By on January 25, 2022

In our last edition of Abandoned History, we covered the years leading up to the release of the Cadillac High Technology V8. Used almost exclusively in 1981, the disastrous V8-6-4 had a primitive engine management system that could deactivate either two or four cylinders on Cadillac’s traditional V8. And while the idea was sound, the technology and engineering behind it were not. Cadillac was left in a bind and needed a replacement engine immediately. But the engine of choice was not finished, and not ready for primetime. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome the medium-rare HT4100.

As mentioned last time, the HT was supposed to debut on front-drive Cadillacs in 1983. However after V8-6-4 was a flop, HT was applied to the marque’s existing lineup in 1982. That meant HT was pushed through its latter development stages at a breakneck pace and shoved into production far earlier than The General planned.

Coded as LT8, the new High Technology engine was considerably smaller and lighter than the 368 cubic-inch (6.0L) V8 it replaced. Known by its metric displacement, the 4.1 was not known by its 249 cubic inches. That old-school measurement was headed well into the sunset by the early Eighties. The HT could be applied to rear- or front-wheel drive Cadillacs. For marketing and luxury reasons, the HT engine was exclusive to Cadillac vehicles. Non-Cadillacs had to make do with less technologically prestigious engines.

One thing HT V8 Cadillacs shared with other GM offerings was the transmission bell housing, which was the same pattern as on front- and rear-drive Pontiac, Buick, and Oldsmobile passenger cars. This was especially relevant for parts sharing purposes, and the upcoming front-drive Cadillac models were due for debut in 1983. But as the HT was put into production early, conversely the front-drive Cadillacs and their siblings were delayed. The downsizing project at GM had continual difficulties, while everyone worked under incorrect analysis that stated fuel prices would soar by 1985.

Front-drive Cadillacs were ready for the 1985 model year, to the general chagrin of just about everyone. The HT4100-equipped Cadillacs were too small, too ugly, less appealing with front-drive, and again too small. Lincoln skewered GM’s downsizing with its proud full-size cars that still came with length. The predicted fuel price spike didn’t happen, and customers across Cadillac, Oldsmobile, and Buick turned to larger luxury rivals instead. General Motors spent the next seven model years fixing its downsized front-drive Cadillacs. About that time the Northstar arrived (uh oh) and its traditional customer stopped driving altogether. But that’s a story for another day. Back to HT.

In 1982 Cadillac implemented their new engine across the entire line, except for the all-new Cavalier-based Cimarron (where it wouldn’t fit) and the Fleetwood factory limousine, which kept the 368 V8 through its end in 1984. Customers of the DeVille, Seville, Eldorado, and Fleetwood Brougham found much more empty space in their engine bays should they have taken a peek. Where it applied, the 4.1 HT was standard equipment, while a 4.1-liter V6 was a credit option, and the diesel V8 cost extra. Later join-ins to the HT party included the new front-drive C-body Fleetwood of 1985 and the Allante halo convertible in 1987.

The modern electronic control module that GM invented on the V8-6-4 was refined and became an important part of the new HT engine. It still worked similarly as it had in the 368 V8, and monitored engine performance via an onboard diagnostic system. As before, information from the ECU was displayed directly on the climate control panel, while the car was running. No attempt at cylinder deactivation programming was made. Elsewhere General Motors played it a bit more traditional, and opted for throttle-body fuel injection instead of multiport. The 4.1 managed 135 modern horsepower, and 190 lb-ft of torque.

The TBI was joined by a higher running temperature, which meant the engine burned more cleanly and had better emissions. Other modern engine advancements included mixed metal construction: Durable cast-iron heads were attached to a lighter-weight aluminum block. The cylinder sleeves were replaceable. Life-giving coolant circulated between the engine block and heads freely, rushing past the various sturdy surfaces of the engine’s interior.

Problems were almost immediately apparent. Issues started with the block itself, as the HT4100 experienced faults quite similar to its Northstar successor a decade later: The bolts pulled loose from the aluminum block and took the threads with them. That wasn’t the only concern with the block itself. It seemed the rushed production schedule on the HT showed up in quality control issues like weak engine block castings.

Outside the block, the HT4100 often experienced intake manifold gasket failure as two different metals rubbed against one another. Aluminum was used in other high-stress areas too. The HT4100’s oil pump was made of the stuff and often failed. Camshaft bearings failed too and spun themselves into oblivion.

Customers weren’t pleased with the HT4100 given all its problems, but the engine was still an improvement over the V8-6-4 that pinged itself away in their ’81 Cadillacs. It was also much better than the simply terrible 5.7-liter Diesel offered via Oldsmobile. The HT4100 earned a bad reputation almost instantly for all the reasons cited above, even though Cadillac still sold a huge number of cars at the time. In 1981 230,665 people bought Cadillacs, most of which were equipped with the V8-6-4. That infamous engine was well-known as customers went back in 1982 and increased Cadillac’s sales to 249,295. Sales increased under HT4100’s tenure too, cresting just over 300,000 in 1983, and on to 320,027 in 1984. Buyers were loyal and simply had to have that Cadillac Style.

