We got a call awhile back from Anthony Stephenson, one of the head honchos at Big 3 Performance in Waukesha, Wisconsin. He told us the shop had just finished its version of an Escalade V that clicks off low 13-second quarter-mile times. He offered us the keys if we came down, so we sent Ben Wolkomir out there to flog the hefty SUV. What follows is his impression of the pumped-up Caddy.

When I look at a Cadillac Escalade, I see a vehicle that is as close as it gets to a luxury apartment on wheels. Its roomy interior boasts vaulted ceilings, plush carpeting, beautiful woodwork, supple leather furniture, a surround-sound stereo, a DVD player, a pile of televisions, and a high-rise view. Others may view Escalade ownership as a gluttonous extravagance, but I see driving an Escalade as a selfless act. While your passengers relax in timber-paneled leather-clad bliss, watching their favorite DVD, you are forced to white-knuckle the truck around every gentle bend, trying not to roll over. And, as for putting your foot down at a green light, forget it. The only thing you are likely to accomplish is draining your considerably large gas tank, while the import with the fart-can exhaust lights you up.

Jason Fowler, on the other hand, has a somewhat sunnier view of Cadillac's luxury SUV. Despite being somewhat disappointed in the performance of his last truck, an '03 Escalade with a dealer-installed centrifugal supercharger and exhaust, he was optimistic about Big 3 Performance and its plan to build his '05 Rip Tide Blue Escalade into the first Cadillac Escalade V.

Making an Escalade into a V-series Cadillac is no small task. Keep in mind that not even Cadillac has taken on such a monumental build. Cadillac has, however, laid out the criteria on which the Escalade's V-ness can be judged. First of all, V-series Cadillac vehicles must be capable of accelerating from 0-60 mph in less than 5 seconds. All three Cadillac Vs have in excess of 400 hp. The Escalade comes equipped with a scant 345 hp and a 0-60 best of 8.4 seconds, a far cry from the 5.0 required to earn the coveted badge. Second, it must have a racetrack-tuned suspension. Anyone who has had any seat time in an Escalade knows it would be a stretch to call the handling of these land yachts racy. Third, they must also have racing brakes. While the Escalade stops well for a vehicle that is twice as heavy as a Corvette, I would still think twice before taking one out on a track. Last but certainly not least, it must have the signature V styling.

More Muscle
The first hurdle for Big 3 Performance to overcome was making an 18-1/2-foot-long, 6,000-pound monstrosity accelerate like a musclecar. The only solution was to add 355 horses. This kind of horsepower is easy to get if the motor only needs to last a quarter-mile or so, but for this truck to call itself a V, it needs to be daily driver reliable. Big 3 started by increasing the displacement of the engine from 6.0 liters to 6.6, using a custom stroker kit composed of 9.0:1 compression forged pistons, H-Beam rods, a forged crankshaft, a modified windage tray, and a high-flow oil pump. Next, a new valvetrain was installed, incorporating an aggressive Crane cam, hardened pushrods, Crane gold-series roller rockers, Crane valvesprings and retainers, and a double-roller timing chain set. Custom head gaskets and hardened head bolts keep this juggernaut from flying apart at the seams. MSD Ignition components provide enough spark to light up the city of Chicago, while Dynatech headers and a throaty MagnaFlow exhaust announce the V's presence to the world. By far, the biggest component to this monster build is the Magna Charger Radix intercooled supercharger. The polished supercharger replaces the stock intake manifold with an intercooled Roots-style supercharger and plenum. The Magna Charger uses an air-to-water intercooler, which sits under the blower, and places a heat exchanger directly behind the front grille for maximum thermal efficacy. Larger fuel injectors and a smaller pulley safely produce 12 psi of boost. The supercharged 402 breathes through a Granatelli mass airflow sensor and a functional ram-air intake that receives an ample supply of fresh air from two massive hoodscoops. A custom computer program keeps the monstrous motor running as smoothly as stock.

