck. After he took control of Cadillac stock, his trading became an addiction, which almost ruined General Motors. Seeing a potential disaster, Henry Leland and his son Wilfred started negotiations to have Durant thrown off the board of directors, which effectively threw him out of General Motors. Having saved the day, Cadillac reached greater and greater heights.

Cadillac wanted to obtain the pinnacle of automotive engineering achievement, so work began to develop a new car that would again take the industry by storm. In 1915 the Type 51 was introduced. It was the first mass produced car with a V-8 engine. It was many years before the rest of the luxury car market would catch up. The V-8 engine would become a mainstay in the Cadillac Motor Car. It was originally rated ay 60 horsepower from 314 cubic inches. It had a 3-speed sliding gear type transmission and shaft drive. Prices started at $2000.00 and went up to $3600.00. Sales continued on an upward spiral. To say the least, the car was a great success. The car was gradually developed over the next few years with such refinements as detachable cylinder heads in 1918 and horse power ratings to

79. In 1923, another major advance in engine technology was introduced. This was the two plane counterbalanced crankshaft. This made the engine a model of smoothness and durability. It was not unheard of Cadillac cars traveling several hundred thousand miles in grueling condition on the original engines. About this time, Kettering was investigating combustion roughness, which we know as ignition knock, when compression ratios were increased over 4 ½:1. From this research he developed an octane booster known as tetraethyl lead. This would allow compression ratios to eventually reach 12.5:1, along with their increase in power and efficiency. Gradual improvements and refinements would follow throughout the twenties.

Cadillac’s sister car, the LaSalle, was introduced in 1927, but this car should be covered in a separate story. However, one major outcome of the LaSalle would be Harley Earl and his formation of the Art and Colour division of GM. This would later become the Styling Studio, which would have a major affect on all of GM and the automobile industry as a whole.

Packard was Cadillac’s greatest rival since the introduction of the V-8 engine. Cadillac set about ways to take luxury car leadership from Packard once and for all. In great secrecy, development of a new car was undertaken. In many small shops throughout Detroit, engineers began work on a car that would instill Cadillac as one of the greatest cars of the classic era. Under much fanfare in December 1929 (two months after the stock market crash) Cadillac introduced the Series 452. This magnificent car was powered by a 16-cylinder engine of 452 cubic inches and 165 horsepower. This was one of THE most powerful cars in the world. It employed overhead valves for efficiency and hydraulic valve lash adjustors to keep the valve train quiet. These adjustors were the forerunner of today’s hydraulic valve lifters and were patented. The engine was also a visual work of art having ceramic-coated manifolds, polished aluminum surfaces, and chrome plated accessories. The car rode on wheelbases of up to 151 inches, and up to 53 available body styles, many of which were custom built by Fleetwood. The car sold remarkably well given the state of the economy and prices ranging up to $9300! Cadillac did not ignore the standard V-8 models, as continual refinement took place alongside the more prestigious models. Displacement was increased to 353 cubic inches and horsepower to 95. Styling was really taking hold on all car lines to produce some of the most elegant cars ever seen. Fenders became flowing, grills more prominent, slanted windshields, side mounted spares and extensive use of chrome-plated accessories produced some elegant cars indeed. In 1931, Cadillac introduced a V-12 companion to the V-16 mounted on the longer V-8 chassis and having bodies by Fisher and Fleetwood. It bridged the gap between the V-8 and

V-16. Sales of the V-12 immediately cut into those of the V-16.

Another major development came about in 1928 with the introduction of the Synchromesh Transmission. This was developed by a California hydraulics engineer by the name of Earl A. Thompson. He had developed a mechanical method of matching the speeds of the gear clusters to enable fast, clashless gear changes. This made driving much easier, and allowed more women to drive. Thompson was hired on by Cadillac as an engineer, and while on a trip to Europe, observing a fluid clutch on a Daimler, he had an inspiration. On his return to Detroit, work began on one of the single most significant advances in the automobile. By 1932, Cadillac had developed a full working model of a fully automatic transmission. General Motors realized the significance of this transmission and formed a separate division to carry out its’ development. The Hydra-Matic division was formed in 1932. Ironically, it was Oldsmobile that first offered this transmission in 1939. Cadillac did not offer Hydra-Matic until 1942.

The depression began taking its’ toll by 1930 and by 1932, production fell to only a few thousand units. Had it not been for the higher numbers generated by LaSalle and the strong arm of parent General Motors, Cadillac may have very well perished with many of its’ great rivals. In the increased competition for fewer sales, a better product was absolutely necessary for survival. Continuous improvement and technical pioneering, long a hallmark of Cadillac, played an ever more important role. Independent front suspension, developed by chassis engineer Maurice Olly was introduced in 1934. “Turret Tops”, a corporate wide introduction, also in 1934. Continual refinement in engineering and styling made for incredible advancements in not only Cadillac, but for the entire industry. To compare any 1930 model with its’ 1940 counterpart will graphically illustrate this point. The general trend to streamlining led to thin laid back grills, skirted then pontoon fenders, integrated cowls, elimination of running boards and then the fenders becoming an integral part of the overall body.

