Car for sale: 2001 Cadillac Northstar LMP01 Raced At Le Mans And Now It Could Be Yours
The Northstar V-8-powered prototype built by Riley & Scott is in 2001 specificationby Michael Fira, on
Remember the Cadillac Northstar engines? They were a bunch of highly-advanced, DOHC V-6 and V-8 engines built by Cadillac from the ’90s all the way to 2011. In the early days of the Third Millenium, the Northstar made its way into prototype racing in the middle of the Riley & Scott-developed Cadillac LMP that raced for just three years. This is the fourth chassis ever made, and it was raced by the factory in the American Le Mans Series and at Le Mans in 2000 and 2001. Sadly, unlike the current Cadillac DPi-V.R, the LMP project was ambitious, but the money flow stopped just as the car was getting good and GM ditched its plans of replicating Ford’s Le Mans glory.
Believe it or not, Cadillac first raced at Le Mans in the year 1950 when Briggs S. Cunningham brought two Series 61 models, the first Americans to race at Le Mans in two decades. One of the two Caddies featured an aerodynamic bodywork designed in the Grumman Aircraft wind tunnel with the aim being to achieve a low drag coefficient. Half a century later, Cadillac returned at Le Mans with an angular-looking prototype that, while looking quite a bit like Cadillac’s products at the time, was underpinned by a proven chassis. The problem, though, was the engine. It was always about the Northstar, and it took Cadillac two years to make it reliable and then, in year number three, they finally started working on performance, and the results started to come. The fourth year was supposed to be the one when everything came together, and the target was locked on the laurels everyone was after - but it never happened.
GM Came to Le Mans to Replicate Ford’s Success but Left Empty-Handed
While they’re competitive, racing cars are exchangeable. If one tub is damaged beyond repair in a crash, the factory rushes to get another one ready. If there’s room for development in some areas, the updates are immediately applied to the car. This all happens in a hurry, each team and each manufacturer trying not to lose the wave, to remain in the loop. However, all the urgency stops abruptly when the car is retired, when it’s decided that it is outdated and a new one or a different one takes its place. Usually, racing cars are not made in big numbers, so they are quite rare. But, because they aren’t competitive (or aren’t eligible) anymore, not many people are willing to pay to own them.
The Cadillac LMP built by Riley & Scott in 1999 for the 2000 race season is such a car.
It arrived on the race tracks 50 years after the first Cadillacs had taken on the biggest endurance race in the world for automobiles, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
It was backed by the might of GM, and it relied on a tried-and-tested platform whose ins and outs had no secrets anymore for its creators. But, somehow, the marriage failed. Riley & Scott was ousted at the end of 2000, and the whole program was shelved at the end of 2002. The cars that were born during these three short seasons rarely come up for auction but, because of their not-so-enviable racing record, they aren’t that expensive if you compare them to other cars from that era.
Still, the last time we talked about a Cadillac LMP being up for grabs was almost a decade ago, back in 2010. At the time, chassis #005 was yours if you had $175,000 to spare. Merely two years prior, chassis #003 popped up at an auction and sold for just $1118,000 and, now, you have the chance to acquire chassis #004 which is also in 2001 specification like chassis #005. The seller is Jarrah Venables Ltd. from the U.K., and you’ll have to send an inquiring e-mail if you want to find out more about the price, but I’m guessing you’ll have to pony up at least $300,000 if you want to own it. What’s cool is that Jarrah Venables also sells a 2002 Riley & Scott Mk. III-C, the last iteration of the highly successful Mk. III series and a car related in terms of chassis design to the Cadillac LMP.
Whoever buys the car must know that it’s not just good as an impressive showpiece. As per the seller, the prototype " 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," and it can be raced today.
In fact, a growing number of historic racing series have begun the process of accepting '90s and '00s sports cars into their ranks.
You can, thus, enter it in Peter’ Auto Endurance Racing Legends class as well as the Masters Endurance Legends series. Stateside, you can compete in HSR’s Daytona and Sebring Classic. Out there, you’ll meet some of its mates from back in the day such as the Dallara SP1 LMP, a wide variety of Lolas and even the fearsome Audi R8 that basically squashed all of its rivals in the LMP900 class between 2000 and 2005.
