Fantastic Voyage

As Cadillac’s Johan de Nysschen prepares to stun the World with a flagship model, we look back thirty years to a previous attempt at shock and awe.

1988 Cadillac Voyage concept. Image credit: motor1

Throughout Cadillac’s rich and honourable a history of so-called dream cars, what distinguished the concepts of the marque’s heyday was that they accurately signposted the direction styling would take, whereas latterly, they appear to exist only in order to illustrate how far production-car aesthetics have drifted and how earnestly their designers would like to address this deficiency.

It’s a point we’ve made in the past, but talk of Cadillac’s revival is as repetitive yet seemingly far off as that of Alfa Romeo – or as pointed out more recently, Jaguar. Like both of those dulled European nameplates, Cadillac’s adherents cling hopefully to a return to the qualities which lent them a fascination even generations of undistinguished product has failed to fully extinguish.

A case in point being 1988’s Voyage, perhaps the first clear recognition at the time that Cadillac needed to return to its ‘standard of the World’ roots following years of ever decreasing circles. Shown at the Detroit motor show that year, Voyage was Cadillac back to its unabashed, shamelessly glitzy best – a vast showboat of a vehicle, wallowing in its unapologetic excess.

GM design Vice President, Charles (Chuck) Jordan told journalists at that year’s Cobo Hall, “Voyage is a statement. You should be able to tell a car apart even if it is parked one block away – with this Cadillac, that’s easy. We don’t believe in flat or fat looking stuff. We believe in grace.

Image credit: noticias coches

A retro-futurist take on time-honoured Cadillac styling themes, the 18-foot long behemoth fused severe, linear forms with a 1980s softness in eye-popping fashion. With jet black paintwork and silver-finished lower quarters combined with partially enclosed wheels all-round, Voyage convincingly combined an aura of opulence with a palpable sense of menace.

The Voyage’s active front wheel covers moved with wheel motion, aiding the car’s 0.28 coefficient of drag – impressive for such a bluff vehicle. The cause of airflow management was also boosted by the Voyage’s enormous, fully glazed canopy – the windscreen, roof panel and rear screen being one single, uninterrupted piece of glass.

Much of the technology previewed in the Voyage would later become commonplace. LED lights, rear-view camera, keyless entry, heated, memory seats with massage function, navigation system and in-car telephone. Technically, the Voyage’s specification was similarly up to date, with almost everything coming in fours. A fixed torque split four wheel drive system – (okay, only three viscous couplings here), four-channel ABS brakes, and a four-speed automatic transmission.

For its show debut, it was powered by a version of Cadillac’s 4.5 litre V8, developing 275 bhp, but production versions were intended to house a 6.6 litre 48 valve four-cam V12, co-developed by Lotus, producing 430 horsepower, which was fitted to the following year’s similarly themed Solitare Coupé concept.

This period proved the swansong of the volume-produced V12, with both BMW and Mercedes introducing versions as top-line powerplants, while Jaguar, who had (very) quietly and single-handedly flown the flag since the early Seventies were at work future-proofing theirs. GM’s Bob Stempel clearly believed that to obtain access to this rarefied club, not only that an appropriate flagship model was required, but also that it must offer a suitably excessive power unit.

The word on the Cobo Hall floor was that the GM had sanctioned a production version of the Voyage, which Kacher suggested would appear in 1991 – a suggestion which gained weight on Chuck Jordan’s statement to the press, “The people out there love the Voyage. I tell them that this dream may well become reality.

A dream that did become reality – partly. 1954 Cadillac El Camino. Image credit: carstyling.ru

So much for that. GM had been caught unawares by the ’80s economic boom, when luxury cars of all stripes were flying off the shelves, and lacked a credible flagship model that could be sold at serious profit and prestige. With the top-market impetus ceded to the German imports, the General wanted a piece of that action.

But the tide was turning and following 1987’s stock market ‘correction’ and the recession which followed, the US luxury car market went off the boil, meaning vanity model programmes like the Voyage would be subject to strict fiscal scrutiny. Cadillac never did get its brougham-tastic halo car and despite a succession of stunning concepts which followed like 2002’s Sixteen, 2011’s Ciel or 2013’s Elmiraj, marque adherents continue to wait in vain.

Image credit: oldconceptcars

Johan de Nysschen’s recent announcement offers perhaps the first palpable words of comfort to those who wish Cadillac well, but words are all he’s currently offering. With suggestions that any putative halo model will not see the light of day before 2021 at least, an awful lot can happen in the interim. After all, Cadillac’s voyage remains perilous and its destination unclear.

Until such time as these more pressing concerns are addressed, it’s likely we’ll continue to admire these roseate dreamscapes from afar.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

20 thoughts on “Fantastic Voyage”

  1. The Voyage seems to have inspired the ’91 Chevrolet Caprice more than any future Cadillac model, which is rather odd.

    The ’92 Cadillac Seville was another attempt to semi-relaunch the Cadillac marque, and a fair one at that, even though the reasoning behind using a FWD platform for it appears to be not terribly sound.

    Having had the pleasure of seeing the Cadillac Elmiraj concept in the metal, I must stress that it was an unreservedly wonderful design that makes the current Mercedes S-class coupé look almost as overwrought and naff in comparison as an ’82 de Ville coupé would’ve appeared next to a C126 SEC of the same vintage.