In 1938, the introduction of the Sixty Special foreshadowed postwar styling. Quite simply, it was one of the most influential designs ever. Initially built by Fleetwood mostly by hand production was moved to the Fisher division for greater economies but was always a Fleetwood model and remained quite exclusive.

Despite slow sales, the twelve and sixteen cylinder models remained part of the line-up. Styling of these magnificent cars stayed at the forefront and sometimes set the style. Horsepower of the sixteen was increased, without any change in specification, to 185. A totally new sixteen was introduced in 1937 and the twelve was discontinued. The new engine was a monoblock L-head set at a 135-degree angle. Horsepower remained at 185. Production remained at a trickle and styling remained constant until it was discontinued after 1940.

Model and series designations changed from engine displacements to Series 60, 61, 62, 67, 75, 80 and 90 in 1936. From then on after the war designations would change, be dropped and picked up again. Quite confusing.

In 1936 a new engine was introduced for V-8 cars. New to Cadillac, but first seen on cars as diverse as the Ford V-8 and the Marmon V-16, was an engine of monoblock design. Traditionally, cylinder blocks were separate from the crankcase, but in this design, block and crankcase were of one piece. This allowed a stiffer assembly, which was less prone to torsional vibration, potential misalignment from component interaction and was simpler to manufacture. Displacement was 345 cubic inches with a power rating of 150 horsepower. A smaller 322 cubic inch version was used on the LaSalle and the Series 60.

During the thirties, many luxury car manufacturers succumbed to the hard times of the depression. Stutz, Duesenberg, Cord, Pierce Arrow, and Marmon are but a few that became victims. Packard, however, under astute management recognized that to survive enter the medium price market to generate the numbers necessary to remain solvent. They did this and emerged from the thirties in good financial health. One major error in strategy was made prior to the war, which allowed Cadillac to take leadership once and for all. Packard began to ignore the top end of the market in favour of the medium market in which at the time was its’ bread and butter. Cadillac remained loyal to its’ high line series if only for image, but offered a great array of lower priced series, some of which were definitely in the medium price range.

After the war, Cadillac returned to high-end luxury cars and Packard did not. Packard would never recover its’ dominance, an opportunity lost in the good times of the fifties.

With war clouds looming, more and more attention was paid to military production. Cadillac diverted to war goods with total conversion being made in February 1942, after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. Cadillac produced the M-22 Chaffee, a light tank powered by two Cadillac V-8’s hooked up to Hydra-Matic transmissions. Cadillac also played a major role in the development of the Allison aircraft engine and produced many of its’ internal components. Also produced were an assortment of munitions.

In 1946, after the war, production of cars resumed. At first, only Series 61 and 62 sedans were produced. Coupes and Sixty Special sedans soon followed. These cars were slightly chanced 1942 models on the outside, but advancements during the war greatly improved drivelines. Hydra-Matic transmissions became smoother, more refined and more durable. Engines were stronger, more powerful, and more reliable.

1948 saw the first all new postwar Cadillac. Styling was spectacular. During the war, styling exercises continued wherever possible and several scale concept vehicle were built. These were known as the interceptors. These concepts were then developed into the 1948 cars. Tailfins, or rudder type styling as Harley Earl called it, were first seen on these cars. The story of their origin goes as such. During the early part of the, Earl and a few of his leading stylists were allowed a secret viewing of the then experimental Lockheed P-38 Lightning. Earl was impressed with what he saw and several themes were incorporated into his styling exercises. The tail sections gave inspiration for the fins. Even the radiators became trim elements on the Sixty Specials.

In 1949, Cadillac gave the second of its’ one two knockout punch to the automotive world with the introduction of the overhead valve high compression V-8. At this point, Cadillac had it all. Never before had a marque so dominated its’ class. Styling was critically acclaimed the world over, the engine was easily the most advanced of its’ type and the Hydra-Matic transmission was the icing on the cake.

Kettering continued his research into high compression engines before the war broke out. During the war higher octane fuels became available, if only for aviation use, but it was no secret that when the war was over they would become more readily available to the public. To make best use of these fuels, engines with higher and higher compression would have to be developed. Such experiments led to engines of incredible power. One test engine of only six cylinders apparently for the time produced almost unbelievable power. Overhead valves were decided early on due to the fact that such high compression ratios could easily be handled. Research found that ratios over 8.5:1 resulted in unacceptable combustion roughness in L-head engines.