The final development of the HT4100 arrived in 1987, as the engine was finally added to the eagerly awaited, disastrous, and very expensive Allante. For a customer’s $54,000 ($135,389 adj.) in 1987, they received a most special version of the 4.1-liter in their front-drive and Pininfarina-designed convertible. Inside the engine used a revised camshaft profile, and hydraulic roller-style lifters. Both revisions helped to improve airflow and increased the 4.1’s horsepower figure significantly over the standard engine. Power reached 170 horses (from 135), and torque was 235 lb-ft. This version of the HT was exclusive to Allante and produced for only two years.

Before we go any further with the HT, we need to take a quick sidebar into a GM engine spawned entirely by emissions regulations: the Oldsmobile diesel. Through its various versions, it was always bad but didn’t have to be. Its issues stemmed from a rushed development timeline and the continual cost-cutting of GM accountants. Until next time.

[Images: GM]

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90 Comments on “Abandoned History: General Motors’ High Technology Engine, and Other CAFE Foibles (Part II)...”


  • avatar
    Syke

    Nothing like rushing your development, and putting a product out half-baked. No doubt, the accounting side was demanding it. God forbid if you take a year or two sales downturn because the last product was equally half-baked.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    That Lincoln ad was spot on (ignoring for a moment that all of the Lincolns shown were gussied-up Fords).

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    A few things:

    “Only Cadillac has it…” thank goodness GM did not use it across all brands. That would’ve been a huge disaster.

    Empty space under the hood was negligible at best and I learned this the hard way when I helped a friend do a tear down on an 80k Sedan Deville 4100 that needed head gaskets/upgraded bolts etc.. I’ll always remember how good the valve covers looked on that turd of a motor.

    Lastly, CHECK ENGINE should have been CHUCK ENGINE.. and the Northstar was still a few years away!

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Back in the day I inherited my uncle’s ’90 DeVille, with the HT 4.5. I took that car from 100k to 200k and never had a single engine problem.
    It had good low-end torque but boy did it drink gas. I was lucky to pull 15MPG on the trip computer.

    • 0 avatar
      CaddyDaddy

      That’s because the 4.5L and the 4.9L were grorious little V-8s. We ran a 90′ and a 91′ both well past 200K. Never a problem. Good note from under the hood and decent fuel economy. 92′ was the last year and then RenCen said “Northstar”. A midsize Deville / Seville / Eldorado in RWD with a 4.9L and 4L60E would have been a strong argument vs. Europe.

      • 0 avatar
        Mike Beranek

        I don’t care for the Northstar. Just looking at one gives me nightmares involving skinned knuckles, burned fingertips, and scratched-up forearms.
        I’d love a ’92 or ’93 Seville with the 4.9, however.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Northstar Caddies were great…until a few years down the road, when the engine self-destructed.

          • 0 avatar
            redapple

            I worked at GM for many years at the Tech Ctr, ASSY Plants and powertrain plants.

            GM has some of the best engineering people around. The management structure and systems are excellent. There are true believers there that want to make world class product.

            THEY CANNOT.

            The UAW sucks all the money out of the company. $70 + /hour labor – fully loaded. UAW guys work 5 of 8 hr a day. If you stand on them to work more, you ll get flooded with grievances. And by rule everything stops until the committeeman shows up and the write up takes place. ( taking another 2-4 hours). So you are better off NEVER challenging / cajoling / trying to get more than the 5 out of them.

            There is no money left. So, You cheap out on everything.

            Balance this with Toyota. They do stuff right. They pay $55 fully loaded. And the guys work closer to the full 8. ( i know a little about this. I m at a Toyota Keiretsu firm now)

            BOOM. There it is right there. No money left. It s all been sucked out.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree

            redapple — That sounds about right. Much ink has been spilled about the UAW and its vice-like grip on the domestic auto industry. I’m not against unions or workers unionizing by any means, but *that* particular union…yeesh.

            However, at the time of the HT4100, I think that hubris and impatience from the C-suite, inefficient management structures, and overzealous accountants also conspired to produce really mediocre or subpar products that nevertheless cost more to make than those of competitors.

            I also agree that GM has some *super* talented engineers and designers, who can perform absolute magic when they’re actually given healthy budgets and realistic targets.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            GM had made a litany more mistakes outside of cheapening the content or assembly parts due to UAW antics – and I say this as someone who doesn’t like UAW and its communist underpinnings.

            Did the UAW put design flaws in the Northstar or the 4100? Did the UAW put together a p!ss poor diesel out of an Olds 350? Did the UAW design the Opel 3.0 Ellesmere Port motor which likes to self destruct? Losing the parasite UAW would probably work some wonders but its not going to fix poor designs or invalid business strategies.

          • 0 avatar
            golden2husky

            redapple, while there are many things that can be laid at the feet of the UAW, let’s be honest here. This was GM of the 1980s – the beancounters would be sucking out as much as possible even if labor was half the cost. Their history makes this pretty clear. Now, about those misaligned panels…you would have loved the GM shareholder packet that my father received back in the day touting the Malcom Baldrige Quality award – you could see one of the headlights in the feature car was so far out of alignment that it was immediately apparent even in photos. My father wrote to GM about it and guess what? Crickets. No surprise.

