The car I can remember like it was yesterday was my grandmother’s 1987 Fleetwood d’Elegance. No, this was not the large and in charge Brougham d’Elegance, but the trimmer, front wheel drive Fleetwood. The year was 1989. My Grandma was a young 77 years old. She had just lost her second husband a few months prior, and driving was now her full responsibility. I kept hearing her say how she didn’t enjoy driving as much as she used to. I was confused because she had a beautiful 1979 Cadillac Sedan deVille that previously belonged to my Uncle Bob. In 1986 he bought a new Fleetwood Brougham to replace the ’79 Sedan deVille so he gave the old Caddy to my Grandmother. It was a rare one too – a beautiful color called Cedar Firemist, with a rare power Astroroof, CB radio, leather interior and nearly all the options Caddy offered for the year.
Oddly enough he didn’t order a tilt & telescopic steering wheel which I used to make sure I made a joke of with him all the time! When I asked why he didn’t get it he said he didn’t need it. Unfortunately it made it hard for my short Grandma to get comfortable in that huge Caddy! She really could have used that tilt wheel!
Deep down I knew my Grandma had many years of driving left in her and I often thought about looking for another car for her. One day I decided to take a ride by the local Cadillac dealership. In the very front row, one car really stood out. It was one of the newer front wheel drive downsized models – a 1987 Fleetwood d’Elegance to be exact.
It was finished in a beautiful color called yellow beige, and it had a matching cloth interior. It was loaded, too…. and luckily it had the wire wheel covers which I knew Grandma liked. They looked beautiful on that car. Hmmmm……… I thought I may be on to something here. This car may be the answer to my Grandmother’s problem of not being able to drive comfortably anymore!
So I pulled into the lot, and gave that ’87 quite the look over. I knew Grandma was picky so I wanted to make sure it was in good shape. There wasn’t a mark to be found. It only had 14,000 miles on it, and the story behind it was that the original owner was an elderly man that came from California and was visiting relatives here in Rhode Island. Sadly he had passed away while here. I knew the story had to be true because the car didn’t have a rear defroster! If you looked at one hundred Cadillacs in Rhode Island back in the day usually every one of that hundred would have had a rear defroster!
So I knew this was a very unique car. Also, it had the d’Elegance package with cloth seats – another rarity here in Rhode Island. It also had the standard vinyl top deleted – which I thought looked great! The digital dash was so cool, and the Fleetwood had its own unique leather wrapped steering wheel design too. It was truly a very luxurious car. I knew Grandma would be impressed.
I went inside the showroom and was quickly greeted by a very nice gentleman. Mind you, at the time I was only 22 years old, so it felt a little intimidating walking into a Cadillac showroom by myself! I mentioned the ’87 in the front row and he said he would grab the keys for me. We went outside and he opened it up. That interior was like brand new! I told him my Grandmother’s situation and he said “Why don’t you take it to her?” No hesitation there. So I did!
When I got to her house and rang the doorbell I could instantly see the happy expression on her face. “What a pretty car! And they let you take it all by yourself?”
I was shocked at that too. When I showed her the interior I could see she was even more impressed. I thought to myself if she likes the way it drives, I think she will buy it.
Well, we took it for a spin and I could see how easily she handled that car. She pulled into a drug store parking lot and made a full turn going back in the direction we came. She kept saying how easy it was to maneuver this car and how comfortable it was! “Yes I want this car!” she quickly exclaimed.
And the rest is history. She bought the Fleetwood and drove it until she was 92! It only had about 58,000 miles on it and was still in immaculate condition. It was always garaged. She didn’t dare leave it out in the rain. Heaven forbid!
And she would even polish the real wood on the door panels with furniture polish! It was truly a car that was loved by its owner.
Well, sadly I wish the ending of the story was as happy as the beginning. My Uncle once again intervened and decided to sell Grandma’s Cadillac for a mere $2500 in the spring of 2004. Grandma didn’t feel comfortable behind the wheel anymore, so it was time. He didn’t ask anyone in the family if they wanted it, which really upset me.
The person that bought it lived two houses away from my Grandma and did not take care of it whatsoever. In fact, they used it like a truck. I saw it deteriorate right in front of my eyes and it made me very sad.