Newly developed hydraulic valve lifters were used for quietness of operation and ease of maintenance. Slipper type pistons allowed them to nestle in the crankshaft counterweights and a short stroke gave a very compact block. Short stroke exposed less flame to the cooling system allowing a smaller more efficient cooling system. Short stroke also contributed to less piston travel meaning less wear and a higher rpm potential. Overhead valves also contributed to better breathing and higher rpm potential and a significant increase in volumetric efficiency.

What all this meant to the Cadillac owner was a significant increase in power, reduction in weight, increase in fuel economy and smoothness almost unheard of especially for an engine of its’ specific power.

Power went from 150 to 160 horsepower, fuel economy went from 13 to 15 mpg to 18-22 mpg and weight was reduced by 600 pounds. Remarkable!

But this engine was not the only news of 1949. In the spring the first pillar less hardtop Coupe deVille was introduced. Along with the Buick Roadmaster Riviera and the Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Holiday, this pioneering style was to become widely imitated. With the new engine, automatic, beautiful styling and the new hardtop, the stage was set for the flamboyant fifties.

Styling was revised for 1950. The effect was not quite as clean as the previous two years and tended to make the car bulkier. Mechanically, the car was virtually identical to the preceding models. Actually, for the first couple of years during the fifties, changes were minimal.

A new model was introduced in 1953 that would remain in Cadillac’s’ line-up until 2002. During the fifties, General Motors sponsored a series of shows to showcase new models and test public reaction to ideas that may be incorporated into future products. They were known as the GM Motorama Shows. In 1953, Oldsmobile, Buick, and Cadillac each displayed limited production models. Olds had the Fiesta, Buick the Skylark and Cadillac the Eldorado. The Eldorado was basically a customized Series 62 convertible. It featured a beltline dip (aka the “Darrin Dip”), a wraparound windshield, premium trim and every possible convenience available. Newly available power steering and power brakes were standard equipment.

Newly available in 1953 was power steering and brakes and air conditioning (except on convertible models). Conveniences such as these,

which we take for granted in today’s cars, were state of the art engineering advances. Several more technical goodies would follow in the next few years, many of which were just gadgets.

Two other features were introduced in 1953. Guidematic, which was an automatic headlamp dimmer, and the four-barrel carburetor. With the four barrel carburetor, the first big power increase came to the OHV engine. It was now rated at 210 hp.

In 1954, Cadillac received GM’s new C-body. The car was basically new from the ground up. Wheelbases remained the same at 129 inches, 133 for the Fleetwood Sixty Special and 154 for the Series 75’s, but bodies were larger. Also new were wraparound windshields with cowl mounted air intakes. The Eldorado became less of a custom, which allowed prices to drop from a lofty $7750 to the region of $5000. Power increased to 250 hp.

1955 brought refinements and a face-lift on the one year old body. For Eldorados, a twin four barrel intake was standard which produced 270 hp. 1956 saw much of the same, Except for the introduction of a new model. This was Cadillac’s first 4- door hardtop, the Sedan deVille.

In 1957 Cadillac abandoned the gradual styling refinements followed since 1948. The car was totally new from its’ space age frame up. It featured an X-frame, coil spring suspension front and rear, the first displacement increase of the OHV engine and radical new styling. This is when tailfins began their upward climb. The engine now had a displacement of 365 cubic inches and a power rating of 300 hp, 325 for the Eldorado engine which had 2 four-barrel carbs.

The really big news for 1957 was the Eldorado Brougham. It was built on a smaller 125-inch chassis and styling was similar to the regular line but a little more restrained. Every known convenience to mankind was standard equipment. Air suspension, air conditioning, a magnetic set of silver-plated tumblers in the front, and a vanity case in the rear containing a de-mister of Arpege perfume. Also standard were power seats with memory and cruise control. This very exclusive model sold for an astonishing $13,074. Except for a switch to triple 2-barrel carbs in 1958, it would remain unchanged until 1959.

The ‘58’s were tinseled up versions of the ‘57’s with quad headlamps, more massive bumpers and larger fins.

A crash program began in the fall of 1956 after the introduction of Chrysler’s forward look cars for 1957. These cars so outclassed anything GM had to offer, that Earl’s studios set about to regain styling leadership back from Chrysler. The result was GM’s 1959 models. If Chryslers were low, then GM would be lower, if Chryslers had lots of glass, GM would have more, and if Chrysler had big fins, GM would have the biggest. These cars would come to represent the pinnacle of the 50’s flamboyance with Cadillac being the most flamboyant. Much has been said about these cars over the years, some good and some bad, but what remains is the fact that the 1959 Cadillacs were very good road cars when properly tuned. Engine displacement increased to 390 cubic inches and power to 325, 345 for Eldorados. From this point on, styling would gradually become more restrained and tasteful. The 1960 looks as the 59 should have according to the late Dave Holls, lead stylist on the 1959 Cadillacs.