Why You Should Care About the Cadillac LMP
At first glance, it’s easy to write off the Cadillac-Northstar sports car program as just a flop that scared GM away from any big-money prototype involvement on the world stage, but the program is interesting as it’s an example of how politics work in the sport. And, if even that sounds like something just some anoraks would enjoy hearing, it’s worthy of remembering that this was the last top prototype effort from an American volume manufacturer until Acura stepped up with Honda Performance Development and raced the ARX-02A in 2009 (we don’t talk about the ARX-01E from 2011).
The Cadillac LMP program was also a part of Cadillac's plan to reinvent itself and appease to a younger audience.
You see, the brand was no longer topping the charts in the luxury segment having lost the battle against Europe’s finest. In the late ’80s and ’90s efforts were made to make Cadillac look less bland and more modern. A partnership was struck at the time with Italian design firm Pininfarina who came up with the ungainly but somewhat cool Allante that was, to be frank, merely a cheeky shell for Cadillac’s true jewel: the Northstar engine. It was a state-of-the-art, DOHC unit with four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing. The block, as well as the heads, were cast out of aluminum. The engine was rolled out with both eight cylinders positioned at a 90-degree angle as well as six. The capacity ranged between 3.5 and 4.6-liters, and there was a version of the 4.4-liter unit that got a supercharger. However, there was also a Northstar that received turbocharging.
It was the 4.0-liter V-8 that equipped the prototypes. You see, Cadillac’s efforts in the ’90s didn’t quite pay off and, for the 21st century, a new design language was cooked up called ’Art and Science.’ The company announced it by saying that it "incorporates sharp, sheer forms and crisp edges – a form vocabulary that expresses bold, high-technology design and invokes the technology used to design it." Even I, a person that’s studied PR, can’t say I dig that brief presentation but the design language was carried over to the racing car which came out decidedly boxy. But there was one more reason why it was boxy.
When Cadillac planned its return to sports car endurance racing, it chose a leading sports car-building company: Riley & Scott.
Founded in 1990 by Bill Riley and Mark Scott, the company had shocked the establishment in 1995 when it debuted the Riley & Scott Mk.III. Supporting any type of engine, from the Oldsmobile Aurora V-8 to the Ford 5.1-liter V-8 and the Chevy small-block V-8, the Riley & Scott went up against the Ferrari 333 SP and won the IMSA title in 1996 after parking in the Victory Lane at both Daytona and Sebring. By the late ’90s, the car was getting a bit long in the tooth but so was its Italian nemesis. Still, the Dyson Racing team managed to win the Daytona 24 Hours in 1999 with an Mk.III and Cadillac were sold.
With money from GM, Riley & Scott developed its first all-carbon fiber tub that was, in some ways, related to the Mk.III’s design. It featured an aluminum honeycomb core with all the suspension components mounted outboard. The suspension itself was of the pushrod type with unequal length double wishbones all around. The radiators were mounted on the sides to lower the car’s profile. Steering was by rack-and-pinion, power-assisted due to the high loads in corners that would make the steering way too heavy and impractical in long races if it were unassisted. The car was designed to work with either iron brakes as mandated in the FIA Sports Car World Cup (formerly known as the International Sports Car Racing Series, a wannabe follow-up to the World Sports Car Championship) and also carbon fiber brakes as seen in the American Le Mans Series and at Le Mans.
The engine, mated to a six-speed Emco transmission, was the juicy bit in the sense that it was unique in its design and it proved quite troublesome, although the gearbox was a close contender for the title of 'most headache-inducing component.'
In the mid-’90s, GM decided to go racing in the Indy Racing League (IRL) with the 4.0-liter Northstar-based Oldsmobile Aurora V-8 engine. The engine was co-developed with Katech, and it debuted in 1997 to great success. During its tenure in competition, the engine was behind two Indianapolis 500 wins and even received the Louis Schwitzer Award for excellence and innovation in racing engine and car design, as told by Anthony Young in his book, The Cadillac Northstar V-8: A History.
Although Riley & Scotts had previously used a 48-valve version of the 4.0-liter Aurora V-8 (the IRL engine was based around a 32-valve version), this unit being the one that powered the Doyle Racing Riley & Scott to victory at Daytona and Sebring in ’96, Cadillac decided to pick the IRL engine as a starting point instead. The engineering team at Cadillac led by Jeff Kettman soon realized there was a need for turbocharging, something that was never to trickle down to the production L47 Aurora engine or any other Northstar mill for that matter. The job of modifying the engine (adding two Garrett turbochargers, the intercoolers, and the inlet pipes) was carried out by McLaren Performance Technologies in Livonia, Michigan. With the minimum weight limit in the LMP900 class set at 900 kilograms or 1,984 pounds, there wasn’t a particular emphasis on weight loss.
