By the end of the 1980s, Cadillac had boxed itself into a corner—at least when it came to design. A decade spent distancing itself from the excesses of the previous era’s land yachts lead to downsizing, the sharing of front-wheel drive platforms with its GM corporate cousins and a distinctly square appearance for nearly every vehicle in the showroom. The only car that deviated even slightly from this game plan was the Cadillac Allante roadster, which would eventually fail for an entirely different set of reasons. Simply put, things were getting stale.

(Editor’s note: It’s easy to dismiss concept cars as marketing gimmicks and dead-end design exercises. But every once in a while, a company gives away the secret to its future without anyone noticing. With ever-grander promises about electrification, autonomy and material advances being made by today’s concepts, I thought it’d be useful to take a look through the archives to see how and when the major engineering and design trends that define the present were actually seeded. This recurring column by the great Ben Hunting is called The Most Important Concept Cars You Forgot All About, and its aim is to give you the tools to understand what’s really coming next. — KC)

Cadillac wasn’t alone in this obsession with right angles. Almost every large car (and most of the mid-sizers) built by General Motors during the same period fell prey to the same boxiness. It wasn’t until the Ford Taurus arrived on the scene in 1986 that Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Cadillac stylists were put on notice that the status quo was no longer going to cut it among those seeking visual excitement in a domestic automobile.

Unwilling to concede any further on size, Cadillac’s brain trust decided it was time for a radical shift in how it shaped its sheet metal. The end result was the 1988 Cadillac Voyage (by the way, that’s VoyAHHje, like bon voyage), a monster luxury sedan that didn’t just telegraph the next 10 years of styling for GM’s biggest mile-eaters, but also previewed Cadillac’s foray into high-tech territory that would become a key part of its changing image once the 20th century drew to a close. Though Cadillac’s journey to a company that can embrace something like Super Cruise didn’t begin here, the Voyage was an aptly-named spirit quest that clarified a lot of what the future of American luxury should be all about.

Technology First, Design… Also First

When the Cadillac Voyage Concept rolled onto the stage in New York City for the first time in 1988, it tried its best to draw attention to what was on the inside of its eye-catching shape. GM elected to unveil the car at its Teamwork & Technology show, which was a fancy hooplah at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in the vein of the old Motorama tech and design exhibitions. It went all-in on promoting the various telecommunications and electronics features stuffed into its cabin.

These included things like a dual-screen navigation system, a hands-free phone that could respond to voice commands, and even a rearview camera to assist in both highway driving and reversing the extended auto (which was 212.6 inches long, or roughly the same length as a same-year Ford F-150). The car also boasted an “active” four-wheel drive system that could computer-activate the front axle should a loss of traction be detected while driving, a novelty in an era where all-wheel drive was still outside of the mainstream.

And yet, to focus on any of these features was to miss the true message of the what the Voyage Concept was hinting about GM’s future. While they might have sizzled on the Cadillac’s highlight reel, almost every one of its gizmos (save for a coded keyless access panel) was many, many years away from reaching the options list of any production car.

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