Cadillac has been creating cars since 1902 and is noted for its American-style luxury vehicles. Many of the automaker’s cars left an unforgettable impression on the psyche. Cadillac dominates the American vehicle market with the Eldorado, Fleetwood, CTS, and Escalade.
Some Detroit vehicles may have been overlooked despite their popularity. Cadillac’s not-so-famous racers are among the most ill-conceived and poorly executed innovations in history. General Motors’ Pontiac and Chevrolet have dominated the track. 10 Cadillac flops, misses, and unremarkable models are forgotten. GM has various brands for different market groups. The brands shared parts and platforms for decades, with a single automobile built for Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Chevrolet, and often all three. Cadillac didn’t share platforms and made unique luxury automobiles.
GM adapted the J-Body shared by the Chevrolet Cavalier, Buick Skylark, and Pontiac Sunbird for the Cimarron to compete with smaller German luxury vehicles. While it had Cadillac badges and a classy look, it was a small, underpowered economy model made with cheap parts and chewing gum. “Cimarron by Cadillac” wasn’t even an official Cadillac model at the time. Motor week’s retro review gave the car fair scores in various categories but emphasized its economy.
A forgotten car isn’t always a terrible one. Sometimes good ideas are forgotten. By the 1920s, GM was a major firm with multiple brands, but management added a couple to bridge price gaps. LaSalle is the tiny Cadillac. Motorpedia says the LaSalle was smaller than the Cadillac but had similar luxury features. Alfred Sloan and Harley Earl conceived LaSalle. It was a lower-priced Cadillac partner brand. LaSalle produced elegant cars from 1927 through 1940. During the Depression, it existed to keep Cadillac profitable while vehicle sales declined. A nice LaSalle can be found for a fraction of what antique Cadillacs fetch. Perhaps the current pricing is because the Cadillac name doesn’t have the same cache as when they were new.
American automakers have been trying to compete with European imports since the late 1970s. Cadillac is continuously trying to beat BMW and Mercedes’ luxury sedans. Cadillac unveiled the Euro-styled Catera midsize car in 1999. Cadillac imported an automobile to compete with its European rivals. The Catera is the Opel/Vauxhall Omega, not merely a GM sedan. Cadillac badge-engineered a Toyota Catera to sell as a Cadillac, but it didn’t work. Car and Driver’s 2000 evaluation of the Cimarron isn’t surprising. The review praises the car but is mostly disappointed. The Catera barely lasted a few years and based on customer ratings at Edmunds, there’s a good reason people forget it.
The 1970s oil crisis forced American automakers to build fuel-efficient vehicles. Ford and Chevrolet replied with 4-cylinder automobiles, but Cadillac was used to building spacious, comfortable cars at premium prices. Cadillac thought technology would save fuel, but it didn’t. By 1980, breakthroughs in computers and auto engineering made electronic fuel injection a reality, with Cadillac pioneering the system on the Seville. Starting in 1981, the 6.0-liter L62 V8 engine with a V8-6-4 variable displacement system as standard. Codeveloped with Bendix, the V8-6-4 employed a throttle body EFI paired with solenoids attached to rockers to deactivate cylinders, effectively cutting the engine cylinders from eight to six to four. On paper, the system looked wonderful, but Hemmings says the computer was inadequate. The switch from partial to full cylinder activation wasn’t seamless in practice. The device was so bothersome that it was quickly removed from all Cadillacs.
Diesel power was used to combat the fuel economy problems of the 1970s. Oldsmobile’s 5.7-liter diesel V8 was adopted by GM’s divisions, including Cadillac. The Seville briefly offered it. Diesel was problematic. First, diesel engines are inherently inefficient. Loud and smokey. Few customers wanted to spend more for a premium automobile with a noisy engine and carbon-heavy smoke. Cadillac added 75 pounds of sound-deadening material, but it was still loud. Diesel’s discomforts were just the beginning; its design was defective. Cars quickly blew head gaskets and injector pump chains wore out. Early variants lacked a water separator and rusted. The GM diesel experiment soured the public on the fuel choice for decades. Germans continued to sell them, albeit in tiny numbers compared to Europe. Cadillac won’t offer another diesel-powered vehicle until 2021.
Cadillac’s Lyriq will be the automaker’s first electric vehicle. The 2014 Cadillac ELR was a plug-in hybrid that shared its drivetrain with the Chevrolet Volt. The ELR was a well-sorted premium coupe in our pre-launch assessment. It features the elegance of a modern Cadillac and a revolutionary drivetrain. GM called it an EREV or extended-range electric vehicle because it’s not a hybrid. The gas engine isn’t attached to the wheels and only runs when the batteries run out. The ELR can drive on electricity for short distances. Price may have been ELR’s downfall. 2014 cost $75,000. People don’t enjoy spending a lot of money on experimental automotive technology. The 2014-2016 ELR only sold 3,000 cars; there was no 2015 model. Due to its rarity, few people remember this model. Cadillac hopes the Lyriq is more successful.
The Escalade is not Cadillac’s first truck. Cadillac was one of the first American automakers to build and sell cars. Early on, the vehicle industry was hand-built. Early carmakers-built chassis for coachbuilders to attach bodies.
Cadillac’s first car was a runabout, an open car with a bench seat; many were modified, as this one sold by Sotheby’s for $123,200. The automobile is a box on top of a chassis, but it’s a truck for its day, so the Escalade isn’t the first. The first 2,500 Cadillacs were made, so collectors know the few that remain.
Cadillac’s Allante coupe was envisioned as a premium coupe to develop brand prestige and lure customers from European rivals. The Allante was a testbed for new technologies and a car-building project. Cadillac’s Allante was designed and partially manufactured in Europe. Pininfarina designed and built the car’s body. Pininfarina sent Allante’s bodies to Detroit aboard specially equipped Boeing 747s. Flying vehicle bodies across the seas sped up manufacturing but increased costs. The first Allante sold for $54,700 in 1987, which is $121,336 in 2018 currency. The Allante’s weak 170-horsepower engine, leaking head gaskets, unreliable brakes, and poor resale value are cited by Hemmings. In 1993, Allante’s final year, it introduced the Cadillac NorthStar engine. Owners of the Allante say it’s one of the best automobiles ever produced. Beyond die-hards, the Allante is unpopular today.
Cadillac isn’t known for motorsports but racing one of its luxury land barges from the 20th century may seem ludicrous. A 19-foot Fleetwood carrying 5,000 pounds isn’t likely to see any checkered flags. Cadillacs on the racetrack are not unheard of, especially since the 1990s drive toward a sportier image. Cadillac NorthStar LMP uses a twin-turbo version of its NorthStar V8 to power open-top cars for endurance events like Le Mans. Road and Track note that LMP had excellent finishes but no wins. With few wins and dwindling resources, the program was canceled, and funding was redirected to GM’s Corvette racing effort.
Cadillac fielded a pair of Series 61-based Le Man’s racers a half-century before LMP. One automobile was a showroom-ready Cadillac with engine modifications; the other was a custom build nicknamed “Le Monstre.”
The car with the factory body was stock save for its extra petrol tank, twin carburetor manifold, and air scoops for the drum brakes; the suspension and everything else was the same as at the showroom. Cadillac furnished a five-carb intake manifold for the modified automobile. Aluminum bespoke bodywork barely kept the car under two tons. Despite their size and weight, the cars finished 10th and 11th, which is respectable for huge luxury automobiles on the course. If they’d won, it’d be larger news. It’s an interesting footnote in Cadillac’s history that influences the company’s racing program today.