Cadillac’s latter-day Art and Science design theme saw many fine concepts, but this perhaps was its finest.
For a company that has experienced as many false dawns as Alfa Romeo and as many brilliant unrealised concepts as Renault, the fact that latter-day success continues to elude Cadillac remains one of automotive’s more absorbing melodramas. Recently, exterior design director, Bob Boniface told an Automotive News reporter; “There’s still this misperception in the public’s eye that Cadillacs are these big, heavy cars that your grandparents used to drive. We haven’t built those cars in generations. But you almost have to overachieve in the messaging.” One can see his rationale. For all the great marques, the heel of history weighs heavily upon every degree of deviation. For Cadillac, change has been necessary in order to break a decades-old inertia. But like the ocean liners its cars once resembled, Cadillac’s has been slower than perhaps it needed to be.
It’s probably fair to say most motor enthusiasts wish Cadillac well. I recall seeing the first ‘Art and Science’ concept and thinking this is what Cadillac should be – bracingly modern, confident and above all, unapologetically American. But while 1999’s Evoq began the process, the 2003 Sixteen was all of those things and more; after all – there’s just so much of it – 5.7 m in length, with a 3.5 m wheelbase and just over 2.0 m in width – the Sixteen was a leviathan and that’s before we get to its power unit. Motive force was provided by a 32 valve 13.6 litre V16 which featured an active shut-down facility, allowing the driver to run on twelve, eight or four cylinders to aid economy and one assumes, emissions.
Clothing this was a body of supremely brash elegance. Yes it was utter caricature, but perhaps the most successfully realised synthesis of showmanship and outright in your face conspicuous excess this side of a 1958 Eldorado Brougham – the last truly exceptional, cost no object Cadillac. Of course it’s a lot easier to get it right when you’re working on such a broad canvas, but in terms of stance, proportions and detail, the Sixteen (to these eyes) absolutely nailed its brief. Only the Rolls Royce Phantom – (launched the same year incidentally) – rivalled it for disdainful insouciance. After all, a Cadillac should nudge the frontiers of tastelessness, if not quite cross it.
Naturally it was never going to get made; certainly not with that gargantuan engine up front, but even with a V12 or even a V8 under a slightly truncated nose, something along similar lines could have provided a much needed centre of gravity around which the broader range could pivot. Cadillac has long needed an brand icon and let’s face it, when your heritage revolves around big sedans, isn’t that what you build? Not mid-engined supercars or repurposed Chevy Volt’s for that matter. (The less said about the Escalade the better).
This is the Art and Science inspired Cadillac concept I wish had seen production – well, this side of the sublime Elmaraj of 2013. Both eloquently suggest where Cadillac ought to be in terms of positioning and style. But as we know, General Motors has a long history of shooting itself in both feet, so on the evidence of these and other fine Cadillac concepts over the past decade (and a bit), it’s perhaps time to acknowledge GM haven’t really been the ideal custodians of the one time ‘Standard of the World’.
Now Art and Science is morphing once more into something less angular, slightly more voluptuous in order to further broaden its appeal. But was the angularity of the forms the polarising factor for customers, or the fact that Cadillac continuously failed to translate the impact of their concepts into the cars customers could actually go out and buy?