Part of the reason for the change in styling direction was a result in the change of guard. In 1958, Harley Earl handed the reigns over to his protégé Bill Mitchell. Mitchell was a very talented designer. He was responsible for the original Sixty Special and went on to design masterpieces such as the 1963 Buick Riviera. He preferred les chrome and sculpted bodies. You can see this in the 1961 Cadillacs.

The 61’s were trimmer in size and cleaner in execution. Small skeg fins were incorporated into the fenders and tail fins were again trimmed in height.

Many improvements in engineering came throughout the 60’s which kept Cadillac at its’ long enjoyed level of status. Sheet metal was changed in 1963. The engine was completely re-engineered to be lighter and more efficient, then displacement increased to 429 cubic inches in 1964. Also new in 1964 was Comfort Control, the industries first integrated and fully automatic temperature and climate control. The Hydra-Matic was laid to rest also in 1964, to be replaced with a state of the art 3-speed automatic with a dual pitch torque converter.

The 1965 models were new from the ground up. Styling was absolutely contemporary, and tasteful restraint was the theme. Curved side glass was employed for the first time. A new perimeter type frame was used which was somewhat flexible, allowing isolation from road shocks. A unit body, which was used since 1957, gave the structure incredible stiffness. Front and rear suspensions were also redesigned, with which came the introduction of Automatic Level Control. This system used conventional suspension

coupled with air assisted rear shocks to hold the car at a constant height on the rear. A level sensing valve and a vacuum powered air compressor controlled the system. AM/FM Stereo radios were also introduced this year.

In 1963, work began on a new Eldorado. It was not lost on GM execs the success Ford’s Thunderbird and GM set out to invade the potentially lucrative personal car market. The Riviera and Pontiac Grand Prix got in there first followed by the Oldsmobile Toronado in 1966, then Eldorado in 1967. Like the Toronado, the Eldorado was front wheel drive, but from there it was all Cadillac. Styling was sensational, easily one of the best looking Cadillacs ever. Road ability was superb thanks to its’ front wheel drive and self-leveling suspension.

In 1968, the first all new engine since the 1949 OHV V-8 was introduced. It was the first engine designed to incorporate the use of air conditioning and the upcoming emission controls. At 472 cubic inches and 375 hp, it was the largest and most powerful engine Cadillac ever built. Over the years, this engine gained a reputation for economy of operation and bulletproof durability.

Styling continued on its’ evolutionary path with refined body restyling every two years after 1965. Inner structures and frames but outer skins changed, following styling cues established as far back as 1959.

In 1970, Cadillac introduced the largest production passenger car ever to market. Displacing a whopping 500 cubic inches, it produced 400 hp and an earth moving 550 lb ft of torque. This was also the last year for the high 10.5:1 compression ratios, so it would be a one-year engine only at this power level. The 500 cubic inch engine would carry on until 1976, but power would decrease yearly due to lower compression and ever more stringent emission controls.

1971 would bring many changes to Cadillac as a car, but also the changing climate of the decade. The car would again be all new from the ground up. Larger redesigned bodies would follow the evolutionary path set during the last several years. Engine displacements would remain the same, but power was slightly lower due to the reduction of compression ratios and more stringent emission controls. In the following years more emphasis would be placed on creature comforts and conveniences than actual engineering advancements. Part of the reason for this was due to the fact that more and more of the engineering pool would be devoted to meeting new government imposed emission and safety standards.

This is not to say that the 1971 or later models were emasculated slugs, in fact Cadillac was able to maintain much of its’ performance fight through the seventies. A drive in a mid seventies model with the 500 cubic inch engine would prove this.

One thing that was hard to deal with was the increased weight incurred by added safety and emission equipment. Curb weights would be in the 5100lb range by 1975. 5 mph bumpers, side impact beams and more accessories were to blame.

Perhaps General Motors saw the writing on the wall because by 1973 work had begun on a car with much trimmer dimensions. This would come to light in 1977 as the firs major downsizing in Cadillac’s history.

Slightly earlier on, development began on a totally new type of Cadillac. Recognizing the increased competition from upscale European imports, Cadillac set about to develop a car to compete in this segment. The new car was to be much smaller in size, international size Cadillac would call it, and very upscale in pricing. In fact, the new car would be the highest priced Cadillac in the line save for the Series 75.

In April 1975, Cadillac introduced the Seville as a 1976 model. The car was very successful and generated considerable profits for the division. In the years to come, the Seville would figure prominently in Cadillac’s line-up. Styling took a new direction. Lines were crisp and square if not boxy. This would become perhaps as influential to automotive styling as the Sixty Special had done almost forty years before. Most every manufacturer, including all other GM divisions would duplicate it in the years to follow. The engine used was an Olds built 350 with standard Electronic Fuel Injection.

