1979 Cadillac Cadette I4-3-2-1-0: The Elusive Really Small Cadillac

(Image by CC’er Tim Brands)

It’s 1978. A revolution has engulfed Saudi Arabia, and oil prices are spiraling out of sight. In the US, gasoline rationing is in effect, and the national speed limit has been lowered to 45 mph. GM is desperate, and the 2.5 L Iron Duke four has become the standard engine in its B-Body full-sized cars. Datsun B-120s are being auctioned to the highest bidders. The VW Diesel Rabbit has become the best selling car. Cadillac needs a small car right now: enter the Cadette. Its 1.4 liter four features a very early version of Cadillac’s cylinder de-activation, and is dubbed the I4-3-2-1-0. In a huge pre-launch PR campaign, Cadillac trumpets that it has created the world’s first car to get over 100 mpg (actually 103 mpg in one-cylinder mode at a steady 27.5 mph), and full deactivation on over-run and possibly other (unexpected) occasions. Special horizontal shock absorbers are mounted to minimize its extreme side-to-side rocking in one cylinder mode, after test drivers reported motion sickness. But then disaster hits.

Suddenly, the revolution is over and oil prices plummet, just as the Cadette comes on line. And it turns out the one-cylinder mode is the default mode, which is occurring much of the time. A few thousand are shipped to dealers before GM realizes what a fiasco it has on its hands. All are hastily recalled in closed trailers, and the thirteen that were actually sold (after dealers snipped the cylinder-deactivation wires) are bought back from their owners, to be crushed. GM launches a massive campaign to eliminate any trace of the Cadette’s existence. It insists that magazine ads be sliced out before delivery, and billboards are hastily taken down at night. A major PR campaign is unleashed, claiming that the Cadillac Cadette never really existed, and that Ford “planted” the whole thing, including some doctored Chevettes with halo vinyl roofs, opera windows, and Briggs and Stratton lawn tractor engines.

But somehow, one slipped through the cracks, and was stashed away in a secure storage facility by its owner. It was to be auctioned last week by Barrett-Jackson, with a reserve of $5o million. Three days before the auction, it was cancelled. B-J now says there never really was a Cadette.