Now, 700 horsepower can be a lot of fun, if you aren't a stock heavy-duty GM all-wheel-drive transmission. In order to get all that power and torque to the wheels, significant changes must be made, even to GM's beefy HD trans. Extra bands and clutches were added to give the tranny enough bite to keep from slipping. A custom low-stall torque converter was implemented to handle the 750 lb-ft of torque and to retain the Escalade's street ability. Hardened gearsets and shafts replaced the stock units, and the stock pan and pump were replaced with higher-volume pieces. A significantly larger trans cooler keeps the transmission fluid from turning into magma under higher pressure of this ultra-high performance trans. The aim of the build was to safely handle the power, while retaining the tame feel of a Cadillac.

Stability And Control
With the powerplant well in hand, Big 3 Performance turned its attention to equipping the Escalade with a suspension fit for a BMW. The first step was to install a Ground Force lowering kit. Ground Force was chosen because it gives the truck an aggressive stance by bringing the front down 2 inches, and the sky-scraping rear end a full 3 inches, leveling the truck out without sacrificing the ride quality. To counteract the Escalade's natural tendency to roll over at low speeds, Eibach sway bars were installed. The rear bar measures a stout 32 millimeters, while the front sports a massive 35mm solid bar. Both bars are anchored by polyurethane bushings and hardened bolts. The end result is a vehicle the size of the Queen Mary, handling more like an off-shore racing boat.

Next on the list of necessary racing bits is a set of binders that can control 6,000 pounds of speeding SUV. The Baer EradiSpeed Big Brake kit fit the bill perfectly. The massive rotors are 50 percent larger than the OEM units but still retain the stock calipers. An aggressive ceramic brake pad and braided steel lines round out the brake upgrade. In order to clear the larger brakes, 20-inch chrome Vogue wheels were installed. The Vogue wheels give the truck an aggressive yet almost stock appearance.

Custom Styling
The final order of business was to give this Escalade a V-style makeover. A functional ram-air hood was fitted, and the hood and fenders were treated to a trick ghost flame paintjob. Next, the stock grille was ditched in favor of a stainless steel V-style grille, making it fit right in with the rest of the V family. Finally, V badges were added to the stock Escalade emblems and embroidered on the floor mats.

Hitting The Road
All of the pieces were now in place. All that was needed was a little vindication, a true pessimistic opinion of this shop-built original. So, Big 3 Performance's sales manager, Anthony Stephenson, gave me the keys and we were off. The first stop, as you might imagine, was the gas station. I was surprised at how many of the aftermarket parts went unnoticed when people looked at the truck for the first time. I was immediately surrounded by a crowd of automotive enthusiasts when I pulled in. We were bombarded by questions about wheel size and the brand of the exhaust. There was even some confusion about the existence of a factory Escalade V option package. I was, however, shocked to discover that in this crowd of 10 or so fairly knowledgeable people that nobody noticed the aggressive ram-air hood, giant Baer brakes, or even the flickering ghost flames painted along the side of the front fenders and hood.

I was confused by the crowd's initial reaction to the truck; I sensed that despite the enthusiasm for the sound and look of the truck that most people there dismissed the modifications as largely cosmetic. One gentleman went so far as to scold me on the vulgarity of putting a V badge on the side of an Escalade, saying that it needed to be earned and there was a reason Cadillac chose not to include the Escalade in the V lineup. One quick stab of the throttle, unleashing the growl of the 402ci motor, coupled with the high-pitch whine of the Magna Charger put a quick end to the debate over the appropriateness of the badging package.

After a quick 73 dollar fill-up of premium, we were off. The crowd was still watching as we approached the red light. The light turned green and Anthony yelled, "Stab it," so I did. The motor unleashed a growl, and the tires barked out a wisp of smoke. Keep in mind that I was now approaching a 90-degree left-hand turn at about 45 mph in a freakin' Escalade. As I turned the truck, Anthony told me to "keep on her," so I kept the pedal about three quarters of the way to the metal and tried to follow an intentionally shallow line into the corner. To my surprise, the truck steered into the corner quite sharply. I had to make a small correction to keep from driving up onto the median. As the Escalade hit the apex of this hair-raising corner, the back end of the truck swung out about 20 degrees or so, but I kept the throttle planted and counter-steered. I was anticipating a nasty flick to the left, so I braced myself and prepared to counter-steer again. The truck, however, gently corrected and continued to surge forward.

