Cadillac Northstar Le Mans Prototype

In 1950, Cadillac was on top of the world. World War II had ended, and the U.S. returned its attention to competitive pursuits. Millionaire racecar enthusiast Briggs Cunningham approached Cadillac about supplying him with two cars for the 1950 Le Mans 24-Hour race.

The first was a slightly modified Model 62 Coupe and the second a custom-bodied roadster, dubbed “Le Monstre” by the French for its dubious aesthetics. They would finish 10th and 11th, and Cunningham would go on to build his own sports racers, finishing as high as 3rd in 1953 and 1954.

Fifty years later, Cadillac planned a return to Le Mans. They had the excellent Northstar V-8, running in the Indy Racing League since 1995, and GM had been fielding Corvette teams at Le Mans for years, so the corporation had hard-earned experience.

Rather than building a car from scratch, GM elected to buy several of the successful Mk III chassis from Riley & Scott, the veteran IMSA and Trans-Am constructors. The four-liter Oldsmobile Aurora Northstar motor was selected, McLaren weighed in with technical development to ensure reliability, and IHI in Japan built twin turbochargers to develop 600 hp. Their target was the dominant Audi R8 and the Ferrari 333 SP.

Six Cadillac Northstar LMPs (Le Mans Prototypes) were built for the 2000 season. Two would be run by Riley & Scott as Team Cadillac in the U.S. American Le Mans Series and three by Driot-Arnoux Motorsport (DAMS) in Europe in the Sports Racing World Cup. One chassis was retained as a test bed.

Northstar LMP hard at work

All started well enough. The Northstar LMP00 cars qualified second and third at the 24 Hours of Daytona but suffered problems during the race, finishing 13th (Andy Wallace/Butch Leitzinger/Franck Lagorce) and 14th (Eric van dePoele/Wayne Taylor/Max Angelelli). Sebring was even less successful with a DAMS car losing its clutch and one of two Team Cadillacs involved in a crash. The other finished 6th, but it was 29 laps off the leading Audi R8.

Back in Europe, the Northstars had mixed success. The DAMS team scored a 7th and 8th at Barcelona and 4th at Monza in the SWRC, as well as a fifth at Silverstone in an ALMS race. But the Northstars managed only 19th, 21st and 22nd at Le Mans. DAMS scored a 5th at the Nürburgring, Team Cadillac scored an 8th place at the Portland, Oregon ALMS race, before four Northstars combined to contest the Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta, finishing 6th, 7th, 8th and 13th. Clearly this was going to be harder than they thought.

For 2001, GM tried a new tack. DAMS would enter two LMP01 cars at Le Mans, and Team Cadillac would only compete in the U.S. American Le Mans series. Once again the Northstars qualified well at Le Mans, one in 8th place, and though one went out in an accident, the survivor was 15th. Back in the U.S., results were spotty: 12th and 14th at Sears point, DNS at Portland, 3rd and 4th at Mosport and 7th and 8th at Mid-Ohio. The LMP scored 4th and 5th at Laguna Seca and the same at the Petit Le Mans in Atlanta. Time to rethink the project.

The 2002 season

For 2002, Cadillac built its own chassis. The LMP02 was designed by Nigel Stroud to be much more angular, without a dummy grill and with a large air intake in front and smaller ones at the sides. The chassis was shortened by a significant 12 inches to aid high-speed stability and improve ground effects, and Garrett turbochargers replaced the Japanese IHI units. The DAMS team was dispensed with, three cars were built for Team Cadillac, and one of them would to be the most successful Northstar racer.

The car on offer today, LMP-02-002, is that car, which finished every race in 2002.

The LMP02 design is a significant departure from the previous model, completely designed by computer, without a single piece of paper, and with extensive wind-tunnel testing. It is carbon fiber – not a composite – and the two halves of the monocoque were bonded with a new technique. The side-mounted radiators use water-to-oil heat exchangers to cool the gearbox, which eliminates air-to-oil cooler drag and stabilizes the gearbox oil temperature. A Formula 1-style cockpit surrounds the driver with head restraints molded from shock-absorbing foam and an adjustable pedal box assembly, which also provides extra protection for the driver's feet and legs.

Electrical trouble took out the 001 car in Sebring, and 002 finished a disappointing 31st place, but 002 came roaring back to finish 9th at Le Mans, running in the top 10 throughout the race, and 003 was 12th. At Le Mans, 002 was driven by Wayne Taylor and Max Angelelli, who would later win the 2005 Daytona 24-Hour race and the Daytona Grand Am Prototype Championship in a Riley Pontiac.

002’s crew was to enjoy the 2002 season and earn some measure of vindication for all the effort that had gone into the Cadillac LMP project. Returning to the U.S., 002 was 4th in Washington D.C., 3rd at Mosport, 3rd at Laguna Seca, 2nd at Miami and 3rd at the Petit Le Mans race.

Paired with highly successful endurance racing driver J.J. Lehto in Miami, Angelelli would score the highest finish by a Cadillac LMP, their second place being 14 seconds behind Frank Biela and Emanuele Pirro in an Audi R8. The pair would trail two Audi R8s at the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, finishing 3rd, just ahead of Cadillac teammates Eric Bernard and Emmanuel Collars in 003.

One might think the Northstars were finding their feet, but at the end of the 2002 season, GM decided to concentrate on the Chevrolet Corvette program, and the Cadillac team was disbanded. GM kept 002 until 2009, when it was sold out of the Heritage Collection, albeit without much of its electronics or even its steering wheel. In 2010, the car competed a few times in vintage racing events in the SVRA and HSR series.

Today LMP-02-002 is offered in race-ready condition, with all proper Bosch electronics in place and functioning properly. This is Cadillac’s last race car to date, with track proven performance, and it is available for a fraction of the cost of an Audi R8 from the same era. It’s bound to be competitive and attract attention at any event for which it is eligible.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in March of 2011 at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, Florida.

600 hp, 244 cu. in. DOHC V-8 engine, twin turbo-charged, fuel-injected, six-speed X-Trac sequential gearbox, independent front and rear suspension by double wishbones, gas-filled pushrod dampers, rear-wheel drive, four-wheel hydraulic carbon disc brakes. Wheelbase: 108"

Source: RM Auctions

Cadillac Northstar Le Mans Prototype