          • 0 avatar
            BobinPgh

            That is so you get a new Cadillac!

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            My maternal grandfather, after he and his family immigrated from Romania, worked as a woodworker at the GM Tech Center in Warren, MI, proudly; skeletons under the clay models, styling bucks, and the like. This was in the early ‘60s. He died in 1975.

            I imagine he is looking down in utter disbelief and disdain at what that once-great company devolved into!

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    We’re getting dangerously close to GM falling flat on their faces with the Japanese invasion of Acura, Lexus, and Infiniti here.

    “The 4.1 managed 135 modern horsepower, and 190 lb-ft of torque.” And the fuel economy was still not impressive, even after downsizing and the diet. Meanwhile in 1986, Acura was launched with a buttery smooth small V6 that made more HP, a little less torque, and a slick 4-speed w/ OD automatic transmission. It wasn’t as big and poofy as a Cadillac, but those with money but wouldn’t be caught dead in their parent’s Cadillac and didn’t want to pay more for German moved right into the Japanese cars.

    I think this was the last real chance that GM had to correct themselves before being left behind. The boomers were in their 30s and 40s, and how attractive was it to them to be seen driving so large and gaudy and overstuffed with what old people think luxury is? Compared to the slick and tight Legend, these land barges with underpowered engines weren’t in the same conversation. And then Lexus came along and really took it to them.

    And the less said about the diesel, the better. Rumor has it that one of them is still trying to climb a mountain pass out west…

    And to Corey and FreedMike – the VW saga is finally coming to an end. I managed to negotiate two options with VW – a lump payment to be used to zero out the small loan and have some left over for a replacement, or a buyback using Kentucky’s very weak lemon laws. The second option was a non-starter since I was going to lose at least $7000 and not have a vehicle to show for it. So, the GLI is now paid off and is worth over $1000 more than what I paid for it, and a new 2022 Mazda MX-5 RF Grand Touring in Soul Red and 6-speed manual is now on order with delivery sometime in March. They are just so much fun to drive and it makes a good midlife crisis car! Who knows, if used car prices stay high for the next couple of years, the fling might be over and Civic Type-R prices might be stable, so who knows? But I’m already looking at some Kentucky mountain roads to break it in and heat up the tires.
    #Savethemanuals

    • 0 avatar

      Glad you’re getting away from VW! I don’t think I’ll be back after my experience (not that the new Golf is appealing anyway, it isn’t.)

      • 0 avatar
        theflyersfan

        If I didn’t have this experience, I would consider the new R and learn to cope with the interior infotainment experience. But I pulled out my records and also the CarFax…you ready? In 13 months, there were 14 service visits. Not even the worst Lada from Soviet times could accomplish that. So I just want to get through the next 6-8 weeks with no drama with this car until I get the “Come on over” call from the dealer.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      @flyersfan:

      Took the money and ran – sounds like a good deal. And congrats on the Miata!

      • 0 avatar
        theflyersfan

        Thank you FreedMike – March can’t get here quickly enough! I still have the cursed one until delivery and there’s a gentleman’s agreement that I’m not going to take any 10,000 mile road trips, so it’s just cross the fingers and get to the finish line.
        For over 30 years, I’ve wanted an MX-5 Miata. I’ve almost pulled the trigger three times on it, but each time, the practical part of the brain won out and said that the trunk was too small or I need to carry equipment for the job, or people need to ride in the back. Not any more. Delivery covers large items, most road trips are at most 2 people, and duffel bags will fit easily in the trunk. The fact that it’s a hardtop with better security and noise control is the icing on the cake.
        Plus with the non-stop rumors about that the NE is going to be like in a few years tells me that the days of the light, pure MX-5 might be numbered. This car can easily get 40 mpg on the highway – don’t complicate things with batteries and a hybrid system!

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      Off topic…..Congrats on the MX5, I’m loving my grey/white interior ’21. Bouncy, noisy, and sublimely responsive in every way. Totally addictive.

      • 0 avatar
        theflyersfan

        @ttacgreg – thank you! For 2022, the Terracotta leather is added. It looks like saddle leather. The demo MX-5 on their lot was that new off-white/champagne color with the terracotta. It’s only available on that off-white, and the shades of gray. Not the Soul Red and that’s just wrong! That red with the saddle leather…wow. I think the white has been discontinued – I don’t recall seeing it in the dealer’s order binder.

        One big reason in getting it, besides wanting one for decades, is that I need to be at work at 6AM. And on a cool spring or fall morning, I can think of no better way to fully wake up than a top down blast up I-65. Has to be better than coffee. And a lot of the MX-5 blogs and forums I’ve checked out pretty much say that 40 mpg is easy to get on highway trips. I get that in my GLI on the highway if it’s off of the boost so flat terrain. But I think the MX-5 will be just a little more fun, if not a little bit louder!

  • avatar
    ajla

    “while a 4.1-liter V6 was a credit option”

    This was an interesting option. It was a Buick V6 design and offered in many different vehicles, but was chosen relatively infrequently.

