Original V: The Groundbreaking First Gen Cadillac CTS-V was a Sedan with a Corvette Z06 Engine
For the last two decades, fans and buyers of American enthusiast cars have enjoyed a number of high-horsepower, enthusiast-grade Cadillacs that have taken the idea of the American luxury performance car in a sophisticated new direction.
Today we've got Cadillac CT4 and CT5Vs, the even more powerful Blackwing cars and even an Escalade packing a massive supercharged V8 under its hood—but it wasn't always that way.
A New Kind of Caddy
Prior to 2004, Cadillacs were primarily seen as soft-riding, comfortable American luxury cars that even if powerful were still much more at home on a lazy highway than any sort of race track.
But that all changed for the 2004 model year with the introduction of the Cadillac CTS-V, which built upon the bones of the new CTS sedan that debuted the previous year.
The '03 CTS was designed to bring the fight directly to Cadillac's European rivals. It rode on the brand new GM Sigma platform with rear-wheel drive, chiseled looks and a more sophisticated, more athletic personality.
And in addition to targeting buyers of your basic BMW 5 Series or Mercedes Benz E Class, the hot rodders and performance geeks at General Motors were given the greenlight to build a bonafide hot rod version of the CTS to take on the likes of BMW M and Mercedes AMG.
The Heart of a Corvette
The car would be known as the CTS-V, and when looking for an engine to power this new hot Caddy, the engineers didn't have to look far. Replacing the V6 from the standard car was the 5.7 liter LS6 V8 borrowed directly from the C5 Chevrolet Corvette Z06.
The CTS-V made an even 400 horsepower and 395 pound feet of torque, and the only transmission choice was a Tremec T56 six-speed manual. It could do zero to sixty in a still-impressive high four-second range with a good driver.
The V would be about more than just straight-line speed though. Its chassis was honed at Germany's Nurburgring and the V-Series treatment included new suspension tuning, six-bolt wheel hubs with Brembo brakes all around and wider 18-inch wheels and tires.
For a first-time effort, the CTS-V was great—if not perfect. Launching the car could be tricky, wheelhop was an issue and an upgraded differential was added in 2006 along with a switch to the larger LS2 engine (with the same 400 horsepower rating).
The Start of Something Special
Flaws aside, it was a sophisticated sport sedan that used an all-American Corvette heart to go against Europe's best and helped lay the ground for a number of new, even faster V-Series models to come.
All told, a little over 10,000 first gen CTS-Vs were sold between 2004 and 2007. And while the second and third gen models that came after it further improved on both performance and refinement, the original has remained an enthusiast favorite, thanks, especially to its standard manual gearbox.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, as they near 20 years old, a lot of first-gen CTS-Vs have been cheaply modified and abused by those looking for an affordable muscle car on the used market. But a clean example still holds its own in both street presence and performance.
And more than that, the original CTS-V will forever be a pivotal machine in the history of both GM and the Cadillac brand. Without its success, it's very unlikely we'd have the fast, wonderful turbocharged and supercharged Vs and Blackwings of today.
More From Driving Line
On the subject of the CTS-V, here's a look at one of the greatest American sleepers ever produced - the CTS-V Wagon.