As GM’s top tier brand, Cadillac never had too many models in their lineup. Cadillac’s faithful customers were somewhat limited given the price Cadillacs commanded. With that in mind, volume was never luxury automaker’s intended business concept. Unlike its stablemate Chevrolet who’s had a number of forgotten models over the years. Still, even with limited range of products, some classic Cadillac cars have managed to fall through the cracks. They got forgotten quickly after disappearing from the scene, consigned to occasional appearance on lists similar to this one.
Given Cadillac’s business strategy that differs from other fellow American brands, even some of their recent models are now obscured. Especially given the transformation Caddy went through a decade and a half ago, or so. I’ll try and refrain from listing limited run and/or special edition models, but you’ll have to forgive me if I resort to cheating. Believe me, it’ll be worth it. Let’s all wish Cadillac a happy 115th birthday today (August 22, 2017) by perusing through these almost forgotten models of theirs.
Often Forgotten, Seldom-Seen, Rare Cadillacs!
I’ll start with a bang. Cadillac Mirage is arguably one of the coolest and most peculiar Cadillacs ever produced. This refined DeVille coupe-derived pickup is like El Camino’s long lost brother that – at one point – just appeared at family’s Thanksgiving table out of nowhere. Even its name is rather suggestive. But unlike the optical phenomenon native to this world’s hot spots, Cadillac Mirage was very much real.
It was a limited offering for 1975 and 1976 model years. Reason you probably never heard about it – apart from it being extremely scarce – is the fact Mirage was actually a third party Coupe DeVille conversion done by Traditional Coach Works Ltd. based in Chatsworth, California. The company was established by James Kribbs, while Mirage itself was conceived by none other than Gene Winfield – automotive customizer of the highest pedigree who worked there between 1974 and 1977. Furthermore, the very first model was ordered by our favorite stuntman artist Evel Knievel. The level of genius behind and around this car is enough to blow anyone’s mind, really.
It would seem that only 204 Cadillac Mirages were built before the company got dissolved in 1977. However, not all of them were pickups. Mirage lineup also consisted of Mirage Sport Wagon and Castilian Fleetwood Estate Wagon. Maybe around 120 of them were Mirage pickups, 16 were Fleetwood Castillans and the rest were Mirage Sport Wagons. Biggest reason behind such low production numbers was their exorbitant price tag. Conversion cost about $9,000 which almost doubled the donor car’s original sticker.
All were equipped with 500 cu in V8’s capable of putting 210 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque to the ground via Turbo-Hydramatic 400 trans and Caddy 12 bolt rear. Apart from being plushy 5 star hotels on wheels, Mirages also boasted great attention to detail when it came to TCW-produced bits like the side golf bag door. The only way proper conversion should be built. That’s the reason Mirage could have been ordered through select participating Cadillac dealers.
2011-2013 CTS-V Wagon
CTS-V has been sitting at the top of Caddy’s performance range for years now. Currently in its third generation, the mighty 4-door sedan yields 640 horsepower and 630 lb-ft of torque thanks to Corvette’s supercharged 6.2L LT4 V8. But it wasn’t that long ago that CTS-V could have been had in 2-door coupe and 5-door station wagon forms. Our pick is CTS-V Wagon – extremely rare 3-year offering that quickly got forgotten.
Why? Well, maybe because only 395, 575 and 416 of them have been produced respectively. Or 1,386 in total. That accounts to only 7% of CTS-V’s total production. Although Cadillac never intended for the car itself to become a best-seller, you have to admit it lacked another digit or so in order for it not to become almost forgotten less than 5 years after its discontinuation.
Back then, Cadillac’s sportiest offering sported 556 horsepower and 551 lb-ft of torque. Unlike current models which are exclusively tied to 8-speed autos, second generation units could have been had with a 6-speed stick. They were capable of hitting 60 mph in 4 seconds flat and doing quarter miles in around 12 seconds.
Problem with the CTS-V Wagon is it never had a niche. Oddball that was neither aggressive sports car nor family hauler was instantly consigned to obscurity. But we’re still glad when car makers bring something like this to the table. Especially car makers like Cadillac.
1974-1976 Sixty Special Fleetwood Talisman
Sixty Special was never an actual model inside Caddy’s lineup, but it appeared almost consistently as top tier trim level between 1938 and 1993. The most significant Sixty Special was probably the Fleetwood Brougham Talisman offered during mid-seventies. This $1,800 option was so refined that it eliminated Brougham badging from the car.
Only thing longer than its name was the car itself. Having a 133-inch wheelbase and covering almost 20-feet of pavement, Talisman was also one of the longest Cadillacs ever. It practically offered all Fleetwood convenience options in one package, and then added Medici crushed velour upholstery, 40/40 split front and rear seats (1974 only), and a full padded elk grain vinyl roof. These unique 1974 offerings added $2,400 upon already expensive Caddy. Total price tag came at around $13,200 which was how much president’s classic Cadillac Fleetwood Seventy-Five limousines cost back then.