    It made 125hp/205lb-ft (so about the same as the HT4100 V8, Pontiac 265 V8, or Olds 260 V8) and it was probably the most reliable engine you could get in Cadillac those years. Still, it used a carb (4bbl even) instead of FI and although it was at least an even fire design at this point it still didn’t use a balance shaft.

    • 0 avatar

      Can’t picture anyone in 1982 reaching for the Cadillac and having “made it” but wanting six cylinders like a Buick.

      Bet those few were lot poison.

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff S

        Corey they reached for the Lincoln Town Car that is why Lincoln kept it so long even though they had plans to replace it with a smaller front wheel drive version. Sales were just too great and Lincoln realized that most of the luxury car buyers at the time wanted a bigger rear wheel drive V8 powered luxury car. As a result Lincoln kept gaining sales. Lexus and Acura came along with a yet better luxury car that not only took it to Cadillac but Mercedes. Bill on one of his Curious Cars videos goes into the history of the Town Car mentioning that Ford delayed its replacement because of what happened with Cadillac.

        • 0 avatar
          theflyersfan

          @Corey Lewis and @Jeff S: True story here – before he retired, one of my uncles was an orthopedic surgeon. Well, according to his doctor friends, all of the doctor’s wives in the late 1980s were to drive Lincoln Town Cars. So, without telling his new wife (my aunt), he goes out and buys this massive, brick-shaped, hulking Town Car. This was before the 1990 redesign – this is still peak brick. My Lord, did she hate that car. I drove it with my newly minted license in my pocket and I hated that thing with a passion. The word “float” doesn’t even begin to describe the drive. But, you know, have to look good with the wives. They had that car for maybe a year, and I think under the threat of divorce, tossed that abomination like a live grenade, and went with one of the first Lexus LS400s in Ohio. No comparison. As much as I think the first Miata was as close to perfect in terms of “nailed it,” the LS400 wins that award. That car lasted more than 300,000 miles.
          And GM, Chrysler, and Ford still continued to make big, floaty barges that were catering to a shrinking market.

      • 0 avatar
        BobinPgh

        Why didn’t Cadillac make the 6 cylinder engine standard and just not mention the number of cylinders in their literature too much? Just mostly mention the size and HP. And place the chrome valve covers on it? I guess that just make too much sense for GM

    • 0 avatar
      SoCalMikester

      dad had an 81 cutlass supreme and whatever V6 was in it felt the same as a V8 in regular driving. didnt feel sluggish on onramps either

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        We had at 81 “Gutless” as well – it was the 231 V6…though to be fair the car was actually pretty nice and we had only minor issues with it. Still, on day one the CCC light (Computer Command Control, predecessor the the Check engine light) did not illuminate upon startup. Dealer fixed it but left a horrid greasy thumbprint on the surface of the cluster, under the plastic cover.

        You re correct about the small V8 not being much of a real world difference in driving – our family opted for the six because of this very reason.

        • 0 avatar

          We had a Supremely Gutless. Two barrel feeding the odd fire v6. It was SO bad the next car was a BMW 325is….we never looked back and you cannot imagine the difference.

          • 0 avatar
            ponchoman49

            The odd fire Buick V6 ceased production during the 1977 model year. All 1978 on up 196, 231 and 252 variants were split pin crank even fire designs. Looking at the specs the largest 252 unit used the turbo 3.8’s rolled fillet crank and higher volume oil pump to try and beef it up for large car duty starting in 1980.

            My long time friend had a 1982 black Sedan Deville with the 252 V6 and well over 100K miles that ran like a watch all on the original well maintained engine. With just a tune up, replaced choke pull off and a replaced high flow catalytic converter replacing the old pellet unit this car was surprisingly peppy and ran really well for what it was. Note too that the V6 cars weighted in less than V8 models so that helped too. I would say for the 1982 model year it was the best engine choice available. For 1981 8-6-4 cars one just needed to snip a wire to deactivate the system and turn it into a normal V8. I know a bunch of older collectors that have done this on there 1981 Cadilacs and have never had an issue thereafter.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            @Ponchoman that is correct, de-activating the 8-6-4 system was not rare. And the engine worked quite well once that system was de-activated.

            However I also have a friend who ran an Olds diesel for many years without any issues. But then he was an expert mechanic and understood how to maintain an engine and perform preventive maintenance.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          The 260 may have been a little better than the granddaddy to the Most Blessed 3800 IF it was maintained properly and not allowed to fall into disrepair! But a neglected one, like that in the hooptie that was my first car, a 1978 Cutlass Salon, would narrowly lose a race to a 231, while swilling petrol like a 6-bbl 455!

          • 0 avatar
            Carlson Fan

            “The 260 may have been a little better than the granddaddy to the Most Blessed 3800 IF it was maintained properly and not allowed to fall into disrepair!”

            I had 1981 Cutlass w/260 V8 when I was in college. I remember that little 260 getting around 18-20MPG @ 75MPH. It had some type of an electronic control in the carb so I suspect if that wasn’t working properly it would most likely affect fuel economy. That motor was rated at less HP than the V6. I believe it had all the same internals as the 350 so it was pretty much indestructible. Mine had a 197K miles on it when I got rid of it and still ran good minus a little lifter noise.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I’m not sure what you mean, the 260 is unrelated to Our Lord of Eternal Torque.