  2. I remember this concept well. I remember Chuck Jordan’s nostrum on instant identification,too. As previously noted, it does indeed seem reminiscent of the 1991 Caprice. Am I alone, though, in discerning elements of Cadillac’s final Fleetwood, built between model years 1993 and 1996?

    1. Yes, the Caprice borrowed the general theme and ended up a very handsome car. I won’t forget seeing a shiny one in Rotterdam a few years ago. It had so much presence.

    2. gooddog: Thanks for the clarification and for enclosing the link to a most fascinating article. It’s remarkable to have the design process of a car so thoroughly and chronologically documented by the principal designer – an individual it appears who is happy to apportion credit to his team and not (unlike so many others within the car design universe) prey to ascribing it to himself – something which speaks volumes of Mr. Ruzzin’s finer qualities.

      I must say the Caprice was a fine looking car and mea culpa, I did not realise its pre-eminence in timeline terms, owing to a degree of ignorance on my part when it comes to the US industry, so thanks for clearing that up.

      Ruzzin I see, was also involved with the contemporary Cadillac Fleetwood, which has been admired on DTW’s pages in the past and the ’92 Seville, which is a car I had utterly forgotten and was struck anew by what a handsome design it was. I note too, his involvement with the ’66 Toranado – a real landmark design.

      A great source. Again, thank you.

    3. A similar project would very worthwhile for European car design. I wonder what would happen if one tried? Can one get a depoliticised version of the recent past i.e. where the designer told the truth and not the PR story of the design?
      I can´t re-iterate how much I like GM cars of this period. It wasn´t onnly the Caprice. Olds, Buick and Cadillac had some terrific cars, a world away from what was appearing only five or seven years before.

  3. It certainly retains a ‘wow’ factor. The whole thing is undermined by a wheelbase that’s way too short for the overall length and mass, but I love the smooth aero effect. From the rear 3/4 view I can see a very big hint of Subaru SVX. Fo course, I am a sucker for ‘spats’ …

  4. In profile it vaguely reminds me of the Ford Probe V, which predates it by three years.

  5. It was the period of stealth aircrafts amd ships, so i see the influence of this new technology in this concept car too. That is the reason for semi-covering the front wheels. The small gauge is not a brilliant idea in terms of aesthetic aspects (the small gauge) and chassis layout….

  6. Gooddog: Thanks fot the link. For me the late 80s after Rybicki were a fruitful and happy time at GM. The Caprice was a highlight.
    The Voyage is from 1988 and the Caprice from 1991: so
    the Caprice was finished and then turned into the Voyage (it didn’t improve on it. The Caprice is better).

    1. You are right on the timing.
      Jerry Brochstein did the Voyage but Ben Salvadore developed the Caprice years earlier. I saw it when the scale model of the Voyage was presented to the Cadillac General Manager, John Gretenburger. I recommended that he choose it from a small collection of design models, including Jerries.

      If you delete the glass areas of both cars you will see that the basic form language is very similar. This is great example of talented people working in a different time and a different area arriving at a similar solution. In some ways design, an art form, can be similar to mathematics, input equals a solution.

      DICK RUZZIN

    2. Mr. Ruzzin: Thank you for dropping by and I hope we have done the Voyage and those involved justice. My thanks also for the design attributions, which we value enormously here. The production Caprice was a fine piece of work – one which has received some attention on these pages in the past, but deserves a more detailed review. I hope you will take the time to explore the site further, and that you enjoy what you discover.

      I’m sure I speak for many in that I’d love to see Cadillac return to the swagger and glitz of its heyday. The Voyage was a marvellous concept. The design talent throughout the US industry is perhaps under-estimated here in Europe, but looking at what the major studios were doing, they were (at their creative peak) leagues ahead of the old world.

  7. At the time I was Chief Designer of Cadillac Studio and we had just completed the 1992 Seville and Eldorado that had to be done at the same time. I had come from Chevrolet two Studio where we had done the Caprice as well as the Lumina APV and was invited to review the design selection in an advanced design studio that resulted in the Voyage.

    Europeans might think that they are superior but don’t forget that the car design process as we know it today was created by Harley Earl at GM. I worked in Europe as Director of Design for GM Europe (Opel MAXX) for almost five years. Both European and American designers are very much equal in talent, the companies and product criteria are very different.

    DICK RUZZIN

  8. Hello Mr. Ruzzin, I don’t think that many people realize that the Lumina APV was not a badge engineered Pontiac TranSport. Here’s a link to a recent Hemmings article I just found (to which you contributed) which reveals more of the true story.

    https://www.hemmings.com/stories/2021/02/19/concept-car-poaching-pininfarina-and-plastic-body-panels-the-story-behind-the-chevrolet-lumina-apv-minivans-creation

    And here’s an additional drawing from Dave McIntosh, published on the Dean’s Garage site, apparently documenting that in addition to your studio having originated the design ultimately released for production, even the Pontiac concept variant was conceived in your studio (though labelled “Chevy-1” here).

    Also, not included in the Hemmings article are any pictures of the TASC/X-car proposed minivan, which I believe is depicted below (looks like 1980 X-car design language):

    And there is this other photo about which very little is known: (As I understand it, the Ford Carousel truck-based prototypes were a reaction to rumors of this development, but both were cancelled out of fear that they would cannibalize the station wagon business, thus leaving an open goal for both Chrysler and Matra/Renault).

    https://preview.redd.it/n2p96ufijfm11.png?width=960&crop=smart&auto=webp&s=ab25fb1f47f1c2304a50bf9dfca408da0038bcbd

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