Like their DeVille counterparts, Sixty Specials too were powered by largest available V8 offerings. For 1974, that was 472 cu in V8. A mill that got replaced by 500 cu in V8 the following year. Total of 4,336 Talismans were built over three years. Sadly, only around 75 of them have been accounted for. To this day, Sixty Special Fleetwood Talisman remains one of the most luxurious Cadillacs ever offered in these low, yet definitely high enough to be considered serial production numbers.
1978 Eldorado Custom Biarritz Classic
Speaking of most luxurious Caddy’s, 1978 Custom Biarritz package offered on Eldorado, itself cost as much as $2,466. Or $3,547 if astroroof installed by the American Sunroof Corporation was your opera lights riddled top of choice. $3,347 sunroof was another option. Biarritz package was available since 1976, but it was never as luxurious as during seventh generation Eldorado’s farewell year. 2,000 in total were made; 1,499 ones with padded landau vinyl top, 475 with astroroofs, 25 with sunroofs and 1 with power sliding T-top.
Every single one of them was painted two-tone Arizona Beige and Demitasse Brown with matching wheel covers. Similar theme continued on inside where ’78 Eldorado Custom Biarritz Classic received exquisite two-tone leather seats surrounded by natural wood trim.
The same way they all received identical paint scheme, they also came with a single engine. For ’76 through ’78, that was 425 cu in V8 capable of making 180 horsepower. A downgrade from 500 cu in offering from prior years, but still impressive enough. It’s not that Custom Biarritz Classic is completely forgotten. It’s just that there weren’t too many of them around to begin with. And they were still a one year only offering.
1986-1988 and 1991-1993 DeVille Touring
By the time sixth generation debuted in 1985, Cadillac DeVille was much smaller car than it used to be. It lost as much as 35 inches compared to its peak between ’74 and ’76. It also lost a lot of weight. All sixth gen models weighted between 3,500 and 3,900 pounds. Much less than mid-seventies units which peaked at 5,400 pounds.
Parallel to dimension and weight downsizing, Cadillac introduced Touring Sedan and Touring Coupe during sixth gen DeVille’s sophomore year. These Euro-inspired models were the cornerstone of Cadillac’s German countering strategy. For $2,880 above $21,316 for Coupe and $21,659 for Sedan, Touring package offered more than just styling changes. Aluminum wheels on Goodyear Eagle GT tires, deck lid spoiler, and leather upholstery were some. Then, there were stiffer springs, quicker power steering ratio, and larger exhaust. Latest of which added 5 more horsepower to HT-4100 4.1L V8 engine. This raised the total to 135 hp and 205 lb-ft of torque. A figure that would additionally rise to 155 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque for 1988. Courtesy of larger displacement 4.5L V8 HT-4500 engine.
Slow sales doomed both the coupe and the sedan, but latter made a comeback for 1991 model year. By then, DeVille’s V8 raised as much as 200 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque. Goodyear tires, Touring badges and morose palette of black, white and grey colors still identified DeVille Touring Sedans. This time, however, Cadillac added the Carmine Red colorway as well. Although as much as 5,000 DeVille Touring Sedans were produced per year, precious few have survived to this day.
2004 XLR Neiman Marcus Edition
Remember one of Cadillac’s first moves aimed at shaking off its reputation for being over 60 club’s brand? Rather bold and inspiring XLR roadster. Sports car that was unlike anything classic Cadillac brand had produced until then. Then there was the XLR-V high performance edition of the car available for 2008 and 2009 model years. But that all pales in comparison with special XLR Neiman Marcus Edition unveiled upon sport car’s introduction.
Neiman Marcus needed their own special edition vehicle for their 2003 Christmas catalog and Cadillac answered the call. They built only 101 of these Ultra Violet convertibles. Neiman Marcus XLR’s could have been ordered exclusively through these Christmas catalogs. Reason you never got the chance to buy one – apart from their high $85,000 price tag – was the fact they were sold out within 14 minutes.
C6 Corvette-based sports car was motivated by 320-horsepower 4.6L Northstar V8 engine. Much less than 443 ponies produced by supercharged XLR-V version of the car, but that was way before the V made its debut in the first place. In the end, Cadillac sold a total of 15,460 units. Much less than planned 5,000 to 7,000 units a year. Cadillac XLR never caught on, which is a result most people actually expected out of it. At least it gave us one of the rarest and most obscure Cadillacs ever made.
XLR wasn’t the first roadster Cadillac has ever offered. Allanté preceded it by almost two decades. Not only was Allanté considered oddball in Cadillac’s lineup at the time, it was also assembled in rather peculiar fashion. Caddy commissioned Pininfarina for body work, but since GM closed nearby Fisher Body Plant (Cadillac’s long time body supplier), they had to fly in Allanté bodies from Italy. This was done in specially designed Boeing 747’s which accommodated 56 bodies per flight.