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            I meant that the 231 Buick 6 was the predecessor to the Engine from Heaven! ;-)

            And the Computer Command Control carb’s first year was 1981, so my Salon had completely mechanical stuff. And it led a hard life, so it wasn’t anywhere close to what it could have been. The first owner, my great-aunt, had been a chain smoker and drank like a fish; the car came with a three inch layer of ashes on nearly every horizontal interior surface, and took a gallon of window cleaner and at least eight rolls of paper towels to get the yellow tint off the windows!

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        So I looked it up. And in 1981 here was the lineup

        Cutlass:
        3.8L V6 2bbl (Buick) 110hp/190lb-ft
        4.3L V8 2bbl (Olds) 105hp/195lb-ft
        5.7L V6 Diesel (Olds) 105hp/200lb-ft
        And that’s it.

        The Regal and Grand Prix had the same base V6 and diesel V8 but their gas V8 was the 265 Pontiac V8. That one made 120hp/205lb-ft. The Regal Sport Coupe also existed in ’81 and had a 3.8L V6 turbo rated at 170hp/275lb-ft.

        Then the Monte Carlo went:
        3.8L V6 (Chevy) 110hp/170lb-ft
        4.4L V8 (Chevy) 115hp/200lb-ft
        3.8L V6 Turbo (Buick) 170hp/275lb-ft
        5.0L V8 (Chevy) 150hp/255lb-ft

        • 0 avatar
          ponchoman49

          I owned a 1981 Grand Prix LJ with the little Pontiac sourced 265 and was very pleased with it at the time. It was a smooth quiet little mill that got about the same mileage as my previous 231 V6 cars. I got lucky too in that the previous owner ordered it with the trailer tow pkg with HD F40 springs and a 2.93 rear axle instead of the lame std 2.29 gears. This made it always feel more alive and eager and peeling out was not an issue, something the 231 cars couldn’t do in stock tune.

          That was a great car and the engine never gave me any trouble. The 200 Metric transmission did need replacing at around 90K but back then it only cost me 300 bucks for a full rebuild. Miss that car

          • 0 avatar
            sgeffe

            The heavy-duty suspensions on the A/Gs (and the FWD A-Bodies) really did help the handling! My dad’s company cars were always specced that way due to the medical samples in the trunk, and even unloaded, they didn’t wallow too badly, and the ride didn’t make you seasick.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      Hindsight says that the Buick motor was the most reliable choice.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick

      The 4.1L (252 cid in old) Buick is probably one of GMs most obscure engines. Few people realize an enlarged version of the venerable 3.8 was ever available. It would be kind of an interesting engine to have now.

      I agree it would have been by far the best choice.

  • avatar
    SnarkIsMyDefault

    Abandoned History?

    Or run away from screaming history?

    • 0 avatar
      theflyersfan

      I recall Frank Rosenthal had to once in his life just after finishing his ribs in a Las Vegas restaurant. I think it was one of these Cadillacs. I think they missed a marketing opportunity – Cadillac: It can save your butt!

      • 0 avatar
        bullnuke

        LOL! Frank saved by a metal plate installed to correct a weight/balance error by Cadillac engineering. Priceless (and a big thanks! from Frank).

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          Things didn’t go so well for the guy who lit the fuse on the Eldo, though…

          • 0 avatar
            theflyersfan

            Yeah…Tony’s end wasn’t all that good. That’s one area where the movie got all wrong, although Casino was pretty accurate about many things. Him and his brother weren’t taken out to an Indiana cornfield, alive at least. They showed up at a Chicago home and were guided to the basement. They thought they were going to be promoted to “made men;” instead, a welcome party met them and let them know that they didn’t have a future moving forward in that special mafia way. No going away party, no “we wish you well in your future endeavors,” and no way to talk their ways out of a sealed fate. After the business had wrapped up, then they ended up in said hole in a rural cornfield.
            And the fact that a small square piece of metal saved Frank’s life still amazes me.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    In 1981 a significant number of the ‘greatest generation’ were still in their 50’s. Time to demonstrate that they had ‘made it’. And that meant a domestic ‘luxury’ vehicle. And based on the values they grew up with that still meant that car size and engine size were primary signals of luxury.

    However just like a more recent generation has turned to CUVs rather than the minivans their parents drove, and that generation turned to minivans rather than the station wagons their parents drove, members of the generation following turned against the Brougham/chrome/luxobarge definition of luxury.

    The domestic manufacturers were unable to recapture that glory until they realized that full sized, fully dressed domestic pick-ups now fill the market that their full sized luxury vehicles previously inhabited.

    “In 1981 230,665 people bought Cadillacs, most of which were equipped with the V8-6-4. That infamous engine was well-known as customers went back in 1982 and increased Cadillac’s sales to 249,295. Sales increased under HT4100’s tenure too, cresting just over 300,000 in 1983, and on to 320,027 in 1984. Buyers were loyal and simply had to have that Cadillac Style.”

