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Heavy Metal Affliction - Cadillac

John Schommer
Thursday, February 23, 2017

When you think of Cadillac, you think of luxury. These days, luxury goes hand in hand with high-performance, and Cadillac continues making huge strides to remain as “The Standard of the World” it became known as at the beginning of the 20th century.


Since the turn of the 21st century, Cadillac has been redefining what performance means. If you’re looking for proof, take the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V from the Playseat Car Pack for Forza Horizon 3 for a spin. Upon hearing its exhaust note, putting it through its paces, or just gazing upon its elegant and aggressive form you will become a believer.


Part of leading the car manufacturing world in craftsmanship and build quality is innovation. Early Cadillacs touted their structural strength in advertising showing them jumping ramp to ramp. When you consider the quality of roads at the time just having something durable was a luxury. It was a starting point for a philosophy of always building the best and anticipating what the customer will want.


Did you know Cadillac can be credited with introducing the first full electrical system for an automobile, including the electric starter? That was around 1909. By 1915, the company was offering the first mass-produced V8 engines, producing all of 70 horsepower and capable of propelling the vehicles at up to 65 mph. At the time, that was way faster than the drivers or roads could handle.



In the pursuit of power, Cadillac developed the V-16 that was one of the most powerful engines at the time. A later model of the overhead-valve V8 set another benchmark for the industry. The turbo-hydramatic three-speed transmission was developed by Cadillac and became the GM standard. Automatic air-conditioning, the Autronic-eye automated headlamps, fiber-optic warning systems… the list goes on, and all were Cadillac firsts.


Before we go any further, it’s also amazing to note that the Cadillac company was forged out of the vestiges of the Henry Ford Company after Ford left, following disputes with investors. The Cadillac name comes from a French explorer who founded Detroit, where of course the General Motors headquarters resides. GM acquired Cadillac in 1909, after the carmaker had established itself at the forefront of luxury and performance.



Over the decades, while setting standards as simple as a steel roof in the 1920s, or defining style in the 1950s with Harley Earl’s glorious tailfins, functional innovation has always been at the core of Cadillac design. In recent years, Cadillac engineers created Magnetic Ride Control which is now an industry standard around the world. Today’s CTS-Vs and ATS-Vs are on the third generation of magnetorheological dampers and the amazing ride quality and nimble handling are the result.


If you follow the World Challenge racing series, the name Johnny O’Connell will likely come to mind. O’Connell won four consecutive Driver’s Championships (2012-2015) behind the wheel of CTS and ATS V.R Coupes. “We are competing against Porsche and Bentley, and Ferrari, and Lamborghini, and McLaren and all these top world brands and we beat them,” O’Connell said.



Technology transfer is a large part of why many brands go racing. According to O’Connell, “The bigger reason for being in World Challenge is its marketing opportunity to re-educate the world as to the performance aspects that are Cadillac.” While some race technology does end up in the production vehicles, in the case of O’Connell, he actually reverse-transferred the technology of the new ATS-V’s rear view camera to his race car.


So far, 2017 has started off well for Cadillac Racing. In the newly redefined IMSA prototype class Cadillac race teams took first and second place at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. The winning #10 Cadillac DPi-V.R, was piloted by the Taylor brothers Ricky and Jordan, along with NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon and Max Angelleli who was behind the wheel at the finish.


What is the number one reason why Cadillac has gone racing? “Internal motivation,” said Steve Martin of Cadillac Product and Technology Communications. “We race because it reflects the passion at the heart of Cadillac’s new management team.” Their design team is made up of driving enthusiasts. Features like the Performance Traction Management (PTM) are inspired by engineer drivers who are designing features that they feel enhance the driving experience.



In an era where the much-loved manual shift transmission is becoming harder and harder to find, the CTS and ATS-Vs are both available with a six-speed manual complimented with auto-rev matching on downshifts and no-lift shifting on upshifts. These features can be turned off, but Martin states, “Our engineers are consistently faster in PTM 5 – RACE mode than with everything off. Just like racing, good tech now makes a driver faster and safer.”


The focus on hard driving performance is just one element of the 21st century Cadillac; prestige is still at the forefront. Where in the 1950s a cars presence may have been defined by huge tailfins, massive chrome bumpers, power everything, and a ride that seemed to float, today’s version of prestige includes superb braking and steering to go with class-leading power. Martin summed it up this way: “It’s a more visceral experience built on a foundation of product substance.”



When I was talking with O’Connell about his own street driving ATS-V, he mentioned that he gets more comments on it than his Corvette. In my own experience, at a recent open drift event I made a friend who owns a fully-built CTS-V drift car and it was the car everyone wanted a ride in. Not just because of the smoky drifts it was displaying, but because it was different.



Maybe that’s one of the reasons that both O’Connell and Martin attest to the fact that when drivers of European super sedans and coupes take a test drive in one of the new Cadillacs, in most cases they end up buying one.


So how does Cadillac continue to hold up to their century-old slogan of being the “Standard of the World?” In an age where some car companies refuse to push limits and take chances by going outside the envelope, perhaps the answer is in their slogan of today, “Dare Greatly.”