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Concept Car of the Week: Cadillac Voyage (1988)

Fri, 11 Jul 2014 00:00:00 -0700

Once a symbol of America's most luxurious automobiles, Cadillac's image had begun to wane by the mid-1980s, and not even the Pininfarina-designed and built two-seater Allante was enough to excavate the brand's long gone leadership.

In an effort to take Cadillac onto the global stage, engineers and the team of designers led by Chuck Jordan began working on the Voyage concept, a rolling laboratory with visionary styling and innovative technology. It was unveiled in 1988 at a technological exhibition in New York thus highlighting that rather than a stylist's dream come true, it was a very serious study towards aerodynamic, performance, handling, comfort and efficiency in an age when automated superhighways would allow fast, safe inter-State travel.

"It's a question with Cadillac: Is it time to leave all the past behind and join the world?" said Jordan at the time. "Cadillac has a wonderful heritage but the Voyage was designed to put it into a worldwide arena. We weren't just doing it for someone in Kansas. This isn't the mainstay. This is the lead car."

The combination of flowing surfaces, flush panel gaps and the four faired wheels dropped the drag coefficient to 0.28, a record for a car of this class. The front wheel skirts dramatically improved aerodynamics at high speed and could also open out to provide enough clearance for the tires when sharp turning man oeuvres where required. But the key element of the design is its innovative use of glass.

The large greenhouse offered visibility as good as a convertible and used electrochromic glazing that could become opaque at the push of a button. "One of the main design features of the Voyage is the use of glass which covers the top of the car," said chief designer Allen Young. "We did things the glass companies didn't think they could do in the past. We treated the glass more like sheet metal. The use of glass says that Cadillac is a more expensive car and that there are things we can do with glass that Oldsmobile and Buick can't."

The whole car was painted black pearl contrasting beautifully with the lower body in hand-finished grey-coated aluminum. It also featured then-new LED lights both front and rear.

The Voyage had no mirrors, no handles, neither outside or inside. The whole door opening ceremony was orchestrated by an infra-red remote controller to operate the electronic door motors. Once seated, the driver was greeted with a fully-articulated seat providing no less than 20 ranges of adjustment as well as a massage feature. It also had a hands-free telephone, GPS satellite navigation, and a screen displaying rear-view camera images. This was 1988 remember.

Unlike Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Jaguar which were all offering V12 in their flagship production models, Cadillac's top engine was its 4.5-liter V8 producing a measly 155bhp. For the Voyage however, the power was pushed to a more appropriate 275bhp paired with a four-wheel drive transmission. The Voyage sedan was followed a year later by a coupe version called Solitaire which shared most of its design cues but powered this time by a 6.6-liter V12 developed with Lotus and producing 430bhp.

Thanks to its futuristic looks, the Voyage made a cameo appearance in Demolition Man but, more importantly, it landed like of a bomb within GM's design studios. Is influence was seen not only on Cadillac models, but across the entire range from the Buick Roadmaster to the Chevrolet Caprice.

First seen 1988 New York
Chief designer Allen Young
Length 5,400mm
Height 1356mm
Width 1,976mm
Wheelbase 3,037mm
Engine 4.5-liter V8
Power 275bhp

Your author, Flavien Dachet, is a UK-based, French-born car designer. You may know him as the purveyor of KarzNshit, a photo blog that if isn't already in your bookmarks, certainly should be.

By Owen Ready