    • 0 avatar
      SoCalMikester

      and you still have people saying rangers are too big. 4 door truck is the “go to” vehicle for a lot of people

    • 0 avatar

      true. the worst problem we had trying to make time in our VW or Honda products in the early 80’s were “hats”. The guy blocking the left lane always was an older gent, wearing a hat, and driving a big RWD cad or lincoln. They didn’t move over…55 mph all the way.

  • avatar
    MitchConner

    Got my sheepskin in advertising, business, and mass communications in ‘85. GM offered me a job in their executive management training program. Would be handling sales and marketing assignments.

    Couldn’t sleep and wound up checking out their products on some of their big dealer lots in San Jose in the middle of the night. The words of one of my professors, who did really well for himself by starting his own agency, starting ringing in my ears. “Never represent a product, brand, or company you don’t believe in.”

    Between all of the garbage they were making and having to move to Michigan I passed. That company was seemingly trying to club itself to death at that time. Took a few years — but they eventually succeeded.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Class of ’85 – represent!!!

      Staying out of GM was a good career move.

      I think GM was actually trying to reinvent itself by the mid-’80s, but like everything else they did (and still do), it was half-a**ed, and the results reflected that. But some of their late-80’s stuff was actually pretty good – the trucks and SUVs, and the Beretta/Corsica come to mind.

      No one knew what the hell to do with Cadillac, though.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Not everything is half assed. The C8 and C7 Vettes, some Cadillacs, Camaro, pickups, Burb/Tahoe are all good solid choices. But yeah, GM can’t manage their brands very well. And they still can’t.

        • 0 avatar
          ttacgreg

          Agreed recent GM efforts surprisingly to me, have earned some of my respect. Jay Leno’s video of the Z06 C8 makes the point that General Motors is all engineers from the top down, including Barra. I’m taking his word for it. The Z06 most certainly looks like not being a bean counter car.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Actually the initial 1982 run of HT 4100 V8’s only made 125 HP and 190 torque. The upgrade to 135 Hp didn’t happen until 1983 along with a bump to an even 200 LBS FT. The credit option Buick 4.1 liter V6 actually made the same HP and 15 LBS FT more torque than the new highly touted HT 4100 Power system.

    Notice in the above brochure there is zero mention of power figures on any of the engines, probably due to embarrassment of trying to explain away how an all new engine with the same liters and 2 more cylinders made the same Hp and less torque than a simple carbureted credit option V6. Note that the Buick 4.1 V6 credit option was dropped after the 1982 model year for both image reasons, lower gas prices and a return to offering larger engines on certain models.

    To make the new HT power system able to move around these big sleds in the RWD Deville/Fleetwood line GM went to the parts bin and pulled a 3.42 rear axle and tied it to a higher stall speed torque converter to give this setup the feel of power around town in off the line acceleration. The FWD Eldo and Seville used the same 3.15:1 axle that the V6 cars got so on paper it didn’t look good.

    The fix for this mess, assuming you wanted to stay in the GM fold, was sitting at your local Buick or Oldsmobile dealerships and you also had the advantage of saving some dough. If one simply bought an Electra Park Ave/Riviera or Olds 98/Toronado with the far superior and near bulletproof 307 made by Olds you had a more powerful and far longer lasting drivetrain if you didn’t mind giving up the Cadillac name.

    And this begs the question- why in the name of God did they even bother rushing this turd to production when they simply could have made the 368 with DFI and an overdrive transmission that would have at least bumped highway mileage well over 20 to avoid a gas guzzler tax until the new smaller FWD entries were introduced? Note that the 200R-4 was introduced the same year as the 8-6-4 fiasco and could have easily been adapted to an engine that only made 145 Hp and 265 torque giving Cadillac customers a reliable proven engine with at least a bit more torque than the Olds 307 Buick and Oldsmobile sleds.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree

      My grandmother had a 1985 Riviera in triple brown (brown paint, brown landau top, brown leather) with the 307. Fast it wasn’t, but it was durable. I believe I was first brought home from the hospital in that car.

    • 0 avatar
      TCowner

      I didn’t know they bumped the rear axle ratio and change the torque converter to compensate for the low output but that makes sense. My uncle bought a new 82 Deville when I was a teenager, and recall driving it and not understanding how such a low HP engine had pretty good acceleration (to about 30). Drove a lot different than my Mom’s 77 Deville with the big 425. That one had plenty of oomph.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      The HO 2.8 v6 in the Citation made 135 hp! I’d guess torque was a different story.

  • avatar
    Kyree

    There was also the weird Unified Powerplant Package (UPP), which was GM’s first attempt at a mass-market FWD system, back when such a thing was new and exciting. It first surfaced in 1966 on the Oldsmobile Toronado and Cadillac Eldorado, both of which were E-bodies. The thing was, the longitude engine sat *beside* the longitude transmission, the latter of which had a weird wraparound bellhousing to accommodate for such a layout. A differential bolted to the back of the transmission, which was technically aimed toward the front of the car, and since it was obviously off to one side, one halfshaft was longer than the other (I believe, the left).

