(first posted 11/20/2015) Henry Leland founded both Lincoln and Cadillac, and both brands’ vehicles quickly established reputations for quality workmanship after their introductions. For many years, both marques shared the same mission: to offer the plushest, most luxuriously-appointed and prestigious American cars. In recent years, the two marques have gone in different directions: Lincoln is re-establishing a reputation for luxury and technology above all else, while Cadillac is offering more aggressive styling and sports sedans with world-class dynamics. But even in the decades leading up to now, when the lineups of the brands Leland founded featured DeVilles and Town Cars, these crosstown rivals differed in another way. Lincoln was quite fond of offering special editions, whether they be designed by fashion icons or as tie-ins with sporting events and personalities. Cadillac, meanwhile, was much less inclined. That’s not to say there weren’t some obscure special editions and forgotten limited-run models over the years, however.
Cadillac SRX Sport
Years produced: 2007-09
Total production: ?
Sometimes, automotive journalists and consumers are at odds when it comes to deciding what car to buy. Mediocre cars panned by critics often sell well, while there have been critically acclaimed cars that have never lived up to their makers’ expectations. The 2004 Cadillac SRX was a hit with critics, winning comparison tests and receiving rave reviews despite some noticeable flaws (so-so fuel economy, an unusual interior). Alas, sales never reached GM’s expectations. Some theorize it was the striking styling which was perhaps too station wagon-esque for a market that was hungry for bluff, trucky-looking SUVs like the Cadillac Escalade or slippery, svelte crossovers like the Infiniti FX and Nissan Murano. For 2007, the SRX was given an entirely new interior, addressing its chief flaw, and yet there was no uptick in sales. This was also despite the availability of a new Sport package that spruced up the styling.
The Sport package added some visual aggression to the tall-boy, long-roof Sigma platform crossover. While the elegant, leather-wrapped new interior was unchanged, the exterior featured numerous enhancements. The grille was body-color with mesh backing reminiscent of the V-Series Cadillacs. Front and rear fascias were redesigned, the latter accompanied by 4-inch polished exhaust tips. Also available were 20-inch sport wheels with performance tires.
As more luxury brands entered the 7-seater crossover market, Cadillac chose to withdraw. The 2010 SRX shifted to a front-wheel-drive platform and lost the available V8. It also cost around $10k less and looked more like a conventional SUV. No longer was it a BMW X5 beater; instead, it was more of a Lexus RX matcher. Sales doubled almost immediately.
White Eldorado photos courtesy of O2AFAC67
Cadillac Eldorado Collector Series
Years produced: 2002
Total production: 1596
GM let the final Eldorado wither on the vine. Extensively overhauled for 1992 like its Seville stablemate, the Eldorado didn’t migrate to the more modern and more rigid G-Body for 1998 with the Seville, or in 2000 with the DeVille. Instead, minor visual tweaks were made but nothing could spark more consumer interest in Cadillac’s aging coupe. The segment was dying: the related Oldsmobile Toronado was long gone, the Buick Riviera and Lincoln Mark VIII dead after 1999. There were rumors of a rear-wheel-drive Seville and Eldorado replacement at the dawn of the new century, but they were false: the Seville wasn’t replaced until 2005 and the purported RWD Eldorado replacement never eventuated. The Eldorado thus lingered on, gradually declining in popularity, until it was axed in 2002. To send off the 49-year-old nameplate, Cadillac produced 1,596 Collector Series Eldorados.
For $2,395 above the Eldorado Touring Coupe’s $45,265 sticker, the Collector Series added unique seven-spoke chrome wheels and a throatier exhaust note, retuned to recall the sound of the 1953 Eldorado. You could have any color you liked, as long as it was Alpine White or Aztec Red. Again, these were colors available on the ’53.
Inside was slightly more differentiated. Alpine White Collectors had two-tone leather trim in Shale and Oatmeal, with Pommele Sapele wood trim in lieu of the regular Eldorado’s Zebrano wood.
