Cars We Remember; Cadillac has always been an innovative car company – big engines, big cars, big in racing

Cars We Remember; Cadillac has always been an innovative car company - big engines, big cars, big in racingToday, Cadillac competes in the ultra-professional IMSA Prototype endurance class of motor sports. Shown here is a Cadillac factory team DPi (Daytona Prototype 1) from the recent WeatherTech IMSA Sahlen’s 6-Hour event held at Watkins Glen International. Many innovations learned on racetracks appear in the cars Cadillac sells to its dedicated consumer base. As for the prototype pictured, the working headlights are identical to a production Cadillac. (Photo by Dave Mareck)

Q: Greg, I am a big fan of the Cadillac and want to know your opinions about their innovative history, racing, engines and overall wheelbase sizes. I know Cadillac used to put out some really big cars including one with a V-16 engine. Also, do you think Cadillac should receive credit for today’s variable firing cylinder engines? They were the first to introduce them with the V8-6-4. Also, today’s Cadillac’s now feature a Super Cruise, and I’d like to know more about that self-driving feature. I enjoy your columns very much. Mark L., retired car lover in Jacksonville, Fla. 

A: Mark, Cadillac’s history is loaded with lots of different engines, engine ideas, racing and just plain “big” tidbits from the size of the wheelbase to modern features like Super Cruise. 

Let’s start in reverse order of questions with the Super Cruise feature available right now on select Cadillac models. Offered on the 2018-2020 CT6, 2021 CT4, CT5 and Escalade, Super Cruise is one of the first true hands-free driving-assistance features on roads that are compatible. Super Cruise utilizes advanced technologies to provide hands-free driving, even while changing lanes thanks to Lane Change on Demand. Super Cruise works with Adaptive Cruise, which controls acceleration and braking while it is enabled and operating.

Cars We Remember; Cadillac has always been an innovative car company - big engines, big cars, big in racing

This 1958 Cadillac Sixty Special featured a 127-inch wheelbase, but was still 13-inches shorter than the 1930 model. The ad leaves little doubt what consumer class Cadillac was calling. (Compliments Cadillac)

Super Cruise utilizes real-time precise positioning, cameras, sensors, and LiDAR (light detection and ranging) map data to help detect every curve, thus helping make long drives and commutes comfortable and convenient.

Being I’ve had the opportunity to test the Super Cruise on the 2020 Cadillac CT6 Blackhawk that I tested last year, drivers need to press the Super Cruise button on the steering wheel to engage on a compatible, 4-lane freeway type road. When the symbol and steering wheel light bar illuminate in green, you can remove your hands from the steering wheel; that indicates Super Cruise is now steering the vehicle. To disengage Super Cruise, press either the Super Cruise button again or simply apply the brake pedal.

Overall, I was very impressed with Cadillac’s innovation, but remember, this feature is not available on a two-lane country road at this time. You have to be on a compatible roadway, and in this instance that means a divided 4-lane or more turnpike or freeway. 

Now we’ll go on to one of Cadillac’s failures, the V8-6-4 that you mention. The V8-6-4 engine that Cadillac produced from 1982 through 1984 was a good idea that was brought to market too soon. Today, cylinder deactivation is so common it most times isn’t even worthy of note, as every car manufacturer uses the cylinder deactivation mechanicals. These initial Cadillac V8-6-4 engines were 368 cubic-inch V8 designs that featured cylinder deactivation to get better fuel mileage. As highway and freeway speeds were reached, the cylinders deactivated from 8 to 6 and then to 4, which is pretty much what today’s modern marvel engines do with ease. And, “doing it with ease” is where Cadillac struggled, as these engines were prone to problems and removed from production after just three years. 

However, Cadillac sure did have the right idea, they just couldn’t perfect it some 40 years ago. Still, Cadillac was years ahead of every manufacturer in its deactivation idea, and deserves credit as the original founder of cylinder deactivation theory. 

As for those big Cadillac engines, the largest Cadillac engine ever was a 500-cubic inch V8 that debuted in 1970 in the Eldorado, with 472-inchers available in the Deville models and Fleetwoods from 1968 through 1974. Then in 1975 and 1976, the Cadillac Deville and Fleetwoods came with 500-inch V8s as standard equipment. I was a proud owner of two Cadillacs in my lifetime, a 1972 Sedan Deville with the 472 and a 1975 Coupe Deville with the 500.

Cars We Remember; Cadillac has always been an innovative car company - big engines, big cars, big in racing

Photo of the V-16 Cadillac engine, produced in 1930 at a size of 452 cubic-inches. (Compliments Cadillac)

However, 91 years ago, (yes 91 years), Cadillac built a 472-inch engine, which lasted as the biggest until the 500 arrived in ‘75. In 1930 Cadillac offered a 353-inch V8, a 368-inch V12, and a 452-inch V16. That 452-inch engine wasn’t that far from the aforementioned more modern 472 and 500 V8 style engines, although it took eight more cylinders to do so. In 1936, two new V8s joined the V12 and V16, in 322 and 346-inch designs. Then in 1937, only one V8, the 346, was available, along with the larger V12 and V16. In 1938, Cadillac dropped the V12 and reduced the V16 to 431-inches. The V16 lasted through 1939, and was then replaced by V8 engines from there on.

As for wheelbase sizes, those 1975 and 1976 500-inch V8 models carried the same 130-inch wheelbase that first appeared back in 1959. However, the longest wheelbase standard Cadillac (not limo or stretched Fleetwoods or Sixty Specials) was the 1930 Cadillac, which was built on a 140-inch wheelbase that to this day remains the longest standard size Cadillac ever built.

Cars We Remember; Cadillac has always been an innovative car company - big engines, big cars, big in racing

So popular is the Cadillac brand it found the United States Postal Service issuing a special commemorative stamp back in 2008 of the big finned 1959 Cadillac Eldorado. (Compliments USPS)

Today, Cadillac is heavily involved in professional motor racing, competing in the IMSA endurance events with many wins to its credit. The innovations it develops in these events, including everything from brakes to suspensions to engine power and economy, are many times brought over to its production Cadillacs. Although seeing a photo of these IMSA Cadillac prototypes clearly reveal they are competing in the top, professional endurance prototype classes in the world, the true personality of Cadillac comes through crystal clear … INNOVATION. 

Thanks for your question on Cadillac and your kind words.  

(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes reader questions on collector cars, auto nostalgia and motorsports at or at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840.)

Be the first to comment on "Cars We Remember; Cadillac has always been an innovative car company – big engines, big cars, big in racing"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.