    The big advantage of this setup was that GM could mostly use the same transmission it used on other cars. The only modifications it needed to perform were to develop a unique bellhousing and reverse some of the helical gears. Initially, this revised transmission was the THM-425, an offshoot of the THM-400.

    The weirder thing was the dichotomy between the E-bodies and their propelled wheels. As aforementioned, the Toronado and Eldorado used the longitude-FWD UPP, which sat on a wheelbarrow-like half-frame. The E-body platform really was essentially a unibody architecture (in that the frame didn’t provide any crash protection) and I suspect the only reason the GM engineers cradled the powertrain separately was so that they could isolate the cabin from noise and vibration; after all, these were luxury cars. The Eldorado and Toronado used this UPP/longitude-FWD arrangement from ’66/’67 all the way to ’85.

    The gen. 2 (’66-’70) Buick Riviera, meanwhile, was related, but Buick wanted a more traditional longitude-RWD setup. So…the Riviera got a full frame underneath and a traditional engine and transmission placement. Moreover, it was the cruciform (X) frame that every other GM car had quit using in 1964. That might have been because a perimeter frame would have intruded on passenger space and was unnecessary, what with the E-body already having pretty thick side sills.

    In ’71, both the E- and B-body cars were redesigned, this time sharing some DNA for cost reasons. And although the ’71-’73 (boat-tail) Riviera was designated an E-body, it was much closer to a B-body, especially with its continued use of a full frame (this time a perimeter frame) and longitude-RWD powertrain. The ’74-’76 used the same basic architecture, but with smoother styling. After that, the B-body architecture got another redesign and a downsizing, and the ’77-’78 Riviera was *actually* designated a B-body.

    For the ’79-’85 generation, the Riviera finally joined the Eldorado and Toronado as a true E-body, replete with the longitude-FWD UPP and half frame. The gen.2 (bustleback) Seville, while designated a K-body, was actually an E-body and also used this layout. But that was the final run for the UPP at all; after that, the E-bodies and virtually everything else went transverse-FWD, in another round of downsizing.

    Side note…the GMC Motorhome also used the UPP.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    CAFE really stuck it in the rump of the Big 3 and the American worker. While the Soviets were spewing out pollutants with their 2 cycle lawn mower engines in their GAZ Volgas, and while China geared up her economy with coal, our government required our then proud and loud automakers to increase their fleet fuel economy from about 14 miles per gallon to 25 miles per gallon in just 10 years. It was a crazy ask. This abomination is one of the results!

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      CAFE only explains so much – German and Japanese makes had to comply with CAFE too, and their stuff wasn’t rolling garbage.

      American luxury cars were poorly engineered and poorly built because their makers chose for them to be. They could have spent the money and time it took to be truly competitive with something like a Mercedes and chose to take the cheaper, easier path. And they’re paying for it now.

    • 0 avatar
      Superdessucke

      Their stuff wasn’t rolling garbage partly because they were already equipped to deal with the CAFE requirements, or had a huge head start. Put another way, their cars were not big land barges with 4 barrel carburetors designed to compensate for a small wing wang or carry the American middle class in sufficient opulence.

      I mean, I’m not saying the American auto manufacturers’ business model was any good. But it was embraced by the American people for a very long time. Even today, pre 1973 muscle cars sell for nearly the same price as a new BMW M3.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        They were better equipped to deal with CAFE because their stuff was better engineered to begin with. Mercedes, in particular, sold PLENTY of big, V-8 powered sedans back then. My family owned one. Far as far as I know, they never ran into trouble with CAFE. Why? Because they figured out how to make a big, V-8 powered sedan that was fast AND acceptably fuel efficient. They put their money into engineering, and it showed. The D3 had no shortage of engineering know-how, but they didn’t want to spend the money it would take to compete. They took the easy way out, which is why we ended up with rolling abortions like the Cimarron and Catera.

        And keep in mind both Ford and GM had very sizeable European operations that competed with the likes of Mercedes and BMW, so they knew how to make something “world-class” – they just didn’t want to.

        • 0 avatar
          Superdessucke

          I’m not saying you’re wrong. But if the U.S. government wanted to think of a way to deliberately destroy the Big 3, they could have scarcely have done better than the CAFE requirements.

          • 0 avatar
            golden2husky

            They didn’t do their homework. FreedMike is correct. Also, CAFE standards did not result in poor fitting panels, substandard materials, or parts from another era being redesigned to save money. Sticking with carbs for as long as they did didn’t help. How many cars ran like crap as they aged because the rubber vacuum lines rotted and split in five years? I think the efficiency and emission standards forced the Big Three to finally move to modern electronic controls. It was not smooth but they made it worse on themselves. Classic American business mentality on their part.

          • 0 avatar
            Superdessucke

            They bungled it on multiple levels to be sure, but without CAFE we do not get the half baked X-cars, Olds Diesel, V-8-6-4-8-4-6 thump thump thump, the Lean Burn, and this HT thing. Those horrors unleashed upon us were the direct result of CAFE, and poor execution.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            @Superdessucke:
            “…without CAFE we do not get the half baked X-cars, Olds Diesel, V-8-6-4-8-4-6 thump thump thump, the Lean Burn, and this HT thing.”

