50 years after Briggs Cunningham had raced his Cadillac Coupe de Ville in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the iconic American brand returned to endurance racing. They turned to leading American racing car constructor Riley & Scott to develop a prototype for an assault on both the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Daytona plus 12 Hours of Sebring.
To give themselves the best chance of beating the existing dominant force (BMW) and impressive newcomers (Audi), the design team headed by Bill Riley created his company’s first carbon fibre and aluminium honeycomb monocoque chassis. Suspension was of double wishbones with push-rod actuated springs and dampers. This was all wrapped in a angular body that included styling cues from contemporary Cadillac production models.
Aside from bankrolling the whole programme, Cadillac’s main contribution was the engine, which was a downsized and turbocharged version of the sophisticated ‘Northstar’ V8 also used in their road cars. Of quad-cam, 32-valve design the engine was first used with an Oldsmobile badge in the Indy 500 where it garnered much success. To better adapt it to sports car racing, it was reworked by McLaren Engines and had two turbochargers installed, which helped it pump out nearly 600 bhp. This was transferred to the rear wheels through an XTrac six-speed, sequential gearbox.
Hedging their bets, Cadillac opted to run a works team in the ALMS plus have the experienced French DAMS squad campaign another two cars in the European races. Both teams would enter the major events like the Sebring 12 Hours and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Team Cadillac additionally debuted the Northstar LMP at the 24 Hours of Daytona where they placed 12th and 14th. However despite Cadillac’s sizeable effort, the results did not improve much during the rest of the season. The cars both lacked pace and reliability to match the by now dominant Audi R8s. A fourth and two fifth place finishes in minor European races for the DAMS team were the car’s best results in 2000.
Undeterred by the difficult first season, Cadillac forged ahead and called in the services of British engineer Nigel Stroud. He was tasked with developing a new car from scratch for 2002, but for 2001, Stroud redesigned the existing car, known as the Northstar LMP 01. For this he employed a more angular approach for the bodywork, especially on the sides of the car, with the sidepods no longer being flat horizontal but instead diving downward towards the front wheel arch. The air cooling ducts were also relocated from the side of the car, and instead placed inside the wheel wells, allowing for air exits from the wheel wells to be added to the new side. The Cadillac-theme grill was also revised, no longer being a functional open piece. Beyond the bodywork, not much else was changed on the new car, known as the Northstar LMP01. Two of the previous 2000-spec cars were upgraded to the 2001 bodywork, while a third car was built fresh. The revised machine was again fielded by Team Cadillac and DAMS in the ALMS and at Le Mans. Finally there were signs of progress in the latter rounds of the ALMS, where the now near bullet-proof Cadillacs also had speed and usually finished right behind the ultra dominant Audis.
The highly anticipated and all-new Northstar LMP 02 debuted at Sebring in 2002 but it sadly did not live up to the expectations. A second at Miami late in the season would turn out to be the best result. Following three disappointing seasons, Cadillac pulled the plug on the project, instead shifting their focus on a US-only competition program with the production based CTS-V.
Chassis 004 comes to the market in beautiful condition and in the specification of its final race. The car will be sold with a great spare parts package, and is currently fitted with the sister Indy-spec non-turbocharged Oldsmobile Aurora engine, but comes with the full period-correct twin-turbocharged Cadillac Northstar unit. This wonderful car represents a hugely significant piece of American endurance racing history and is eligible for the Peter Auto Endurance Racing Legends and Masters Endurance Legends series, not to mention both the Daytona and Sebring Classic events by HSR.
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