How many times have you had the conversation about a car that’s predicated on how much fun would it be if they did… instead of the compromise-laden disappointments that sometimes made it to showrooms. More often than not, it’s the driveline that the conversation focuses on, hammering the idea that a good set of bones could be wasted by indifferent powerplants and slushbox automatics. Cadillac’s Catera is an arguable example of this phenomenon, something that Lingenfelter Performance Engineering fixed with a healthy dose of LS and Tremec with a car current up for auction on Bring a Trailer.
The conversion was done at LPE’s shop using a skunkworks V-8 swap “kit” by Opel, which was looking to install a V-8 into its version of the Catera, the Omega. LPE bought a handful of these kits, which arrived with a set of exhaust manifolds, a beefier differential (though, this one uses a later model 3.46 GTO unit), and all the electrical wizardry to make it operate like it was from the factory, but for reasons unknown, the kit never hit full production as intended. In fact, rumor has it that one example did escape the speed factory at LPE, built and ready to fight, and this is that forum legend, alive and in the metal. At the time, LPE installed a warmed-over LS6 before eventually moving to a 427-cubic-inch block with a ported LS6 top-end (the LS7 did not formally exist in 2002, as described in the listing). It’s backed by a Tremec T-56 six-speed and a twin-disc clutch.
The Cadillac “Craptera,” as it was allegedly known by GM technicians, had a rough life in America. It started with a marketing scheme that was pure cringe, even for the avant-garde phase of late-’90s culture. The Brutalist land yachts of the past were thrown away for this rounded, plucky little German sedan in a series of commercials about the “Caddy that zigs,” mascotted by a cartoon bird pulled from the brand’s original wreath and crest design.
This was GM’s second attempt at bringing a BMW 3 Series fighter to its leading luxury brand. The Chevy Cavalier-based Cimarron crashed and burned years prior, but the follow-up execution left much to be desired—it was too alien for its traditional crowd of Seville and Fleetwood buyers and the ad campaign was decidedly uncool with younger buyers seeking the respect that high-precision German sedans commanded. The fact it was unreliable did not help. When was the last time you saw one of the soap-bar Caddys rolling with the glow of their full-width taillights still lit? Plagued with warranty issues, generic styling that seemed to blend into a pack of 1997 Chevy Malibus, mediocre power from the 200-horse, 3.0-liter V-6 and its joy-killing 4L30E automatic, the Catera was essentially swept under the rug. As the years went on, they slowly quit trickling into Cadillac dealers as the 95,000 imported Opels began to eventually outweigh their value in repair bills.
It should be noted, however, that the Catera was a bonafide stepping stone to modernizing the Cadillac brand. There were rumors that GM had intended to launch a V-8 Catera along with a similarly-powered Opel Omega, but that all went south when the incoming CTS for 2003 (which rode on a modernized version of the Catera’s chassis) turned out to be a better-looking, better-driving foundation for the future of Caddy’s V-series. While it was flawed in many ways, several of which this LPE-powered German-American missile has ostensibly solved, the Catera did usher in the 20-year era of recent Cadillac performance. Credit where it’s due.