“Listen, one of our chief engineers is in town, and he’s wearing an Omega that his father first purchased back in the 60s. You’ve got to see it!” It’s a lovely thing to have colleagues in other industries who know what tickles your fancy. The sentence in quotes is the meaty end of a call we received from General Motors Middle East’s product communications manager. It was all we needed to fire back “We’ll be there!”
Courtesy of a chauffeur-driven ride to Abu Dhabi in one of Cadillac’s comfortable Escalade SUVs, we arrived at the plush Park Hyatt, Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, relaxed and ready to go. It was here that we met our Cadillac watch spotter (as well as his communications team), and were also introduced to Tony Roma, Vehicle Chief Engineer, Cadillac CTS and V Series, GM Global Performance Luxury Cars.
This was our first experience with Cadillac’s ‘V’ week, a week-long automotive extravaganza that Cadillac leverages to show-off its newest metal to partners, corporate customers and media. Because of the scale of the event and the airtight schedule it was running to, we agreed to take a closer look at Tony’s watch, a Speedmaster (naturally), as well as have a longer chat once we got to the race venue, at the nearby Yas Marina circuit.
Although we didn’t handle Tony’s Speedmaster extensively before grabbing lunch and sitting through a quick but concise presentation from Cadillac, we already knew his was a special Speedmaster. Admittedly, this, combined with the fact that we were actually going to be driving the new ATS-V and the CTS-V around Yas, meant we were more than a little excited (we’re petrol heads too!), and so somewhat distracted when going through the vehicle/track briefing, once we had arrived at the Yas Marina circuit.
It had to be a Speedmaster
The moment arrived. The briefings were over, we looked around for Tony and made a beeline for him with our fingers tingling in anticipation. Tony is, in our minds, General Motors royalty. He first began working with the brand back in 1993, as a powertrain calibration engineer on the Corvette program. He also spent almost 10 years of his career focused on transmission, engine hardware and controls development on the Corvette, Camaro and the V Series cars.
In fact Tony has been involved in pretty much every V series product in one capacity or the other, and even traveled with the Cadillac World Challenge race team for the first two seasons as the engine sub-team manager. Prior to returning to Cadillac, Tony was the program engineering manager for none other than the exceptionally well received Camaro ZL1. What has he been doing since he returned to Cadillac? That’s simple, he leads the team of engineers that designed and developed the new Cadillac CTS, while also being directly involved with the design and development of the new ATS-V and CTS-V.
Tony breathes engineering, performance and speed (Tony is a GM Certified “Level 6” driver (highest) and a licensed SCCA driver), so it seems only fitting that his everyday watch is an Omega Speedmaster. The Speedmaster was first introduced in 1957, and before it became the ‘moonwatch’ because of its association with NASA and the space-program, the Speedmaster was originally designed to be a racing chronograph for drivers.
The Speedmaster that Tony wears originally belonged to his father, who purchased it pre-owned “for a couple of hundred bucks back in the late 60s”. It is a calibre 861 powered reference 145.022 Speedmaster and, as you can see from the picture above (click the picture and you should be able to zoom in once it has opened in a new window), the black bezel has the dot over 90 (just above the 0), it has the dot next to 70 (just at the bottom corner of the zero), and the ‘Tachymetre’ text has an accent over the ‘E’. These are hallmarks of pre-70s Speedmaster bezels. You’ll also note the case has the twisted lugs design and measures 42mm in size.
There are a couple of other things that should be obvious to eagle-eyed readers – for a watch that is now over 40-years old, the bezel, dial and hesalite are all very clean. The dial in particular doesn’t seem to present much patina on its hour indexes or hands, and the reason for this is very simple – the watch has been fully serviced and, as we all know, Omega does its very best to bring watches back to top condition (even if you don’t want them to). The other thing is, if you look closely, you’ll note that the bracelet isn’t the original 1171 bracelet that you would find on a late 60s 145.022 Speedy but, rather, is a newer 1998 bracelet. Tony tells us he ordered this newer bracelet years ago because he wasn’t quite comfortable with the 1171, which could be a bit of a hair-puller.
Tony isn’t a watch nut, he doesn’t have loads of Speedmasters sitting in a case back home. What he has is a watch that is priceless to him, a Speedmaster that was given to him by his father. It’s a watch that he has worn without fail for years, and he absolutely loves it. He confesses that he has been into watch boutiques on occasion but, each time, the result is the same – he leaves convinced that his Speedmaster is the only watch in the world for him. His Speedy has oodles of history attached to it, is well loved and used without concern for preserving its original state in the interest of maintaining its value – it’s a watch that will never be sold, and is being used as it was meant to be used.
We love cases like this, where the owner/wearer is enjoying his watch without stressing about maintaining its originality, value etc. There’s something very pure and simple about the way that regular watch wearers go about using and maintaining their watches – it’s something that watch-nerds and collectors will never have because we’re worried about keeping the watch original, worried about where we will service the watch, stress about spare parts etc. As a collector or enthusiast, owning watches can be a complicated affair, and it can sometimes feel like the watches own you, so it’s always great to see guys like Tony just enjoying their watches in absolute contentment.
