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The story of powerful four-door American cars has its roots in the 50s and 60s, but recently their prevalence has all-but disappeared. Only the Dodge Charger and Cadillac Blackwing models remain of what was once a vaunted corner of American car culture. But before Cadillac’s Blackwing division, a more humble four-door muscle car graced American showrooms. It was the Chevrolet SS, and it helped pave the way for the compelling Cadillacs we see today.

Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing
Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing | Cadillac

An Australian import ushered in a generation of GM performance

When it comes to car culture, Americans and Australians have a lot in common. We both love our powerful V8s and functional four doors. And if not for an old bit of American legislation, we’d undoubtedly see high-powered Utes all over American roads.

In the mid-2000s, GM exec Bob Lutz wanted the brand to have a more motorsport-focused product to invigorate the American consumer. He went to GM Australia and borrowed the Holden Monaro to create the modern Pontiac GTO, but there was a problem.

The GTO was boring.

The 2005 Pontiac GTO
2005 Pontiac GTO | Bring-a-Trailer

Sure, its 5.7-liter V8 was powerful enough, but it lacked the retro-modern styling that made the modern Mustang and Challenger models so compelling.

By comparison, the GTO was a drab-looking product, more in line with a Toyota Camry than a modern muscle car. And with a new Chevy Camaro coming down the pike with much more aggressive styling, the understated GTO died a quick death in just three model years.

The Pontiac G8 evolved the GTO concept

After the GTO debacle, GM looked to create new energy with a functional family car that packed a punch. Once again, Lutz turned toward Australia for an idea and snagged the Holden Commodore as the last gasp for the dying Pontiac brand.

On paper, the Pontiac G8 was a stunning concept. Four doors and a usable back seat combined with a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 to create a compelling competitor to the Charger HEMIs of the day. Much like the GTO, the G8 only lived for three years, from 2007 to 2009, thanks in part to the global recession and the death of Pontiac as a whole.

The Chevy SS brought the concept back to life

2014 Chevy SS reveal
2014 Chevy SS | Chevrolet

It took five years of wading through economic misery for GM to take another bite at the super-sedan apple. With Pontiac dead and gone, the company decided to use its biggest brand, Chevrolet, to entice more buyers. In 2014, the world got the Chevy SS in dealerships for the first time, and once again, it was a borrowed Australian product.

Unfortunately, the SS suffered from many of the same problems that befell the earlier GTO. Its bland styling outshone the phenomenal performance that lay beneath. Not even a 6.2-liter V8 pushing 415 horsepower could convince American buyers to keep this car alive. The SS even raced in NASCAR to try and improve visibility of the product, but that sport’s fanbase was in no position to drop $50,000 on a four-door performance car with long-term recession effects still taking hold.

As such, the SS fell to the same fate as many of its predecessors. A short runway of just four model years saw middling sales numbers despite rave reviews in nearly every publication. However, those positive reviews were a sign that GM was on the right track with the SS, it just needed to further refine the formula.

The Chevy SS and Cadillac Blackwing family share a philosophy

Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing
Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing | Cadillac

Bringing Australian cars to the U.S. was no longer an option with the dissolution of Holden in 2017. But the concept of an upmarket performance sedan didn’t die with it. Rather than letting the idea die, GM got to work on a series of performance cars like the Camaro ZL1.

Along the way, Cadillac began earning a reputation as a performance brand with its ATS and CTS-V products. It already had a reputation for luxury, but these super sedans showed that GM was cooking something even better.

The Blackwing project got its start with a track session of the brand’s CTS-V in 2015. While the cars were fast, they lacked the kind of soul found in a Mercedes-AMG or BMW M model. Cadillac wanted to fix that.

In talking with Hagerty, Cadillac Chief Engineer Brandon Vivian stated, “‘Wow, these cars are really, really good, but there are ways we could put even more soul into them.’ That’s where the Blackwings got their start.”

Much like the SS, the Cadillac Blackwing project was an attempt to make a four-door car that spoke to enthusiasts. Unlike the SS, both the CT4-V Blackwing and CT5-V Blackwing have managed to accomplish their mission. They may not sell in numbers competitive with a Toyota Camry, but that doesn’t matter.

The Blackwing cars are all about delivering that ever-elusive blend of fun and function. From the V6 twin-turbo in the smaller car to the supercharged V8 in its bigger brother, there is no doubting that the formula finally works.

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