Cadillac, as mentioned, downsized for 1977. Wheelbases went from 130 inches on standard cars to 121.5 and curb weights fell by as much as 700lbs. Interior volume, remarkably would stay virtually the same and actually increase in some dimensions. However, direct comparison would reveal the cars seemed smaller inside, mostly in width. Engine displacement fell to 425 cubic inches. The engine was of the same family as the 472/500, but block castings were lighter. Power output fell by only 5 to 190. With reduced weight, these cars were vivid performers. Fuel injection was optional on all lines, except the Seville where it was standard, since 1975. This added 15-20 hp, but perceived performance seemed much greater, particularly in the midrange.

Sales of the downsized cars broke all previous records. They were right for the times. Fuel prices had doubled and quadrupled in the last few years. The smaller size and lower fuel consumption of the new cars hit the mark. Also the good economic climate was of great help. Styling followed the path set by the Seville, but maintained several traditional Cadillac cues, such as the vertical taillights and egg crate grill.

Downsizing continued in 1979. The Eldorado was next on the chopping block and the resultant new car was a smash. Styling was fashionably crisp and trim. Technical specification was state of the art. Trimmings and quality of workmanship was first rate. This generation Eldorado is regarded as one of the better-looking products to come out of GM styling in the era. Engines were shared with the Seville, and the new Eldorado had independent rear suspension for the first time.

Continuing the trend, the Seville followed the next year. It was based on the Eldorado, but with questionable styling and a standard diesel engine. The car did not live up to the promise of the cars before. They did, however, sell well but the problems with these engines foreshadowed the dark times Cadillac would have with power trains in the eighties.

The next miss came in 1981 with the modulated displacement V-8. Based on the underachiever 368 cubic inch engine introduced the year before. This engine created many a headache for the owner and manufacturer alike. Cadillac even today is remembered for this mistake. It is ironic, though, that GM is reviving this concept and calling it displacement on demand. More reliable electronics should hopefully make the concept more reliable.

The V-8-6-4 was discontinued for 1982, where it remained in the Seventy-Fives until 1984. Its’ replacement held much promise, but soon proved to be another nightmare. The engine was the first totally new engine since the 472 of 1968. Still an OHV V-8, it contained an odd sort of architecture. The block was made of die cast aluminum with wet cast iron cylinder liners, cast iron heads and cast aluminum intake manifold. This was backwards to most consensus of engine construction. It should have worked, but it did not. Head gasket failures were common, as well as camshaft failures and bottom end problems. Some blocks were also porous leading to coolant leaks. The engine seemed to wear out early, even if meticulously maintained. Yearly improvements gradually improved its’ reliability and durability to the point where later examples are very decent engines. Also, they were noted for their anemic power output. They were slow accelerators, but would cruise

along at very decent speeds once you got there. Also, they were very quiet and returned excellent fuel economy.

Among other news for 1982 was the introduction of the Cimarron. This was a hurried decision by the division to enter the entry-level luxury market. It was not so loosely based on the Chevrolet Cavalier introduced the same year. Mechanically it was identical, making it the first four cylinder Cadillac since the Model Thirty of 1914, and the first standard shift Cadillac since the 1951 Series 61. Body sheet metal was also identical. The engine was an incredibly anemic carbureted 1.8 ltr. Grills, taillights and badging distinguished it from the Cavalier. Inside, leather was standard as well as most of the features you would expect in a Cadillac.

The second round of downsizing for the standard cars came in 1985. The new cars did not seam like Cadillacs. They were too small and too closely resembled their sister division cars where they earned their nickname of “cookie cutter” cars. Sales were decent, but began to fall off. Not helping matters was the downsizing of the Eldorado and Seville in 1986. Granted, the Seville looked better, but these cars did not look like Cadillacs and were small to the point of being cramped, even though Cadillac said interior dimensions stayed mostly the same.

Sluggish performance, poor reliability, and lost identity began to take their toll. Something had to be done. The first step was to regain Cadillac as a separate division, something it had lost in Roger Smith’s reorganization of GM in 1984. Next, came new management with a strong focus on product identity and re-establishment to its’ once enjoyed level of status.

At about this time the Allante was introduced. It was not the result of the new management, but of the old. As can be guessed, the car was not as it should or could have been. As was GM’s contemporary practice, a new product was only partially developed. The car was then improved yearly. The problem was, that people perceived the car as it was introduced, and it was difficult to change that perception afterwards.

The car was a two seater in the mould of the Mercedes Benz SL series. The engine was tweaked for more power, which gave it a sporty overtone. The car’s main claim to fame was its’ method of construction. Shortened Eldorado chassis were sent to Pininfarina in Italy via airplane. There, the bodies were built and interiors fitted. Then the completed bodies were airlifted back to Detroit for the installation of drive trains and final inspection. This was expensive and was reflected in Allante’s stratospheric

price tag. This alone may have caused its’ early demise, but its’ lack of refinement and erector set top sure did not help.

