The Speculator: The Conversation Starter from Pebble Beach


Cadillac Elmiraj Concept. All Photos (c) 2013 GM

One might not fault Cadillac for calling their latest concept what it is. Yet, it is something we might be seeing for real someday.

The Elmiraj – pronounced "El Mirage" – is a concept with a mission. It is created to introduce a few elements of Cadillac's design and engineering future. What transpired is an evolution of the Ciel concept onto a shorter, rear-drive platform that spawned a closed coupe body without pillars. Melded onto this body is a mix of what we seen in the Ciel, along with current Cadillac design trends and a further look into the future.

The wraps came off on the concept at the start of the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance weekend. Cadillac promised something special would happen – and they delivered. The response has been mainly positive. The message was indeed received by those in attendance at its unveiling – this is what a Cadillac flagship model could be. Instead of a big sedan that would double as a limousine for dignitaries, a "grand coupe" – a term Cadillac uses to describe the Elmiraj – is apt for the ultimate Cadillac for this part of the century.

Cadillac proposed that this "grand coupe" would be motivated by a twin-turbocharged V8 engine driving the rear wheels. This is indeed promising, considering how much many of the automotive community had asked Cadillac to be original and unique. This is the kind of driveline that would not borrow from General Motors' parts bin – as little as possible.

Perhaps the most compelling detail can be found in a familiar shape – the crest. Word spread that Cadillac would alter its logo: The crest of the Cadillac family. They done so by widening the crest – similar to what Cadillac did in the late 1950s. What is missing is the wreath – a fixture of many Cadillacs dating back to the mid-1960s.

This complete break with tradition is only a part of the Elmiraj story. But, somehow, it is only the beginning. What would a production version of the Elmiraj be, if given the opportunity?

I supposed this is a job for The Speculator.

HONORING HERITAGE: When gazing upon the Elmiraj – even in photographs – a couple of historic Cadillacs come to mind. The 1957 Eldorado Brougham was the first car that came to mind. It was the first American car to eclipse the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud by sheer luxury, gadgetry and price. There was an air exclusivity when one approached the Eldorado Brougham, with its four headlamps, stainless steel roof and bespoke interior.

The other car is the 1967 Fleetwood Eldorado – the original Cadillac personal luxury coupe. The front-drive Eldorado changed Cadillac forever with its unique styling and emphasis on unique luxury appointments. In the late 1960s, driving an Eldorado made you stand out amongst the crowd – even in the face of Ferraris, Jaguars and Rolls-Royces.

Both Eldorados could be seen in bits and pieces in the Elmiraj concept. If it goes into production, would Cadillac ruin it with a three-letter nomenclature? I would hope not. The best route for Cadillac is to restore an appropriate name onto this "grand coupe" – Eldorado. It just has that certain ring when arriving next to a gaggle of S-Class Coupes, 6-Series and Continentals (the Bentley ones, not the Lincolns).

WHAT SHOULD STAY TRUE: The Ciel concept showed what could be done with future Cadillac design. The Elmiraj took elements from the Ciel and brought them closer to an almost-production ready state.

The coupe's roofline is a departure from the past. Rather than the Art&Science approach of extreme, sharp angles, there is more of a three-box profile with relatively softer lines. There is more emphasis on elegance from front to back – something that will please many doubters.

Perhaps the best approach to creating the Elmiraj into production is to keep the concept's body shape in tact. To water anything down – including the thin width LED headlamps – is to lose potential customers to its flagship.

Cadillac Elmiraj 2

Some people may like the racecar-like seating and new instrumentation technology. Yet, would we even see any of this in the production version? How real could all of the concept’s interior be?

Interior-wise, it is shown to an extreme of Cadillac design. The instrument panel actually would work, though it appears that it will lose the full TFT screen treatment in the upper models of the XTS. Yet, having two main permanent dials and a center TFT would work better, as long as it fully befits the car’s image. Having the CUE screen pop up from the upper center stack might be the best solution to retain the instrument panel’s design, though I fear they would find a way to integrate it as a permanent fixture. Maybe the pop-up screen works best in this case, as long as the elements of CUE and intuitive switches remain part of the Elmiraj.