Just as we handed Tony’s Speedmaster back to him, we were told it was almost time for our batch to go out and drive.
Time to drive the Cadillac V cars
If you’re sitting there trying to figure out what the ‘V’ series cars are, it’s really quite simple. V is to Cadillac what AMG and M are to Mercedes Benz and BMW respectively. Basically, V series cars offer more performance, features and, of course, higher price tags to boot.
The ATS-V and CTS-V that we’re here to experience are essentially pumped up, track-ready versions of the ATS and CTS. Both cars even have a performance data recorder (PDR) that records audio within the cabin and video through a forward facing HD camera. The PDR even provides loads of telemetry data so you can playback and/or analyse your drive later.
Cadillac is quite confident about the capabilities of both cars and has nicknamed the ATS-V the ‘Scalpel’ and the CTS-V the ‘Sledgehammer’. Both are track ready monsters but Cadillac reckons the ATS-V is more precise and balanced, whereas the CTS-V is a monster with a 640hp supercharged V8 under the bonnet. No, that isn’t a typo, the CTS-V is the most powerful mid-size executive sedan on the market, offing more horsepower and torque than the most pumped-up version of the E63 AMG and the BMW M5.
Driving the Sledgehammer
We were let out in groups and while this meant strictly no shenanigans on the track, just a half a lap with the CTS-V had us convinced of how special a car it is. The 6.2-litre supercharged V8 is a monster with unrelenting thrust – it has so much torque (max torque is 630lb-ft) that we frequently saw triple digit speedometer readings on the HUD, even though the section of track we were on had several corners that forced us to keep things slow and tidy. There was a straight section of course and here, with the pedal pinned to the floor, cracking 200KM/h was a piece of cake – we got the impression that even if we completely messed up and got on this straight carrying in almost no speed, there’s enough power to ensure you crack 200KM/h, and still have more than enough time to brake for the next turn.
There’s no question the CTS-V has an incredible V8 but the second half of the equation was the transmission it’s mated to. GM’s 8L90 eight-speed automatic is super clever. It isn’t a dual clutch unit but it fires off incredibly quick shifts that actually had us convinced it was a dual clutch system on the drive. Moreover, we found it damn near telepathic – we just left it in full automatic and, combined with that engine and its oodles of power, there was never a time where we found ourselves trying to step in and down shift for more power. It’s one of the best engine and transmission combinations we’ve experienced to date in a mid-sized executive sedan.
The other incredible thing is that despite the fact that the CTS-V is a rear drive car with a very powerful V8 up front, it’s actually very easy to drive fast. The CTS-V has grippy custom rubber from Michelin on its massive rims but we also found that the chassis was very eager, and with the third generation of GM’s Magnetic Ride Control running the show, we were able to chuck this luxury sedan around the Yas track with virtually no drama at all. We were completely taken with the CTS-V’s sheer breath of capabilities, and with the superb V8 + supercharger soundtrack.
If you’re keen on learning more about the CTS-V, visit Cadillac’s website to get a full run down of its specifications, features and, all of its toys. Just click here.
Driving the Scalpel
The ATS-V is the smaller of the two cars and is fitted with a 3.6-litre twin turbo V6. The V6 generates 464hp and 445lb-ft of torque, which is enough to give the ATS-V a 0-100KM/h time of just 3.9-seconds. Having driven the ATS-V, we have no doubt this car can achieve that rip roaring time.
As we mentioned earlier, Cadillac sees the ATS-V as more of a precise car and so set up a slalom on a different section of the Yas track, followed by a few corners that would let us experience the car’s ability to quickly change direction. Here, an instructor first took us out and showed us the ropes in an ATS-V Coupe before we swapped positions and took on the track.
Like its older brother, we needed just one lap to figure out that the ATS-V is a special piece of kit. The car’s smaller size, trick magnetic suspension, able chassis and direct steering coupled with another great engine and the same 8-speed automatic you get in the CTS-V, had us cutting a clean path through the cones each and every lap. We were even able to take on the bends at rather rapid speed – the ATS-V just gave us the confidence to push through them all, with no hiccups or unruliness in sight.
By the end of it, we got the feeling that the ATS-V is the sort of car that can make you a better driver. All you need to do is keep taking it down to the track and keep practicing – it, like its bigger brother, is extremely easy to drive fast but whereas the supercharged V8 in the CTS-V means you’re doing things a lot, lot faster most of the time, the ATS-V while incredibly swift in its own right, is a more manageable car on the track. Once you’ve mastered driving tracks with the ATS-V, we reckon it would be a very natural progression to upgrade to the larger but devastatingly quick and agile CTS-V.
To learn more about the ATS-V, click here.
Once we had experienced both cars we found Tony again and could not stop gushing about how good both vehicles were. Tony was, as you’d expect, gracious and happy to hear our feedback. We came away very pleased knowing that the chief engineer behind two extremely special cars is a Speedmaster guy. It was a Wednesday, and both our horology and petrol head needs had been completely satisfied. It was a very good day.
We would like to offer our thanks to Ronald Balit and his team for the fantastic experience at Cadillac ‘V-Week, and for flagging Tony Roma’s incredible Speedmaster.