Aztec Red Collectors had a racier black and red two-tone leather interior with carbon fiber replacing wood. Both interior schemes featured a numbered dash plaque.
It was these thoughtful and distinctive touches that made the Collector Series a memorable send-off for the venerable nameplate, but it also made one wonder why they hadn’t invested this kind of effort in the Eldorado earlier. As one final tribute to the ’53, of which just 532 were produced, the production sequence of the Collector Series was 532 white coupes, 532 red and then another 532 white.
The final generation of Eldorado may have remained mostly unchanged for a decade, but even by 2002 its handsome lines had held up well. However, its competition had moved on. No, not the coupe competition – most of that was gone, after all – but the internal competition. The slightly newer Seville and DeVille could float over bumps with the best of them, but they were engineered with greater suspension control, rigidity and poise, while offering the same gutsy Northstar V8 performance. The Eldorado’s time was most certainly up, but Cadillac wouldn’t be without a two-door for long.
Cadillac XLR Neiman Marcus
Years produced: 2004
Total production: 101
The Deville and Seville may have been competent sedans, if graying around the temples, but the arrival of the XLR in Cadillac showrooms in 2004 made them look like absolute relics. Inspired by the 1999 Evoq concept car, the XLR was the most dramatic expression of Cadillac’s new Art & Science design theme yet and became the marque’s halo car. Riding atop a modified Corvette platform and manufactured in the same Bowling Green factory, the XLR was re-engineered to include the 4.6 Northstar V8. Weighing an extra 400 pounds thanks to higher feature content and a folding metal roof, and down 30 horsepower, the Caddy roadster was less of a hellraiser than the Corvette. However, its role was as a Mercedes SL rival and although it was expected to deftly manage the twisties, it was also designed to lope along coastal roads and cruise down highways. To help introduce the new nameplate in 2004, Cadillac offered a special Neiman Marcus special edition through the department store’s 2003 Christmas catalog.
Actually, two of the $85,000 Neiman Marcus XLRs were auctioned off for charity, with the remaining 99 available through the catalog. The Ultra Violet paint color was unique to this special edition, and was paired with a two-tone shale and ebony interior and an engraved, numbered sill plate. The idea of a uniquely colored special edition would inspire Cadillac to later launch limited-run Star Black, Alpine White and Passion Red editions.
The Neiman Marcus edition was priced a lofty $9k above the regular XLR MSRP, but it sold out in 14 minutes. If only the XLR continued to sell at such a rate. Instead, sales declined each year, despite the arrival of the luxurious XLR Platinum and high-performance XLR-V, until Cadillac axed the luxury roadster after 2009. The luxury roadster segment was small and perhaps its buyers were too brand loyal to consider the upstart XLR, but Cadillac didn’t help by leaving the convertible mostly untouched for its run. By 2009, the dated Northstar was looking none too competitive power-wise and the interior was outclassed by the much cheaper CTS. Still, the XLR looked like nothing else on the road and you either loved it or hated it (personally, I loved it). Johan de Nysschen, the new President of Cadillac, wants to eventually re-introduce a Cadillac roadster. We’ll see if Cadillac can be more successful third time around.
Cadillac CTS Touring
Years produced: 2012-14
Total production: ?
