The Cadillac Ciel concept is a car so breathtaking and magnificent that the only thing that separates it from a Rolls–Royce is the fact that, like the Cadillac Sixteen concept from 2004, doesn’t and will not exist. This is a problem.
You know what Cadillac meant in Central Europe in the final, tepid years of Communism? It didn’t mean post-malaise badge engineering with a dash of V8-6-4. It meant something so awesome and so magnificent that when my father’s virologist friend sent us a postcard from the US in the late ’80s saying he’d gotten a Cadillac, I felt as though he’d attained astral levels of wealth and awesomeness and magnificence. He paid around $1000 or so.
Cadillac may have spent decades downsizing itself into automotive irrelevance, but that knowledge was confined to the United States. The Cadillac abroad was a big wide Eldorado with all the space in the world, powered by a V8 fit for a powerboat, and this perception was so strong that I managed to fall in love with possibly the most terrible Cadillac ever produced, the Seville which has no ass, not in 1969 but in 2004. Meanwhile, Cadillac burst onto the European market with a rebadged Saab 9-3 powered by a 1.9-liter Fiat diesel.
No, I am not making this up.
By 2004 we had the Sixteen. The Sixteen was, well, there are no words to properly describe what I felt when I first saw the Sixteen. It was in a kitchen in Bethesda, Maryland, it was a double spread in Time magazine, and it was out of this fucking world. It had a V16!
How terrible to think that its contemporaries—the Rolls–Royce Phantom and the Bentley Continental GT—have gone on to enjoy longevity and fame while the Sixteen died a prenatal death. The Sixteen had a way of tugging at one’s heartstrings like a celestial body only Stephen Hawking could properly describe.
Everything was so right with that car. So utterly, perfectly, lovingly American. So much like the 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. So now we’ve got the Cadillac Ciel. The Cadillac Ciel which calls for weekend drives every weekday. The Cadillac Ciel which came to mind when I saw a big white eighth generation Eldorado on a highway the other day, floating above the asphalt, exuding presence and probably a fair amount of unburned gasoline too.
Cadillac is obviously never going to build it. But one can hope, can’t one?
Photos by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images (Cadillac Sixteen) and Peter Orosz (V16 logo)