Rest of the work was done at Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly where Allanté received its innards. Initial models were powered by 170-hp 4.1L V8 engines. This was changed in 1989 when 200-horsepower 4.5L V8 mill replaced it. Finally, 4.6L L37 Northstar V8 with 295 hp and 290 lb-ft of torque arrived in 1993. But by then, Allanté was already singing its swan song.
General population never received Allanté the way Cadillac anticipated they will. Of 6,000 planned models per year, Caddy only sold 21,430 total units. That’s around two times less than what was projected at first. Reasons for Allanté’s slow sales were numerous, but manufacturing process probably played crucial role. It raised sports car’s overall price for one. Moreover, Pininfarina convertible tops were quite leaky. Although they only got better over the years, the damage was done. For a car aimed at the likes of Mercedes-Benz SL and Jaguar XJS, Cadillac Allanté never possessed the necessary quality and refinement. It was like a kid lost in big boy’s game. At least it has a dedicated following among car aficionados today.
1999-2001 Catera Sport
Cadillac Catera was nothing other than plushier rebadged Opel Omega. It was received positively at first, but got criticized for poor performance and reliability later on. Catera only survived for five model years between 1997 and 2001. During that time, around 95,000 were sold. Hadn’t there been for Catera Sport, 4-door sedan would have been regarded one of the most uninspiring Cadillacs ever.
Even Catera Sport didn’t do much for badge engineered Omega’s reputation. It only offered stiffer ZJ1 suspension, machined aluminum 16-inch wheels, rear spoiler, and very limited choice of colors. 3.0L L81 V6 delivered the same 200 horsepower as in conventional model. Even worse, 4-speed auto was the only available transmission. Catera’s facelift from 2000 only brought 17-inch wheels, new interior color scheme and new lights to bear. Power output remained the same. And stick was still nowhere to be seen.
The Caddy that zigs, thus left the stage after 2001 model year. CTS which replaced it, offered everything Catera lacked. More power and 6-speed manual were there. And so was more distinctive styling which still distances Cadillacs from anything else available in the market. Maybe it’s unfair to be too much critical towards Catera. After all, it was a copy paste Opel/Vauxhall Omega. As such, it never really stood much chance against the entry-level German cars it sat out to compete against.
2014 and 2016 ELR
Model years might suggest otherwise, but Cadillac ELR is as forgotten as they come. Already. Compact electric sports coupe seemed like a right move, but got executed all wrong. Short life span certainly isn’t something Cadillac expected out of vehicle whose development was so long and arduous. ELR is now regarded as one of Caddy’s largest flops ever.
What went wrong with it? Staggering price tag of $76,000. That’s what. Cadillac only sold a total of 2,958 units, and they’re lucky they even managed that. Especially since compact 2-door coupe segment is already small to begin with. Then there were the low range issues. Cadillac ELR only offered 37 all-electric miles which, in Tesla Model S’ era, is downright laughable. 2016 improvements were meager, to say the least. Couple of additional miles weren’t exactly enticing.
If you’d remember, ELR was motivated by 1.4L in-line four engine, electric motor and 16.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack combo. Hybrid developed combined 217 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. At least something was good about it. However, electric mode only allowed 157 horsepower to be used. Question remains whether Cadillac should have made ELR in the first place? GM tried to recoup some of Voltec hybrid drivetrain’s development costs. They simply saw Cadillac as means to further that plan. Since Chevy Volt wasn’t able to do this on its own.
1970 NART Zagato
I know I’m cheating with this one, but I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to present you with this majestic Caddy. This one-off mid-engined 4-seat prototype was, and still is one of a kind vehicle. Not just for Cadillac, but for the entire auto industry. Concept was conceived by Luigi Chinetti – three-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner, founder of North American Racing Team and then exclusive Ferrari distributor in the U.S.
Chinetti wanted to offer a unique luxury sports car to wealthy customers. He turned to GM for help. Cadillac gave him 1968 Eldorado Mark VII platform, and Chinetti quickly delivered the sketches. Clay model was made in GM’s studio during 1969. Then Italian coachbuilder Zagato enters the fray. Zagato made aluminum body and filled it with Cadillac’s luxury equipment including climate control, AM/FM stereo, and power windows. Project was completed in 1970 and displayed at Turin Motor Show by Zagato, and at New York Auto Show by Chinetti himself.
Final product boasted disc brakes on all four corners, tail lights taken straight off 1966 Pontiac GTO, pop-up headlights, and unique Euro flair lines across the body. Cadillac’s 500 cu in V8, now at the back, was rated at 400 horsepower. Sadly, by the time Cadillac NART Zagato got completed, GM had already lost interest in marketing the car.
A sad turn of events for a luxury coupe that could have become one of the most unique Cadillacs ever built. With combined NART, Chinetti, Zagato and Cadillac heritage, this forgotten one-off is definitely one of the most exciting classic Cadillacs in existence.