The traditional full-size Cadillac that dated from 1980 was continued in the Fleetwood Brougham, and later simply the Brougham. The problematic HT4100 was replaced by the Olds built 307 in 1986. This proved to be a much more reliable engine, and while not a powerhouse, its behavior was much more suited to this large car. This car stayed mostly unchanged, except for a restyling in 1991 and substitution of the 307 with Chevrolet 5.7 litre engines in the early nineties. This gave a welcome increase in power without sacrifice in fuel economy.

The Cimarron also received steady improvement. The 1.8 ltr 4-cylinder engine was replaced by a fuel injected 2.0 ltr in 1984. This gave more power, but a new engine option really made it move along. This was a port fuel injected 2.8 ltr V-6. The engine remained on the option list until the demise of the Cimarron in 1989. The car strove to gain its’ own identity receiving more Cadillac like trimmings. While never regarded as a true Cadillac, it became a decent car in its’ own right.

In 1988, the 4100 received many improvements to aid in durability and address some of the problems that plagued it. First of all, Mercury Marine was contracted to solve the casting problems that resulted in the porous blocks. Better processes resulted in increased durability in other problem areas. Then finally, a bore increase gave a 4.5 ltr displacement and a power increase from 135 to 155hp.

The first signs of reincarnation came in 1989. The C-body cars were given increases in length and styling refinements that shouted Cadillac. Also improved was the Eldorado to look more substantial. The Seville gained a new model called the STS. This car was the real direction Cadillac would take on its’ road to renaissance.

The final and best revamping of the original 4.1 engine would take place for the 1991 model year. The engine was stroked to 4.9 ltr and developed an even 200 hp and 275 lb ft of torque. The cars equipped with this engine finally gave Cadillac a taste of some real performance. It had been a long time. The fuel delivery was changed to port injection in the 4.5 in 1990, and this would carry through for the 4.9.

Cadillac began to show some real fruits of the divisional overhaul in 1992. The Eldorado and Seville were completely redesigned, and became truly world-class cars, if even equipped with an architecturally ancient engine, but this would all change for the 1993 model year.

Under development for several years was a completely new engine and transmission. This was released for 1993 as the Northstar System. The entire power train and suspension were promoted as one cohesive unit. The engine was a totally new DOHC all aluminum V-8 producing 295 hp. The transmission also had to be completely redesigned to handle the power output and rpm capability of this engine. Road sensing suspension, that made its debut the year before was also part of the package. This system was standard and only available on the Seville STS, Eldorado Touring Coupe and the Allante. Cadillacs so equipped finally had all the power that the name had implied for so many years before. No longer would a Cadillac be embarrassed in a stoplight drag.

This was also the last year for the Allante, and perhaps the best. The car had been refined over the years, several new top mechanisms tried and abandoned, suspensions refined to give a better ride without sacrifice to handling, and the interior given new treatments. This was also the only year that the Northstar System was available. The lightweight and considerable power output gave the car an impressive power to weight ratio, and the cars were truly impressive performers. The Allante also paced the Indianapolis 500 in 1993, a great swan song for a car that helped change Cadillac’s image for the good.

1993 was also a good year for the traditionalists. The big rear drive Fleetwood Brougham was finally redesigned. This was the first major makeover of the car since 1977. It was a truly big car. Overall length was 225 inches, the same as 1959. The car was built on the same wheelbase as previous years and used the same basic frame, but everything else was new. Power was supplied by a fuel injected 5.7 ltr V-8 supplied by Chevrolet.

Revamping of the line would continue, with products becoming increasingly sophisticated and able. Quality would also take great leaps forward in the upcoming years, but alas, it was a moving target. While the cars were obviously better than they had been for many years, competitors were also making great strides in refinement, quality, and performance. When compared to these cars, Cadillac still came up somewhat short of the mark. This was not lost to Cadillac, though, so work was continued in earnest to level the field.

1994 saw the De Ville series redesigned. Unfortunately the Coupe deVille was no longer part of the lineup. Sales of large coupes had been steadily declining over the years, and the coupe did not warrant the added cost of

tooling. The 4.9 ltr V-8 saw its last application in the standard De Ville. A new performance model, the Concours, was introduced. It was powered by a Northstar engine that was retuned to deliver more usable power at lower engine speeds. Maximum output was 275 hp. Still considerable by any measure. These cars were also larger and heavier than the preceding models and were traditionally Cadillac in styling. The big Fleetwood also saw a major power injection in 1994. Power went from 190 to 260hp thanks to Chevrolet’s phenomenal LT1 engine. For such a large car, performance is quite athletic. It could shame many a so-called performance car in acceleration and top speed.

