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Automotive Traveler Magazine: 2011 06 Last Cadillac-Powered Cadillac Page 2

Opinion: Cadillac, 1902-2011

As the last Cadillac-powered Cadillac rolls off the line, an era ends. Sam Fiorani asks whether anyone cares.

Cadillac is dead to me. After more than a century in production, Cadillac is no longer Cadillac. From the brand's 1902 Model A and its single-cylinder engine through the V8-, V12-, and V16-engined years, the company was the "Standard of the World" in large part because of its engines. That era is over--and Cadillac has now become an assembled car, using engines made by General Motors with no exclusive "Cadillac" engines.

This is an obituary.

Founded in 1899 by Henry Ford, the Detroit Automobile Co. evolved into the Henry Ford Co. in 1901. Ford himself left a year later, and the company that bore his name was eventually reorganized into another new carmaker. Although the first two companies did not succeed, that third one lives on today.

In August 1902, that company was named after the founder of Detroit and headed by another Henry: leading engineer Henry Leland. Leland's work with the Cadillac Automobile Co. built the brand into one of the most highly praised in the automotive world--introducing such staples as interchangeable parts, electric starters, and the mass-produced V8 engine.

Cadillac's V8 engine hit the market during World War I and, by the Great Depression, the carmaker had upped the ante to include 12- and 16-cylinder versions. During the early hot-rod era, Cadillac engines were famously swapped into smaller cars for their performance characteristics. That aura of power progressed into the extravagances of the 1960s and 1970s, where the Cadillac V8 grew to an astounding 500 cubic inches. It powered such Sixties icons as the front-wheel-drive Eldorado, which premiered in 1967 when the big Caddy V8 displaced "only" 472 cubic inches.

With the gas crisis of the mid-1970s, even Cadillac was forced to concede some size in favor of fuel economy. The X-body-based Seville hit the market in 1975 with its Oldsmobile-derived 350-cube V8. Making it unique to Cadillac, the Oldsmobile engine received fuel injection.

While the big Cadillac engine held its own, it was downsized to 425 and eventually 368 cubic inches. In an effort to deliver better fuel economy, Cadillac introduced its first engine with cylinder deactivation, a feature that would become popular 20 years later.

Unfortunately, the on-board electronics were not up to the task of managing the variables, and the fuel-injected 8-6-4 V8 gained a well-deserved reputation for unreliability. The 8-6-4 V8 harmed Cadillac's brand image just at a time when overseas competitors, especially BMW and Mercedes-Benz, were seriously eroding its market share in the luxury car category.

In the meantime, other GM brands flushed out the engine lineup with Buick V6s, Oldsmobile V8s and diesels, and, later, Chevrolet-based V8s. And that's not even getting into the tiny Cimarron with its Opel-developed 1.8L/2.0L four-cylinder and Chevrolet-built 2.8L V6.

As other automotive brands lost their unique engines in the 1980s, Cadillac continued to maintain a family of engines unique to itself. In 1982, the HT4100 engine debuted. The 4.1-liter "high-technology" engine sported an aluminum block and fuel injection. Still, it continued with the traditional overhead valve design, generating only 135 horsepower. The HT series developed into larger and more powerful versions, growing as large as 4.9 liters and peaking at 200 horses.

Cadillac turned a corner in the 1990s with its groundbreaking Northstar engine. Introduced in 1992, the Northstar featured multi-port fuel injection, overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, and a relatively compact design. Power made that quantum leap from the HT-based engine to the entry-level Northstar's 270 horsepower and the high-output 295-horsepower edition (both numbers rose in later models).

Unlike earlier Cadillac engines, the Northstar eventually found itself under the hood of other brands' cars. First came the downsized 4.0-liter version that powered the Oldsmobile Aurora in 1995. A V6 version found its way into a couple of Olds models. And the full 4.6-liter V8 edition powered top-of-the-line Pontiac Bonneville and Buick Lucerne models.

Meanwhile, powertrain dilution continued at Cadillac. The Catera was little more than a rebadged Opel, German 3.0-liter V6 and all. Cadillac Escalade models featured only small-block (formerly "Chevrolet") V8 engines. Sigma-based models (CTS and STS) have featured non-Cadillac V6 engines as standard equipment. The high-performance CTS-V gets its power from versions of the Corvette V8.

Still, the Northstar V8 remained in the front-drive Cadillac DTS (the STS having been dropped for the 2011 model year). That all ended in May when DTS production came to a full stop.

For the first time ever, Cadillac does not have a single model powered by a Cadillac engine. It has taken 37 years since the introduction of the first non-Cadillac-engined model, but the brand has finally lost its heart. What was once the "Standard of the World" is arguably in its most competitive market position in decades. There's just no Cadillac engine under the hood. Imagine Mercedes-Benz or BMW with no unique powerplants in its cars.

More than three decades ago, buyers sued General Motors when they discovered that their "Rocket Olds" had Chevrolet engines under the hoods. Thanks in part to that lawsuit, engines at General Motors lost their brand uniqueness.

Until now, Cadillac has been the exception. Today, it seems that buyers don't care what's under the hood, even in their luxury cars.

When that last Northstar engine was placed in the final DTS, it was the end of a 109-year era. A sad day indeed. Rest in peace, Cadillac.