Yesterday morning I woke up very early and was on the road by 6:30, bound for Shirey Cadillac. Why? Simple. Broughamage.
There’s just something about those old luxury cars-Cadillac, Lincoln and Chrysler. Those of you who’ve been reading my old car posts for a while can generally predict that I’ll probably be going on about some 1960s-1980s U.S. luxury sedan or coupe that most people under 30 will not recognize, nor care about. “Like, that’s old, I love my Prius/Altima/silversilvermist combover! Who cares about that ancient gas guzzling car dude?” Well, I do.
It’s time again for another visit to the Chicago Auto Show, thanks to my friend Jim Smith. You see, he’s been attending the event for fifty years. And took quite a few pictures in that time. Lucky for us! So let’s dive into a world of Broughamage and wood-sided wagons, and see what kind of new rolling stock is on display!
Today, we discuss something seldom seen in modern traffic: the Cadillac ATS coupe. Yes, it’s still available! But what with ATS sedans outnumbering the svelte coupe by probably 15 to 1, they are kind of rare. Oh, Cadillac. What highs and lows have been wrought over the last thirty years! Certain know-it-alls on the coasts think Cadillac should just give up. I disagree. Things have changed a lot, even since the ’90s, for GM’s finest marque, but there’s still a lot of style and elegance in evidence. Let’s take a closer look.
I have a friend over at our local Cadillac dealer. And even though he sold me a Lincoln instead, I still like modern Cadillacs. I also love the classic, Broughamtastic Cadillacs. For some, it seems as if you can only like one or the other. Go onto Facebook or certain self-indulgent GM-hatin’ blogs and you may think the current Cadillac lineup doesn’t have a chance. Plenty of, well, let’s be blunt, angry old farts, carp about the looks, the price, and basically everything else about modern Caddys.
Options. It’s always nice to have options, especially when you’re talking Detroit luxury like Cadillac, Lincoln and Chrysler. Take Cadillac in the mid-1980s, for example. Between 1980 and 1986, Cadillac Motor Division went through some major changes. It arguably had to be done, but by 1986 most people used to Cadillacs being large, plush and heavily chromed were in for a surprise. Sure, they were still plush, but a crash diet program in anticipation of major gas price increases (that never happened) made for a very different showroom experience. Except for one holdout.
The De Villes and Fleetwoods introduced as very early ’85 models were completely different from their ’84 iterations. Smaller, yes, but also more space efficient-and front wheel drive! Despite the huge change in design, they sold well.
The 1980s were not precisely Cadillac’s decade. While in the 1960s Cadillac, the creme de la creme of General Motors, could do no wrong, in the 1980s it seemed they made misstep after misstep. True, changes had to be made. Fuel economy had to be improved, dimensions reduced, and technology added. But there is no doubt that the first half of the decade was exceedingly painful at Cadillac Motor Division.
Cadillac could do no wrong in the ’50s and ’60s. They consistently outsold both Lincoln and Imperial and were essentially in a class of their own. But as the 1960s progressed into the early 1970s, they perhaps became a victim of their own success. The cars slowly became less special as Cadillac chased ever higher profits. Starting around 1969, Cadillac started skimping on interior materials.
I’ve always had a thing for the 1989-1993 Cadillac Sedan de Ville and Coupe de Ville. They just seemed to be the right car for Cadillac at the time, and although right-sized compared to the yachts of fifteen years prior, still had plenty of luxury and traditional Cadillac cues.
It probably all started when my Grandma Ruby had a mishap with her 1987 Lincoln Continental. Someone hit her car in a parking lot, and though no one was hurt, she had a partially crunched turn signal, cornering lamp and bumper. Fortunately the other party had good insurance, and a Garnet Red 1990 Sedan de Ville was provided to her in the interim, courtesy of Hertz.
I was already into Cadillacs and Lincolns-the Continentals my grandparents had over the years was certainly a contributing factor-but this Sedan de Ville was a revelation! So shiny and new. I was impressed. Garnet, with silver lower cladding, and a dove gray leather interior. Although I was about ten years old at the time, I was all over this car. I was more impressed riding in it and crawling all over it than if it had been a new Corvette or 911. I was a Brougham aficionado from an early age.
Finding this fine Bill Mitchell-era Cadillac was all due to a battery failure. Not to get too deep into it, but I wear a cochlear implant, as I lost my “factory” hearing back in 1996. It uses rechargeable batteries, and when it goes out, I can’t hear. Really. You could fire a shotgun behind me, and I wouldn’t hear it. I’d probably feel the vibrations in the ground, but I’d perceive exactly zero sounds. So you can thank my forgetting a spare battery for this topless luxocruiser.
I was at my parents’ one weekend, and we decided to go see Lincoln (sorry, no Continentals in this flick; good, nonetheless). About ten minutes after we got to the theater, my battery went flat. I normally carry a spare at all times, but for some reason, I didn’t grab it when I left my place that day. Murphy’s Law, had to have happened after we got there, and not on the way! So, I borrowed my parents’ car, left them at the theater to get tickets and seats, and dashed back home for a fresh battery. But as I was returning to the theater, sitting at a red light, I spotted a 1963 Cadillac at a distance, parked at K-Mart. Movie or no movie, I had to stop.
The Seville’s genesis goes back to the early ’70s, when demand for a “smaller Cadillac” caused the GM prestige division to think about a new model. In fact, the earliest styling bucks for the Seville circa 1973 looked remarkably like that of the Hooper-inspired 1980-85 Cadillac Seville.
But fortunately, a leaner, smoother design and, in your author’s opinion, rather timeless design was selected, and was a breath of fresh air in Cadillac dealerships. Here was a cleanly styled flagship (only the Fleetwood limousines cost more) that had fuel injection and manageable size, yet retained all the luxury features that Cadillac owners, a loyal bunch, expected.
Some people love Corvettes. Others are really into Civics. And in certain parts of the country, there are fine folks who will accept nothing less than a diesel F250 King Ranch. But for me, it’s Broughams. Fine, wire wheel-covered, opera-lamped Broughams. With soft Corinthian leather, d’Elegance button tufted seating, St. Regis landau tops, and chrome. Chrome everywhere! Why? Well, my grandparents had Lincoln Continentals, LTDs and Thunderbirds, and they made an impression on me. I was also unduly influenced by my dad’s root beer brown 1979 Pontiac Bonneville during my pre-kindergarten years. Fleetwood Brougham, Cougar Villager and Mark IV toy cars I received as a kid also were a factor. But despite also loving Volvos (I drove them for nearly twenty years) and Porsches (Dad had them before I was born), it always comes back to the Broughams.