After my brief drifting exhibition, I decided to once again resume my skeptical naysaying ways. I knew the perfect road to expose this truck's Achilles heal. So, I guided the V onto my test track, a twisty bumpy back-country road that can make even the most hardcore road-racer flinch. I figured this truck would show its true colors here. As I approached the first hairpin corner, I could see the putting green of the local municipal golf course just ahead. The golfers were staring at me, yelling to slow down as I barreled through the right-hander; one of the golfers actually flipped me the bird! With the apex rapidly approaching, I pulsed the break pedal and turned in. There was surprisingly no drama. The truck cornered sharply and flat, the tires made no noise, and the Escalade tracked straight through and onto the straight-away. I looked over at Anthony, to see he was smiling and laughing. He asked me, "What do you think?" I just gripped the wheel and planted the pedal. Corner after corner, the truck exceeded my expectations, and the ride quality reminded me of a stiffly sprung sports sedan. However, it was still totally comfortable, largely due to the truly spectacular Cadillac leather seats.

As we headed back to the shop, I noticed a Dodge Daytona Ram desperately trying to keep up with us. We came to a stoplight, and he was inching forward, looking for a run. I rolled down my window and sarcastically asked him if that thing had a Hemi. He responded by asking me if I would like to find out. I nodded at him and gazed at the lights, waiting for the green. When the light changed, it was all Cadillac, scorching all four tires off the line. We drove by like he was in Park. After hitting 60 or so miles per hour, I slowed so the Ram could catch up. He couldn't believe how fast the Caddy was and went on asking about it until we turned off toward the shop.

The Final Word
When we got back to the shop, Eddie, the owner of Big 3 Performance, asked me what I thought. I had to face the facts: This truck has actually earned the V badge. A few days later, Anthony e-mailed me to tell me that the truck ran 13.3 seconds in the quarter-mile, which is about as fast as a CTS-V. I can only hope the GM executives read this article and take note. It would be nice to see a few more Escalade Vs running around.

The 411

Owner/hometown:
Jason Fowler / Neenah, Wisconsin

Year/make/model:
'05 Cadillac Escalade V

Engine/drivetrain:
Factory 6.0L punched out to a 402ci / Eagle forged stroker crankshaft / Eagle H-Beam Rods / Stage 2 heads (ported in-house) / full Crane valvetrain, including custom ground cam, gold-series roller rockers (1.8 ratio), dual valvesprings with titanium retainers, five-angle valve job, and fully adjustable timing gear / ATI gel-filled super damper / Magna Charger Radix Intercooled Supercharger / 69-pound-per-hour injectors / inline fuel pump / upgraded fuel rails / furnace-brazed and reinforced 2,200-stall converter / hardened input and output shafts / carbon-fiber bands / Kevlar clutches / super servo with upgraded pump, pump spring, and accumulator spring / hardened planetary gears / deburred and cryo-treated trans case / stainless steel Dynatech long-tube headers and Y-pipe system / stainless MagnaFlow exhaust / Airaid cold-air intake system
BY: Big 3 Performance

Rims:
Front & Rear: 20-inch Vogue V1s

Tires:
Front & Rear: Vogue 285/50R20

Suspension:
Ground Force 2/3 drop kit with poly bushings / Eibach sway bars / Baer EradiSpeed brake upgrade
By: Big 3 Performance

Body Mods:
Twin-scoop ram-air Keystone Good Hood / factory Cadillac V emblems / E&G Classics grille
By: Big 3 Performance

Custom Paint:
Rip Tide Blue Pearl / Ice Blue Pearl Ghost flames
By: It's a secret

Interior:
Stock
By: General Motors

Audio/Video:
Stock
By: General Motors

Club:
N/A

Special Thanks:
Eagle / Crane Cams / Dynatech / Eddie Stephenson / Forest Elle / Anthony Stephenson

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