Unfortunately, the Fleetwood would last only a couple of more years until 1996. While GM still made money on these big cars, and the cars that were produced alongside of it, the Chevrolet Caprice/Impala SS and Buick Roadmaster, the sport utility craze took its victims. GM decided that they could make more money manufacturing a shortened version of the gargantuan Suburban, called the Tahoe. Existing plant capacity was used to produce the vehicles, so something had to go.

This would not be the last of the rear drive Cadillacs, though. Cadillac again wanted to have a go at the entry-level market that was proving so popular and profitable. They needed to compete with cars such as the 3-series BMW’s, Mercedes E and C class and Lexus’ is300. Cadillac turned to GM’s European arm for the solution. The Opel Omega that had been sold in Europe for a couple of years was gussied up and rebadged as a Cadillac. It was powered by a 200 hp 3.0 ltr V-6. While 200 hp sounds impressive, power was developed very high in the rpm range, and it made little power off the line, so acceleration was somewhat slow. It sold at a price quite competitive in this market, but while the car was generally well regarded in Europe, failed to provide Cadillac with a viable competitor in the market. The car itself was not bad, but it just did not measure up in comparison to its’ competitors. Then mechanical problems reared their ugly head. Electrical gremlins, engine oil leaks and engine problems began to surface. People began to remember the Cimarron.

The Seville came in for a major redo for 1998. It was based on GM’s newer G-body. This was a very stiff structure, and it improved the car’ dynamics considerably. Styling was evolutionary, so much so that you almost had to put the previous model beside the new one to see the difference. This was not a bad thing, because the Seville had come to be considered a very good

looking car. The power of choice remained the Northstar. By this time the engine had earned a reputation of one of the world’s finest power plants. Cadillac also introduced Stabilitrac and On-Star during the late nineties. Stabilitrac was an active suspension control system that really helped the vehicle dynamics. By monitoring throttle angle, brake input and an accelerometer, the system would manipulate shock valving and apply a particular brake to aid in handling. Also part of this was full range ABS and traction control. On-Star is a satellite-based system that can do various functions such as unlock doors if you locked the keys in the car, call police if the airbags deployed and even assist in hotel and restaurant reservations.

Performance shift algorithm, another new feature that percepted the driver’s wishes and controlled transmission shift points accordingly. For instance, if you wanted to drive in a “sport mode”, you need not move a switch to that position, the transmission would automatically raise shift points holding off shifts to a higher rpm and also downshift from higher rpm for increased engine braking and faster exit speeds from cornering. The system would then return to a more relaxed mode for easy cruising when you desired. The system works surprisingly well. Stabilitrac, full range ABS and traction control and performance shift algorhythm combined to make the car quite sporting indeed.

The Deville came for a makeover in 2000. It sported all the newest technology of the STS, and upped the ante. Newly optional was Night vision. This technology was developed for the aerospace industry and is widely used in military applications. Cadillac is the first to bring it to the automobile industry. This infrared system aided in seeing in the dark by being able to spot obstacles many times off in the distance that conventional headlamps could do.

The car is still quite large and offers quite generous accommodations. The car remains front wheel drive, and styling very contemporary. It also sports the first use of LED tail lamp clusters.

The sport utility craze that has swept the market has been quite phenomenal. Cadillac missed the boat, somewhat, in this respect. Caught off guard, Lincoln introduced the Navigator, which was based on the Ford Expedition and proceeded to eclipse Cadillac in sales on the benefit of the Navigator. Cadillac had proposed a Northstar powered SUV based on the Suburban back in 1993, but management would have nothing to do with it. Now Cadillac was caught without a vehicle to compete in this market. They

quickly modified a GMC Denali with Cadillac nameplates and interior and called it the Escalade. It was based on the 1992 generation Yukon, and because of its’ hurried development, it was not the vehicle it could have been. Cadillac rectified this for the 2002 model year with the introduction of the new Escalade. Based on the latest generation big SUV platform, and having unique styling and engineering, it has become THE luxury SUV to own. Power comes from a 6.0 ltr 345 hp version of GM’s new generation of pushrod V-8’s and is the most powerful SUV in the world. Both 2 and 4-wheel drive versions are available, but most of the demand is for the 4 wheel drive version.

Introduced in the winter of 2002 is what may be the most important vehicle in the recent history of Cadillac. This is the replacement for the Catera, now simply called the CTS. It is the first use of the new “Sigma” platform developed by GM. This is a new state of the art rear drive platform that offers class leading stiffness and dynamics. Perhaps its’ main claim to fame is its’ adaptability to various wheelbases, sizes and drive systems. The Chassis was developed on the famous German Nurburgring, and rivals the finest sport sedans in dynamics. The car has been described as truly athletic and an absolute blast to drive. Power is from a Catera derived 3.2 ltr V-6 of 220 hp. Styling of the car is quite controversial, though. Love it or hate it, it is the direction Cadillac is taking for the future.

