25 Years of Drive: The Cadillac that should have been a Holden

In 1996, General Motors unleashed a new Cadillac onto the US market. It was built in Germany but should have been made in Australia.

Story originally published 12 January, 1996.

This new Caddy could have been… perhaps even should have been… a Holden.

The long-awaited BMW basher from Cadillac, General Motors’ most prestigious marque, was given the full trumpets-and-satin sheet unveiling in Detroit this week, yet it’s about as American as a Bavarian beer hall.

In another sign that cars are becoming as global a commodity as the Big Mac, the new model, called Catera, is the first Cadillac Not Made in America. Instead, it’s fresh from Germany and based closely on the Opel Omega. Not coincidentally, this is the same car which forms the basis for Australia’s 1997 Holden Commodore.

For a while there, at the end of 1993, when all the decisions were made, Cadillac wanted to wait for the larger, Australian-made Holden version of the Omega platform to badge as its own.

The deal made sense. The Holden Commodore, suitably widened for Aussie tastes, had traditional rear-wheel drive and a more powerful 3.8-litre V6 engine. This combination was thought to have more appeal to Cadillac buyers than the smaller German version. Holden’s other ace up the sleeve was the availability of a 5.0-litre V8 engine.

While the Australian link made better product sense, the deal was vetoed at the last minute by internal GM politics, Opel given the nod to build its Omega in Russelsheim, Germany, for export to the US.

The Catera is intended to help Cadillac compete in the entry-level luxury car market, against rivals such as the BMW 3 Series, Benz C-Class and Lexus ES300. Currently neither Cadillac nor its main US rival, Lincoln, has cars in this fast-growing market.

Developed by Opel with some detail work by Cadillac, the Catera uses the Omega V6 front-drive engine but the car is significantly modified to suit US driving conditions. For example the top speed is electronically limited to 200km/h, allowing the use of Goodyear all-season tyres, which Cadillac says will lessen tyre noise on rough US roads.

On the other hand, the Catera will have more standard equipment such as air-conditioning, electrically-powered seats and remote door-locking than most European rivals.

So, what happened next?

Americans didn’t take to their European-built Cadillac, the Catera lasting through just one generation – and a make-or-break 200 facelift – before General Motors pulled up stumps in 2001. It was replaced by the altogether more successful Cadillac CTS which remained on sale through three successive generations from 2003-19. GM sold just under 100,000 Cateras over its 1996-2001 lifespan.

It’s hardly surprising, considering the US’s parochial automotive tastes and the Catera’s Pan-European underpinnings – manufactured in Germany with a GM V6 engine built in the UK at GM’s Ellesmere Port factory and an automatic transmission assembled in Strassbourg, France.

Externally, the Catera bore more than a passing resemblance to Australia’s own Holden VT Commodore, no accident since both were derived from the Opel Omega. However, it’s hard to not objectively look at both and wonder if the altogether better proportions of the VT Commodore might have better suited Cadillac buyers’ tastes.

The Cadillac Catera did enjoy a pop cultural spotlight, the inspiration for a TV character in the US television drama, Chicago Hope. The show’s producer, John Tinker, joked about Cadillac’s ‘Lease a Catera’ advertising tagline with the quip, “Who is Lisa Catera?”, before creating a character, Dr Lisa Catera, for the long-running medical drama. Dr Lisa Catera was played by Stacy Edwards from 1997-99.

The post 25 Years of Drive: The Cadillac that should have been a Holden appeared first on Drive.

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