Jthere were giants roaming the Earth at that time, at least in the marketing department; whoever coined the name “Twilight Sentinel” for Cadillac’s newest technological feature in 1964 was certainly one of them. Presumably the early design sessions of said feature, in which a photoelectric device turned the headlights on at dusk and off at dawn, included a lot of “Light-O-Matics” and “Senso-Solar” and the like. It was the early 60s, after all. Yet there was one person who could dream a little bigger and as a result invested the device with genuine grandeur. Sixty years later, almost every car on the market has automatic headlights, but only Cadillacs really have a Twilight Sentinel.
Celestial, on the other hand … this could be a drug for erectile dysfunction or seasonal depression, advertised on afternoon TV using terrifying medical warnings intoned slowly while a video montage of active seniors doing Tai Chi or playing Connect Four distracts the viewer. It’s not. Instead, it’s a new Cadillac sedan, hand-built to order, no two alike – though, to be fair, that was also the case with the notoriously poorly assembled 1980 Diesel Seville. Prices start at a solid $300,000. And it’s electric, of course.
Back in the Twilight Sentinel era, big-budget, custom-built Cadillacs were a fairly common thing, from the original Eldorado to the velor-lined 1975 Fleetwood Talisman. But the brand sold in greater numbers when it focused on Chevrolet “badge” versions that sold at a slightly higher price, so General Motors couldn’t resist the lure. to deface the crown and crest until it ended up attached to a Chevy. Avalanche pickup truck and sold to a bewildered public as the “Escalade EXT”. In 2022, Cadillac is primarily a seller of Chevrolet Equinoxes and Tahoes which lose value when purchased and used in a way rivaled by few products besides chili dogs and condoms.
So, silly name aside, the Celestiq is a welcome return to something Cadillac fans have been dreaming about for years. Namely, a pointless luxury sedan aimed at the movers of the world, shining a benevolent halo on whatever machinery it will share a showroom with. Fans of the brand — and they are legion, even among young people — begged for such a vehicle since Ronald Reagan’s second term. Now they have it. If it had the company’s troubled “Blackwing” V-8 engine, or even one of the prosaic Chevy truck engines that powered Cadillacs in the recent past, they’d be thrilled. Instead, they are furious.
Not that GM really cares, mind you. They were given a mandate to build electric vehicles, a mandate they first fulfilled by building horrible little telephone booths for which the main source of excitement was the possibility of being immolated in a sudden fire linked to battery. (In a bizarre intrigue, the company offered some owners a $6,000 aftermarket rebate if they waived their right to sue over said fires.) That strategy failed with a likely 10-figure loss, they’re trying something else: building four-ton electric tanks for the Eloi who drive politics in the current administration. GM’s new electric Hummer weighs 9,000 pounds, almost twice as much as a military Humvee. In any America but today, that would be a deaf gesture. Today, however, we generally assume that our superiors, from the leather-lined seats of their private jets, will consume fuel and resources at a rate that would have put Nero to shame, even as they teach us the virtues to eat insects.
The Celestiq is a Hummer relative under the skin, so it won’t be as supple in practice as it looks in computer renders and early press photos. Too bad, really, because he has an authentic presence. The man in the street probably won’t mistake it for a Honda Accord, despite their remarkable profile resemblance. And it’s packed with features as great in 2022 as the Twilight Sentinel was in 1964: a 55-inch widescreen LCD instrument panel, a glass roof that can darken on individual passengers, a wide variety of color and trim options not seen in Cadillacs since the 70s.
A few wags have suggested the Celestiq is uncomfortably similar in mine, mojo, and general proportion to the movie’s “6000 SUX” RoboCop. This car, built in real life on the 1977 Cutlass Supreme and boasting 8.2 mpg in the film, was meant to suggest a dystopian gap between rich and poor in the crime-ridden Detroit of the imagined future. The poor of RoboCop living in burnt buildings and dressing in rags; the corporate-government kleptocracy that actually runs the place, on the other hand, is able to bask in lonely skyscrapers and drive 6,000 SUXes through burnt-out streets.
Expect this scenario to be unintentionally and unironically recreated with the first deliveries of Celestiqs to privileged officials.
With the arrival of this $300,000 electric vehicle, Cadillac is now in the enviable position of having two flagships. Folks making their own money will likely choose the $149,990 Escalade-V, a supercharged truck capable of hauling boats to lakes and ferrying kids to school. Celebrities, billionaires and those who make their living by the party can drive a Celestiq. Symbolically, the engineering and production costs of the latter will probably be paid for by the profits generated by the former.
It’s been 50 years since Cadillac has had such a special sedan unique to the brand. What a shame it’s a limited-range toy for the connected and influential. But it’s appropriate these days for GM, a company that’s been hand-in-glove with various jurisdictions for quite some time. The Celestiq’s cost, consumption and appetite for rare earth elements will be truly prodigious, even as the economic outlook for the average American continues to shrink.
If you want a vision of the future of the automobile, Winston, imagine a Washington suburb full of inside party members selling Caddys that sell in the Rolls price range, even though internal combustion engine cars and the fuels they use are increasingly regulated. and off market price. Seen in this light, the Celestiq is truly a luxury, truly a Cadillac – something the embarrassingly bloated Chevys of Cadillac’s past can’t claim to have been. It just needs a better name. Something to suggest that he is impersonally and ruthlessly present at the end of the American dream, the sunset that shone upon our global power and reach. Hey, wait… is Twilight Sentinel still available?
Jack Baruth was born in Brooklyn and lives in Ohio. He is a pro-am racing driver and former columnist for Road and Track and Hagerty magazines that writes the Avoidable contact forever newsletter.