Say all of the hideous things you want about the Cadillac CTS. Go ahead. It looks funny. It's underpowered. It's expensive. It has two doors too many. It's not terribly sporting. Chevy doesn't sell it.
For backsides accustomed to 400 horses worth of thrust, and eyes trained to recognize wedgey fourth-gen. F and Rubenesque C5 Vette profiles, the above criticisms may well apply to many reading these words. However, consider that the CTS is also the first new non-Corvette rear-drive passenger-car platform GM has introduced in this country since ... since ... well, since the vehicle that the CTS replaced, the generally-unloved Opel-sourced Catera, came on the scene in '96. (The new GTO actually shares chassis architecture with the deceased Catera ... but I wouldn't say that too loud if I were you.)
This speaks of enormous performance potential for this new CTS platform. It only seemed natural that good things can come of it, and even now, Cadillac is launching an offensive on BMW with its CTS-V (see sidebar). Still, that comes two years after the CTS' initial how-do-you-do.
For Tom Osiecki, that 730-day stretch was too long to wait.
Tom, to his credit, didn't do the GM thing and drop in a 405hp LS6 between the shock towers. Nope, when he took delivery of this silvery CTS in March of '03, packed full of every available option save for satellite navigation and a sunroof, he left the suspension and bodywork alone; efforts were concentrated under the hood, where Tom took his vast turbo Buick knowledge and experience, and assembled the most unexpected hot rod of the season in a scant 40 days.
In the '80s, Tom played with a turbo Dodge Conquest, and fifteen years ago finally traded up to his first T-Type. "It had a chip, a test tube and some ram air thing on it, and it ran 12.79." From there, he was hooked. "I tried to get into naturally aspirated big-blocks once, but I went a low 14 pass and went back to turbos."
The engine you see here actually was built about four years ago. "I built a Mazda RX7 with a 3.8-liter turbo, and that thing went 11.30s at 124 all day long, 11.70s if you didn't know how to drive. Well, I figured, more cubes must be better, so I built a 4.1L Caddy V-6 block turbo." Tom knows plenty of people who pooh-pooh his decision to run the Caddy 4.1 block for the extra cubes, but he's had no problems. "A lot of builders don't like to use the 4.1 unless it's a Stage block; supposedly all of the regular 4.1s blow up. But I've done three of 'em, and I've had nothing but good luck. People ask me, what's the magic? There is no magic. They work fine.
"But I tried everything with the RX7, and I couldn't go even a hundredth quicker with more cubes! Finally we figured out the gearing was all wrong; you could only get a 4.10 in the Mazda rear. I swapped the 3.8 back in, and someone offered me an obscene amount of money for it." And thus the perfectly good 4.1L sat in Tom's shop, A-Alert Automotive, for more than two years.
Enter the CTS. "I almost didn't buy one--I was turned off by the interior. It's so bland." But then thoughts of dropping that Buick V-6 clean in started dancing in his head, and he couldn't help himself. The idea of building a car with spare parts lying about in his shop, nearly doubling the stock vehicle's power, was too much to let lie.
Physically, there were no problems dropping the new-old bent Six and the 200-4R trans in--"I took a sledge to one wheelwell where the trans came within a quarter-inch; I didn't want anything to rub." The mounts needed a bit of construction, however. "I had to make the mounting brackets out of quarter-inch angle-iron, and use stock GN motor mounts; I had to make the crossmember too."
Tom claims to have physically gotten the engine/trans combo situated in its new home in a weekend, and was amazed to see how nicely it all fit and worked together. "Even the power steering pressure hose was a GN direct bolt-on; it goes straight from the pump to the rack-and-pinion unit, the threads were even the same. Incredible."
There were two larger challenges in the way: the driveshaft and the wiring. "No overheating, the A/C works fine, everything is as it should be, for the most part. When I bought it, they let me photocopy the wiring diagrams out of the service manual, and I just spliced the GN stuff in to work. The Check Engine light stays on because a lot of sensors are missing--all of it is digital signal, and the stock CTS has four cam sensors and two crank sensors. Of course they're not plugged in, so I live with the light. But all of the gauges work; the temp gauge, oil pressure, all of it. Even the cooling fans are wired through the Cadillac harness. I didn't have to jump any of it.
"The only bug I had was in the harness I used. Someone gave me a wiring harness that was a little cut up; I fixed most of it. I started it right up, and as it happened, the next day was the annual Bowling Green event, so I threw it on the trailer and went down. I didn't even drive it around the block. I get there, pull it off the trailer, and it'll idle, but it won't go. Turns out there's no MAP signal--all 3 wires were cut. That was the only problem."
And then there's the driveshaft. He started with a factory GN piece, cut roughly a foot. "Then we had to make an adapter plate...the yoke on the third member has three bolts; it comes with rubber universal joints. We made an adapter plate, but it was .040 off, so then we needed the driveshaft rebalanced. We eventually used a yoke from a '78 Caddy diff and interfaced it together on the driveshaft." Also, the factory 3.73s were yanked in favor of a 3.42 gear, just like GNs came with from the factory. The whole process took two long weeks--doesn't sound like much, but when the engine itself is running within a weekend, it's an eternity.
A complete surgical-steel 3-inch exhaust (featuring a no-name muffler, again found just lying around the shop) is fed by the ATR headers, but Tom will be stepping up to a true dual exhaust system with crossover, probably by the time you read this. "I have to make it just a little bit quieter," he says. Besides the cost of the new CTS itself, the exhaust represented his only significant out-of-pocket cost for building what you see here.
Race weight clocks in around 3,900 pounds. "It's a tank!" says Tom. The result? How about 419 rear-wheel horsepower, and 11.42/121mph trap speeds? "It wasn't supposed to run this fast! This was only supposed to be a low 12 car! After all of those 100-mph stops, I warped the rotors and had to get all-new brakes." We're not sure which is ballsier: the fact that Tom tore apart a brand-new, $40,000 car to drop a 15-year-old engine in it, or the fact that he's going mid-11s in it and driving it daily. Either way, we're applauding.
If you've been paying any attention, you've heard about Cadillac's new CTS-V, with its Nurburgring-tuned suspension and 405hp LS6 powerplant/6-speed stick powertrain combo. Think it's not a big deal? Think some $50,000 sedan can't possibly affect your GM performance leanings? Think again.
The CTS-V is important, both to Cadillac and to you, the GM performance enthusiast. First, the CTS-V is Cadillac's strongest signal yet that it's willing to play hardball with European marques, like Mercedes and BMW. The CTS-V is set to equal BMW M5-style performance, for about $30K less than Bavaria's best. If that's not an image fix, we don't know what is. And with Cadillac's recent steps to prominence in our popular culture, including the whodathunkit success of the Escalade, the CTS-V may have a fighting chance. Suddenly, Cadillac looks like value in the premium market for the first time in decades.
Second, what happens at Cadillac, where GM can charge a premium for new technology, eventually trickles down to the rest of the lineup. This includes the return, in force, of rear wheel drive to the GM passenger-car lineup. With the rear-drive CTS and XLR already in place, and the SRX utility and the Escalade clawing with all four wheels, that only leaves the DeVille and Seville as the division's lone front-drivers. And that will change in 2005 or so, when the Seville (renamed STS) and DeVille replacements are redesigned and get rear-drive. GM can't afford to make a bespoke platform for any of its vehicles; even the C6 Corvette shares its frame with the Northstar-powered XLR hardtop roadster. So it only makes sense that other divisions will share elements of Cadillac's move to rear drive. Which models? Which divisions? Stay tuned.