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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.