This 2002 Article About The Cadillac Cien Will Break Your Heart Again

Cadillac at the 2002 NAIAS
Photo: Getty Images

GM didn’t know how good it had it in 2002. We were years away from the Recession, from the bailout, and Americans were clutching to consumerism like there was nothing else to grab hold of. It is in this environment that a couple of executives reportedly took a trip to England that would break my heart some 17 years later.

Cadillac at the 2002 NAIAS
Photo: Getty Images
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I never really loved the Cadillac Cien. In 2002, I was more interested in the Hy-wire hydrogen concept car than a mid-engine Cadillac. Hell, I was still obsessed with Monte Carlos and Chevelles more than anything modern from the General. I didn’t exactly connect with its hulking 7.5-liter V12 engine, even though it was listed at 750 horsepower and 450 lb.-ft. of torque.

Photo: GM

It was a neat package though. The construction was carbon composite, the suspension was inboard, the engine had direct injection (and cylinder deactivation, if you cared), and there was a paddle-shift six-speed and digital dash.

Photo: GM
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There were even cool vents that opened and closed for cooling, as noted in Cadillac’s press release:

Electronically controlled air inlets and outlets are integrated into the Cien’s body side. These active vents open and close as required for cooling. Also, air is directed to the V12 engine via intakes beneath the two characteristic sail panels.

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But somehow, in 2002, it all seemed silly. A mid-engine Cadillac? Why?

In 2019, things are different. My mustache and I are welcoming the new C8 Corvette, which stuffs a pushrod V8 behind the driver. The Cien, in retrospect, really isn’t all that ambitious, particularly when you realize the name attached with assembling the one working prototype: Prodrive.

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Prodrive is the little engineering firm in the UK that handled everything from world-beating Subaru rally cars to Ferrari Le Mans cars to that one tiny prototype car that made Jeremy Clarkson puke that one time on Top Gear.

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Prodrive is legit. And it was Prodrive that put the carbon-fiber Cien together.

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Indeed, the Cien was from an American car company but was almost entirely British in its development. The designer was Simon Cox working in GM’s UK design studio, and the engine was developed by Cosworth, as the Daily Telegraph reported from the 2002 Detroit Auto Show:

The Cadillac Cien was largely a British concept, designed by GM UK studio chief Simon Cox. The 7.5-litre V12 engine was built by Cosworth in Northampton and assembled at Prodrive near Banbury. It looked wonderful and sounded even better, but is highly unlikely to be made.

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The Telegraph elaborated that the car wasn’t unfeasible so much as it was undesirable to a certain GM exec:

Lutz held out more hope for making the Chevrolet Bel Air concept, perhaps even selling it in Europe in spite of a solid beam rear axle that will ensure a somewhat choppy ride over Britain’s poorly maintained roads.

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But there was more to GM management than Lutz, and Autoweek reported soon after that a few other GM executives, one with a name you may recognize, took a trip over to the UK to see about putting the Cien into limited production. After all, the Cien debuted at the 2002 Detroit show, same as the Ford GT, another international production that did get put on sale:

This could get interesting: General Motors sources say specialty-vehicle executives John Heinricy and Mark Reuss, along with Corvette chief engineer Dave Hill, recently took a trip to the United Kingdom to visit boutique automakers. Their hope is to find one capable of building up to 300 Cadillac Ciens a year. Tom Walkinshaw’s TWR was on the agenda, as was David Richards’ Prodrive outfit.

No firm decision has been made about producing the Cien, sources say, but the trip indicates GM is leaning toward a limited-production run. Ford’s unexpected announcement that it would produce a short run of cars based on its GT40 concept may have increased GM’s interest in a competitive response. GM’s decision should come before summer’s end.

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Mark Reuss is president of GM at the moment, but back in 2002 I guess he either didn’t like what he saw or didn’t have enough pull to get the Cien into production as Autoweek reported again just before summer’s end in 2002, that GM didn’t think the market was strong enough for a $200,000 car:

Sadly, now comes word that, amid an uncertain economic climate, Cien’s business case doesn’t stack up against the General’s myriad of other needs, such as viable, profitable small cars, performance cars for every division including Cadillac, and more and better trucks.

GM Performance Division chief Mark Reuss told AutoWeek an internal review completed in the past few weeks didn’t support building the $200,000 car—at least not now. But while in the past that kind of high-level decision would have killed a project for good, the climate inside GM today allows for shelving a project with hope of bringing it back.

“Right now, we’re deciding not to spend the money on it, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t come around again in the future,” Reuss said. “In the past that would have been the final decision, but today we realize we ought to have a couple of shelves full of products we go back and do, depending on the situation.”

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Reuss went on to say that it wasn’t one particular part of the car that busted its budget, so much as the whole thing together.

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It’s painful to think that GM, high before the fall of ‘08, could have sent this thing out into the world for, say, 300 people to rip around in. The whole shithouse was only a few years away from coming down. Could we not have just lived a little lavish?

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About the author

Raphael Orlove

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.