On the concept, you either love or hate the seats. There is a point in seating for the Elmiraj – make them better than current Cadillac specs. Here is an opportunity for GM to address seating in ensuring good bolstering, a flatter back surface between the bolsters, smart power-adjustable lumbar and bolster support for all bodies. The Elmiraj has a sporty look to it, therefore create a cabin that is still a Cadillac, but would befit the driver and its passengers with underneath the hood and overall promise of "grand coupe" performance.

The idea of a rear-drive platform powered by a twin-turbocharged V8 is truly delicious. Uncannily, the 4.5litre displacement seems familiar – does the term “Northstar” strike your fancy? There was nothing wrong with the Northstar V8, as it seems right to dust it off the shelf and elevate it.

In truth, GM has the new V8 derived from the High Feature architecture, pointing to the 3.6litre twin-turbocharged V8 that will be dropped in the new 2014 CTS and XTS. It seems that be adding two more cylinders to the HFV6 would be easier than bringing back the Northstar.

GM has a target of 500 horsepower – more than the new Corvette. The difference between these two engines is the block – GM's Small Block belonging to the C7. Still, 500 is a good number to shoot for, if you consider what other luxury carmakers might also aiming for.

Somewhere in GM's press release is a statement that the Elmiraj honors California's "heritage" of driving and my native state's love for great automobiles. If I were to translate this, it means that the GM wants the Elmiraj to excite the driver as it makes mince meat of the Pacific Coast Highway between Hearst Castle and Carmel – or through the Angeles National Forest into the High Desert.

First off – it is a big car. Cadillac had the body stretch to 205-inches long, which is three inches longer than the XTS. Yet, you can make a big car offer flat handling through the curves, a balanced ride that is neither soft nor firm, sharp steering from a perfectly weighted rack with true road feel and the best brakes in the business.

The goal for the Elmiraj is to take what was learned in the ATS and perfect it on a larger car. That is a huge leap to aspire for, but it is not impossible to accomplish.

Cadillac Elmiraj 3

THE CREST WITHOUT THE WREATH: I will admit being disappointed by the absence of the wreath from the crest. It is what my generation saw as the symbol of Cadillac. Yet, if the Elmiraj needed to evoke more heritage, one would look no further than the 1950s for that inspiration.

Some may forget that the wreath was never part of the crest for many years. You only got the crest of the Cadillac family on top of the radiator. Also, the crest never appeared on the grille for decades. This was a more recent phenomenon – now part-and-parcel of Cadillac design today. With a mesh grille up front, the crest is set apart – alone in a sea of black.

Would this be the way forward on Cadillac's current models? On the ATS, it would make sense to change to the Elmiraj's grille texture with the crest set off by itself. The scale of the new grille would increase the cache on a global scale. That would be the goal for the ATS to further make inroads on its competitors at every turn.

The new CTS and XTS would also benefit from this new frontal image change. Yet, would a traditional Cadillac buyer be concerned about the lack of texture from their grilles? Perhaps, the new mesh grille texture is apt, if not original, when compared to the standard issue front ends by its rivals.

Often do I not go crazy over a concept vehicle. They are either design exercises we would never see the results of – if any. Then, we are treated to "concepts" of vehicles that are ready to go into production in a flash moment. The Cadillac Elmiraj is different. It is a look at what is possible from Cadillac to cement its position amongst the world’s best luxury cars.

This is not a sign of Cadillac being "almost there." This is the finishing school. To graduate, Cadillac and GM must build this car. We could use a Cadillac that everyone would aspire to own – to not let any German, British or Japanese luxury car interrupt the conversation.

And please give it a proper name this time.

If this becomes real, there will be a conversation shift.

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