On a positive note, I think of all the years of happiness it gave my Grandma. It’s just sad to see a car so well loved and preserved for over fifteen years and then destroyed in less than two!
Yes, it may have resembled the Oldsmobile 98 and the Buick Park Avenue, but it was a classy design and one that was very easy to live with. I truly think GM did a great job with these cars.
Their sales numbers show that they were definitely much better received than many on the internet have made it appear. If Grandma was still with us today she would have surely told us, “I really do love my Caddy!”
Note: Today’s cool old car article was written by Tom Conti, who also told us the story of his dad’s 1990 Coupe de Ville last year. Like several other fine folks I know personally, he was run off of CC due to a certain antagonistic editor ’round those parts. But never mind that! We’re happy to have him contribute here at Riverside Green. I’d also like to thank Dave Smith of the American Brougham Society for digging up the pictures of the white Fleetwood d’Elegance; I didn’t have any myself! -TK
You might have thought a gas shortage and regulation would have killed off the traditional Cadillac. Compare this effort to the 80s 2.6 Mitsubishi New Yorker and you really see the effort made to build a traditional luxury car in a new era. A small aluminum transverse V8. A responsive smooth automatic with a tall enough fourth gear and enough insulation to match the quiet of the older big ones and shame the sound level of the Legends, 300E and Cressidas.
Since the gas shortage was ephemeral these are not well remembered. But they were light enough to run fine on a Quad 4 if the gas situation got really bad. The engineers worked overtime on these.
Thanks to the Toms for bringing this to us.
You’re welcome! I too feel the engineers really did their homework with these cars. Glad you enjoyed!
Thank you for bringing us this, Tom. I enjoyed last year’s piece about your father’s Cadillac, and I enjoyed this. So much of what you read online dismisses these Cadillacs out of hand. Both of your articles gave me some enjoyable insight about why many buyers liked these cars.
I am so glad you enjoyed it ArBee. Every time I see one of these cars I think of my Grandma. It truly was her pride and joy. GM did a great job with these cars, contrary to much of what we hear and see on the internet. They were a nicely sized luxury car, well thought out and executed. If only the 4.1 weren’t such a menace I feel these cars would have been appreciated even more. Thanks for reading!
I always wanted one of these mini Cadillacs. We had the first-gen Seville, big Broughams, and later Sedan DeVilles (which were stretched versions of this I think). These little ones still make me ogle, probably because we never had one.
The ’87 had the abysmal engine though, didn’t it? That’s probably why we never had one.
My grandma had a Sedan DeVille and hated that small rear window, and that she “had” to use premium fuel. Nearly 30 years later, she still brings that up!
By 1987 GM had a lot of the issues resolved with the 4.1. It never gave her an ounce of trouble in the 15 years she owned that car. It was a great car and truly was worthy of the Cadillac crest, contrary to what a lot of people say.
My bottom-of-the-barrel loaner is a Cadillac of some description. Whenever someone I’ve inflicted it upon turns it back in and details their hardships, I always remember that tag-line.
Nicely written article which took me down memory lane. I remember taking a few rides in that unique Fleetwood back in the day!
My friend, I have a similiar story. Mine did end pretty happy. My Grandmother bought her 1987 Fleetwood DeElegance also in 1989. It was blue with the half limo style vinyl top. We named the car “Grace.” That car was a tremendous bond between my grandmother and I. I was a mere 15 when she bought it, but had an infinity to larger luxury cars. (My first car was an 89 Lincoln Continental) Grandmother always said it was pretty, but it was no “Grace.” I agreed.
When Grandmother passed in 2008, I was left the car. I kept it and drove it for years. I sadly had to finally sell it during (also) some family quarrels over money and its rising expense.
However, it stayed with me until 2016. I dont get to see it these days, and I’m glad. I’ve heard it got the treatment that your family Caddy did.
I like to think it retired to a beautiful Garage… ha
I’m in a lil bit of tears reading your story. My memories of that car will always be with me. If I can find one similiar. I’m buying it.
Thank you for sharing your story. Happy New Year… firstname.lastname@example.org