            I’d say that’s only partially true. Keep in mind the gas crunch of the late ’70s was pretty much a surprise event, and it scared the crap out of consumers. MPG sold, and sold big, so you had these half-baked engine technologies more or less hung onto existing powerplants. The results were less than spectacular.

          • 0 avatar
            Dave M.

            Fully disagree. CAFE enabled us to leave the days of 8-10 mpg behind us. Many other companies figured out how to efficiently and reliably do it. The Big 3 dragged their feet for as long as they could.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      And there lies the problem in that the Big 3 had to rush these newer engines into production before they had a chance to be thoroughly tested. Easier for the Japanese to comply with the tighter standards since they had been making more efficient vehicles for years especially to meet their own domestic market. 4-6-8, lean burn engines, and electronic carburetors were rushed and EFI was far from being perfected.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    For 1983—the same timeframe as this boat anchor’s original schedule—Toyota repowered the Cressida with a silky-smooth 143 hp DOHC inline six.

    For 1984, Nissan put a refined 153-horsepower SOHC V6 into the Maxima.

    Both of these engines were dead-nuts reliable and got good fuel economy for the time.

    Is it any wonder the story of the 1980s was the Japanese eating GM’s lunch?

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      There was mega hubris in the GM exec ranks. Despite having a very good competitive analysis group at the Warren Tech Center who did teardowns and displays (especially on engines and transmissions) on what the rest of the world was doing, nobody wanted to pay attention.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I’m triggered.

    “Non-Cadillacs had to make do with less technologically prestigious engines.”

    SPOILER: Much better ones.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Was a carbureted, non-balance-shaft Buick V6 really any better?

      I don’t think the Buick V6 reached minimal acceptability until the fuel-injected version showed up for 1985, and it didn’t get good until the first 3800 for 1989.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Yes, because it ran. Cadillac would have been much better served than to just run the 368 until the FWD switch, but 1. they panicked over the 1979 oil crisis and 2. were partially more interested in kissing the rear end of the Feds than selling a quality product. If John DeLorean were running Cadillac in 1980, there would have been no internal powertrain crisis.

        LN7 came out in 1985 and its carbureted predecessor LK9 in 1982…and LN7 was nothing to sneeze at.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buick_V6_engine#LN7

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          @28:
          “…they panicked over the 1979 oil crisis…”

          Mainly, CONSUMERS panicked over it. The car companies were following suit. MPG was a HUGE selling point back in those days, particularly for larger cars.

          And John Z was VASTLY overrated (and that’s a polite term) as an auto exec. Whatever he did at Pontiac was overshadowed by the Vega disaster (which he presided over), and the ridiculous fraud that was the DMC. If you ask me, he was a very good engineer who happened to have his ear to the tracks when the youth movement of the ’60s hit, but he was also a lifetime flim-flam man who was an incredibly poor executive. He should have stuck to being an engineer.

          Netflix has a very good documentary on the guy. His scamming started LONG before DMC. If you ask me, GM got rid of him because they caught on to his BS.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “Was a carbureted, non-balance-shaft Buick V6 really any better?”

        Compared to GM’s other crap that was so historically bad people are still writing about it 40 years later? God yes.

  • avatar
    pmirp1

    If you ever want to see a great movie, and this icon starring in it, watch James Caan’s Thief. Beautiful Caddy Eldorado starred with a real tough man.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      “Thief” was a good movie – same director (Michael Mann) who did “Miami Vice,” and then “Manhunter,” “Heat” and “Collateral.” Mann’s good at the “loner tough guy” movies.

      And I remember Caan’s Eldo from that movie. My dad had one just like it. Great-looking, but it was hot garbage. Caan’s character was lucky it didn’t quit on him during a getaway.

      I wouldn’t call the car iconic at all, but I did get to second base for the first time in it (power reclining passenger seat, FTW).

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    “new High Technology engine was considerably smaller and lighter than the 368 cubic-inch (6.0L) V8 it replaced. Known by its metric displacement, the 4.1 was not known by its 249 cubic inches. That old-school measurement was headed well into the sunset by the early Eighties.”

    Also perhaps good sleight-of-hand. Don’t brag about your new V-8 that is 119 cubic inches smaller. Call it 4.1 liters, who will know?

  • avatar

    Rushed development timeline may be not a big deal for SW companies like MS or Google where you can easily update SW/FW over air FW update or SW patch or Service Pack but deadly for HW companies like Intel and GM. And same with ASIC chips. Ones done it is almost impossible to respin and you to have somehow compensate deficiencies with SW.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Eleven years ago I bought a then 10-year old Lexus. For giggles when I was shopping, I looked at a couple same year Caddys. I said I did that for giggles, right?

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    The old man had a 8-6-4 engine in his (1981?) Cadillac. It was actually a nice V8, provided you bypasses the 8-6-4 computer and kept it in permanent 8 mode.

    My uncle, as a side note, designed the machinery that made the engine bits. Tool ‘n’ Die guy for years.

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