Also introduced in the winter of 2002 is the Escalade EXT. This is the kissing cousin to the avante guard Chevrolet Avalanche, but with the looks and technical sophistication of the Escalade. It’s a cross between an SUV and a pick-up truck (!). Normally, It’s a four door five seat SUV with a short bed in the rear, but it can be easily configured into a two-seat pickup with an eight-foot bed. Cadillac calls it an SUT, T for truck. No one would have ever thought ten years ago that Cadillac would be in the light truck market! But remember, it’s not the first time as they marketed a light delivery van in the early years.

The Eldorado, unfortunately is slated to be discontinued at the end of the 2002 model year. It is the end of a proud tradition that this car brought to the division. Always a premium Cadillac, it stood as the pinnacle of desirability of the most desirable brand in the land. It enjoyed the best mechanical sophistication and best styling Cadillac could give it. But because of the shift away from personal cars in the late 80’s and 90’s, sales began to fall. The writing was on the wall when it did not receive the upgrades that the Seville did in 1998.

Other proud models have fallen by the wayside in the last few years also. First was the Coupe deVille. Introduced in 1949 as the first in the new wave of hardtops, it became the best seller in the lineup for many years, or always nipping at the heels of the sedans. Cadillac tried to amortize the tooling by offering the style in the Fleetwood series throughout the 80’s and early 90’s, but again, the sales of the large coupes began to dwindle.

Perhaps the greatest loss is the Fleetwood. This name has always stood as the grandest of Cadillacs from the time Cadillac purchased the body-building house in the late twenties. The most exclusive coach built cars were built by Fleetwood in the classic era. The Fleetwood always remained as the best of the best. It was Cadillac’s premium owner driven sedan with its’ own exclusive wheelbase and roofline for so many years, decades in fact. The Series Seventy Five was also part of the Fleetwood family, and this was perhaps the most exclusive and grandest of all Cadillacs. Fleetwood became a series in 1965 and it included the best of Cadillacs, the Sixty Special sedan, the Seventy Fives, the Eldorado and Seville when it was introduced in 1975.

During the eighties, it lost much of its exclusivity, becoming a trimmed up deVille, then being shuffled around in a confusing manner from one year to the next in the early nineties until finally settling in for the final years as a nameplate from 1993 to 1996 when it became perhaps one of the finest Fleetwoods ever. Then it was discontinued without a whimper, victim of the corporate bean counter.

Nameplates aside, over the next few years there is much excitement brewing within Cadillac. They have finally come to realize that to compete with the best of the luxury performance cars the world has to offer, they have to do it with a modern rear drive platform. Thereby, the development of the sigma platform. In the near future all Cadillacs, save for the Deville and Escalade, will be built off this platform. Some very exciting cars are on the horizon. First of all is the XLR. This is a two-place sports car that is powered by a supercharged 4.2 ltr version of the Northstar. Then an all-new Seville that is rumoured to be powered in its premium form by an all-new V-12 engine. Incidentally, this engine is also to be used in the Escalade. This engine is to use GM’s new toy, Displacement on demand. This is similar in

concept to the V-8-6-4 of twenty years earlier, but more development and more reliable electronics should make it work. The Northstar has been using something similar to guard against engine damage in the event of complete coolant loss since the engine was introduced. There is also rumour of a new “Super Sedan” in the works. This is to be a premium sedan in the same mould of the Mercedes S Class and BMW 7 Series. It is entirely possible given the development and adaptability of the sigma platform and the upcoming V-12 engine. Perhaps it may be the triumphant return of the Fleetwood name!

So, after many false starts, perhaps this may finally be Cadillacs return to the glory they once enjoyed for the greatest part of its’ existence. New management is in place at GM and Cadillac that is completely able and want to make a real go at returning Cadillac and GM to the force it once was. A real recognition of the shortfalls, and a solid plan to eliminate them is now in force. Perhaps the hardest thing to do is to make the name one to be desired by the public. It seems that has already started by the acceptance of the Escalade as the most desirable in a market that is so hot among the most visible; music, TV and movie stars. Suddenly, Cadillac is COOL!

So, when we go down the road of Cadillac’s history, we will look at the twenty years that Cadillac seemed to lose its way, and regard them as character defining. The school of hard knocks is the best teacher of all, and it appears Cadillac was an honour student. Then we will look at the marque overall in its entire 100 years of glory in the marketplace. 100 years as the best in the world. 100 years of technical pioneering that produced achievements such as the self-starter, Synchromesh and Hydra-Matic, the modern high compression OHV V-8, Climate control. 100 years of styling achievements like the Sixty Special, tailfins and the 1976 Seville. 100 years as America’s premium automobile. 100 years as the most desirable motor car, one that songs were written about and comparisons to as “It’s the Cadillac of…..” 100 Years as THE STANDARD OF THE WORLD.


Mike Jones

February 2002