Five chassis' were ready for the 2000 season.
Two were used by the works team, two were entrusted to the French DAMS (Driot-Arnoux Motorsport) outfit, and the fifth was used for crash tests. The works team debuted in the grueling 24 Hours of Daytona which was part of the USRRC (United States Road Racing Championship) that year and, as such, the car raced with iron brakes The two cars were classified in 13th and 14th overall after 24 hours had elapsed, a frustrating result especially since the overall winner wasn’t even a prototype but a Viper GTS-R entered by Viper Team ORECA.
The ALMS campaign that followed was about as fruitless as the first outing of the year. The best finish of the year actually came at Sebring, the 12-hour race opening the season as it (almost always) did. Thereafter, the team managed to gather a string of 7th and 8th-place finishes. Across the pond, DAMS faired a little bit better with a season-best result of fourth in the Sports Racing World Cup round at Monza, in Italy. At Le Mans, though, things were grim: only three of the four Caddies finished, and they were in the midfield with a DAMS entry the highest of the lot on 19th overall. To put it into perspective, the winning GT-class car (the slowest production-based category that year) finished three places higher up the order, and the GTS-winning Viper came home in seventh place. Also, the front-engined Panoz LMP finished fifth overall. On top of all that, Cadillac was utterly humiliated by Audi in qualifying, the R8s beating the fastest of the Northstar-engined LMPs by six seconds.
At the end of the season, Riley & Scott were kicked to the curb (as Bill Riley put it) and Nigel Stroud, designer of the 1991 Mazda 787B, was hired to update the car and, also, design a brand-new one for the 2002 season.
According to Michael J. Fuller who’s managing the MulsanneCorner.com website, Stroud had to work around the shoestring budget and come up with an acceptable contender for 2001 (known as LMP01) while the bulk of the money was poured in the LMP02 project. Stroud focused on the way airflow was managed. He replaced the big NACA ducts with inboard air inlets on either side of the cockpit and decided to cut through the front bodywork and make two rectangular vents, thus ditching the original cheese grater grille that was functional on the LMP00, not just a stylistic link to the production cars. The tail of the car was also extended, and the wing was mounted further back to increase downforce.
All these updates didn’t hit the track until the Le Mans Test Day in May of 2001 as Cadillac decided to run a select number of events. On the upside, this strategy saved GM some cash but, in the end, one can argue that not running the full season hurt the project as a whole because the LMP01 never dialed in as many miles as it was needed for the team to learn its traits and fix its faults. Sadly, this scenario repeated itself in 2002 with the LMP02, but you could see progress was being made since the car was a persistent podium finisher come the end of the ’02 season.
In 2001, Cadillac only raced on seven occasions.
After the dismal Le Mans Test Day (the cars were 16th and 19th fastest respectively), team DAMS returned for the race proper in June where the lone car that reached the finish line, chassis #004, was classified 15th. The quicker chassis #007, newly built for 2001, crashed out, dashing the team’s hopes of a top 10 finish. The car had qualified eighth fastest, little over two seconds quicker than its sister car but still, five seconds shy off pole position.
Team Cadillac took over Stateside thereafter. If at Sears Point things didn’t go according to plan, there were reasons for celebration at Mosport where the team scored its first podium with Christophe Tinseau and Emmanuel Collard doing the driving. The other Caddy finished fourth, a result it would go on to duplicate at Laguna Seca and at the 10-hour-long Petit Le Mans with Max Angelelli, Christophe Tinseau, and Wayne Taylor behind the wheel.
Ultimately, you can’t say for sure if the Cadillac project would have yielded a championship run in 2003 but the Audi camp wasn’t as strong as it was in 2002 after the works team made a step back and cleared the space for Reinhold Joest’s organization to shine - when the Champion Racing team of Dave Maraj didn’t win. Also, by ’03, the LMP675 (that welcomed lighter, nimbler, and less powerful prototypes) category produced some standout performers in the form of the Dyson team with its pair of MG-powered Lola EX257 cars.
Read our full review on the 2017 Cadillac DPi-V.R.