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, the CTS anchored Cadillac’s passenger car lineup. The luxoboat DTS’ sales willowed away after its sophomore season, as even its natty Art & Science reskin of 2006 couldn’t hide the car’s arthritic bones. The handsome STS sadly never made much of a dent, sales-wise, and the second-generation CTS’ gorgeous lines simply made it look old and plain come 2008. The CTS was a breakthrough for Cadillac: it became Motor Trend’s 2008 Car of the Year and Car & Driver mused that it may have been “the best American car ever made”. For its second generation, the CTS had gone to finishing school: there was more chrome and wood than before, but it was elegantly applied; the exterior and interior were still bold, distinctively American and yet tailored and prestigious. If there were two faults of the acclaimed second CTS, they related to the engines. Firstly, the base powertrain from 2010 onwards was GM’s mediocre 3.0 V6, an engine no more fuel-efficient than the direct-injected 3.6 also available, and one that could have used another 30-40 pound-feet of torque (mystifyingly, it replaced a 3.6 that had just that). Secondly, there was a gaping chasm between the 304-318 hp DI V6 and the 556 hp, supercharged 6.2 V8 in the CTS-V. Whether the aborted, Northstar-replacing Ultra V8 was intended for the CTS is unknown, but it would take until the third-generation CTS for Cadillac to offer an in-between engine. Perhaps as a consolation prize, Cadillac offered a sport package in the last few years of second-gen production.
Cadillac had offered a “Performance Collection” throughout CTS II’s run, offering firmer FE2 and FE3 suspension tunes. The $2,065 Touring package was more of a cosmetic package, although it could be ordered in tandem with those mechanical upgrades. Effectively, the Touring was designed to be reminiscent of the wild CTS-V. Available on all three body styles of the CTS, the Touring added a dark-accented grille and, on the coupe and sedan, the respective CTS-V models’ rear spoilers.
As for the interior, if you opted for the Touring sedan or wagon with the 18-inch aluminum pearl nickel wheels, you received bucket seats with suede inserts. However, if you chose the 19-inch polished aluminum wheels, you received body-hugging Recaro bucket seats; this was the only option for the coupe, and brought the cost of the package up by an extra $800. There was also suede trim on the shifter and steering wheel, Midnight Sapele wood trim and alloy pedals. But for the lack of piano black trim, the overall look was almost identical to the CTS-V interior. It also represented great value for money, as selecting the Recaro buckets in a CTS-V tacked over $3,000 to the sticker.
Cadillac has proven to be more committed than most luxury automakers to the good old-fashioned manual transmission. However, the stick shift was slowly whittled away from the CTS lineup. The CTS Sport Wagon was launched in 2010, but the manual was gone by the Touring’s arrival in 2012. Also in 2012, the 3.6 sedan gained horses but lost its 6-speed manual. The 3.0 sedan lost its manual in 2013, the sedan’s last year, while the coupe (only ever available as a 3.6) lost it in 2014, the last year for the coupe and wagon. So while the CTS Touring’s Recaro buckets and sporty trim suggested it was the most exciting of the regular CTS models, that wasn’t quite the case. But as a way to keep the second generation fresh in its twilight years, the Touring represented a nice bit of kit for a little extra dough.
Cadillac Seville and Eldorado Commemorative Edition
Years produced: 1985
Total production: ?
Seville photos courtesy of That Hartford Guy
The Commemorative Edition commemorated the end of the 1979-vintage Eldorado and 1980-vintage Seville before they underwent a radical and poorly-received downsizing. Much like the Bill Blass Lincolns of the 1970s and 1980s, the Commemorative Eldorado coupe and convertible and Seville followed a navy and white theme.
Officially, the exterior colors were known as Commodore Blue and Cotillion White. Both Seville and Eldorado special editions had special gold badging and both were available in either color, but in interior treatment they differed.
The Seville had blue leather seats with white cushions, while the Eldorado’s color scheme was inverted; both, however, had a blue dash but white and blue door panels. Either way, the interior treatment was distinctive and yet quite elegant. The Commemorative Editions also came fully-loaded, although in 1985 the engine offerings were either the HT-4100 V8 or the Oldsmobile 5.7 diesel V8. Fortunately, these Caddys weren’t designed for high-speed thrills. You just sat back and enjoyed the (slow) ride in leather-lined comfort.
There’s quite a contrast here: farewell tributes and splashy introductions; Recaro seats and button-tufted benches; stick shift, RWD sport sedans and patrician FWD luxury coupes. Next week, we shall explore some more contrasting Cadillacs. After all, the only way to travel is Cadillac style.