Motorsports

CADILLAC RETURNS TO LE MANS

by Larry Roberts

March 19, 1999

A couple of years ago, we did a historical piece about Briggs Cunningham, a noted sports car racer of the day, entering two Cadillac Model 60s in the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in 1950. Our story ended with our comment that "...we may never see a (current) Cadillac Eldorado Touring coupe on the grid of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, although it would no doubt give a good account of itself." And we were right - at least about the Eldorado.

But in an interesting program recently implemented by Cadillac to establish itself as a producer of performance-oriented luxury vehicles, the company has contracted with Riley & Scott of Indianapolis to build a Cadillac-powered Prototype-class sports-racer to take the Cadillac name back to Le Mans in 2000. The powerplant will be a 4.0 liter V8 mounted to a couple of turbochargers. And although no power output numbers are given, it's going to have to be in the neighborhood of 800-plus horses if the car is going to stay up with the heavy hitters at Le Mans.

The engine is reported to be a development of the current 4.6 liter Cadillac Northstar engine, but don't be surprised if there isn't a lot of Oldsmobile Aurora in its inner workings. The mechanical and structural "bugs" of the specially-prepared Aurora 4.0 liter V8 racing engine have long ago been eliminated by virtue of the fact that is almost the sole engine used in the Indy Racing League (IRL) Indy Car series and has been for several years.

In the press information kit that we received from Cadillac, the name of Herb Fishel appears as the director of GM Motorsports and it's that august organization that was responsible for the development of the basic IRL Indy Car engine that's been so successful.

Riley & Scott aren't newcomers to the ranks of endurance car builders. In the recent Sports Car Club of America-sanctioned Rolex 24 hour race at Daytona, a Riley & Scott machine took the checkered flag in first place ahead of three factory-prepared 333 SP Ferraris and a second Riley & Scott placed fifth. Several other Riley & Scott cars were entered and most of them were Ford powered as was the winning machine.

If this sudden interest by the usually sedate Cadillac in establishing a performance image is surprising, it may have something to do with the fact that its rival, Mercedes-Benz, is in the racing game in a big way. M-B not only builds luxury cars that are in direct competition with Cadillac, but it builds two-seater sports cars (its SLK series) for public consumption. It is also an all-conquering presence in the world arena of sports car endurance racing with its team of purpose-built SLK-LMs as well as being the producer of the V10 engine that powers the international Formula One champion McLaren. If Cadillac is going to take on Mercedes-Benz on the world market, it pretty well has to get into the racing business and do it soon.

In the early days of the 24 Hours of Le Mans just after World War II, the race was only open to off-the-showroom-floor stock cars that had to have four seats and if they were touring cars, their cloth tops had to be up. When Briggs Cunningham ran his Cadillacs in 1950, his stock-bodied entry placed 11th and beat the one that he had rebodied for improved aerodynamics. Those days of running production cars in big-time professional races are gone forever, but it would sure be nice to have the Cadillac name up in the top ten of that famous French race once more.

Now I wonder how long it will take Lincoln to get into the act.

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