Valiant. Speak the name to anyone who grew up in the Sixties and it will almost certainly prompt a ton of memories, both good and bad: “Oh, my Aunt Becky and Uncle Sid had one, it was the toughest car they ever had!” Or, “I drove one in high school, got it for $100 off a shady used car lot and it was the dullest, slowest car I ever owned!” In approximately 95% of these circumstances, these memories will be prefaced by the words Plymouth Valiant–and indeed, Valiants were Plymouths from 1961 through 1976–but not in its inaugural year in 1960. Yes, 1960, a Buck Rogers year for sure! It was also The Year Of The Compacts: Corvair, Falcon, and of course, Valiant.
In 1972, Buick Motor Division’s top of the line series, the Electra, entered its fourteenth year. The Deuce and a Quarter, so named by its many fans due its impressive length of two hundred and twenty five inches. The luxury Buick was always a fine choice in full size cars, and even in the early 1970s it still held its head high as the car of doctors, lawyers and other professionals who wanted comfort, quality and reliability, speaking quietly of their wealth instead of shouting it with a Cadillac.
The U.S. market can be a funny, unpredictable thing when talking about various imported motor cars. Take the Peugeot 405, for instance. This is a car that one would have seen all over the place in Europe, but rarely in North America, even when they were still new cars. Of course, all markets have its preferences. I’d wager that there were damn few Cadillac Broughams or Chrysler Fifth Avenues in Nice or Paris. The new 405 was Peugeot’s last try in cracking the U.S. car market’s potentially lucrative nut.
In July 1987, the 405 made its first appearance as an ’88 model. The mid-sized, front wheel drive 405 sedan and estate had been originally slated to replace the venerable RWD 505. Peugeot, however, demurred, and decided to sell the 505 alongside the 405 for a few more years, much as Volvo kept the 240 around after the 740/760 began production. The 405 sedan became available to Francophiles in October of 1987; the station wagon arrived several months later, in May of 1988.
In 1987, Lincoln was making hay while the sun shined. After the drastic downsizing of arch-rival Cadillac, which started in 1985 with their FWD Fleetwoods and DeVilles then continued with mini-me Eldorados and Sevilles in 1986-87, Lincoln was poised to take advantage by offering some traditional American luxury!
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.
As a kid growing up in the 1980s, the “Colonnade” 1973-77 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme was a constant factor. In my Midwestern city, they were, even by 1988-89, as common then as beige beigemist Toyota Camry LEs are now. But the one I remember the best was owned by my Aunt Candy.
Uncle Don was a mechanic. A damn good one. Back in the 1970s he worked at Bob Neal Lincoln-Mercury in Rock Island, where my grandparents bought their Lincoln Continentals and Thunderbirds. Whenever they brought a car in for service, they always requested Don, and only Don, to work on their cars. The other guys in the service department groused about this, but as Don was the best mechanic they had, they had little recourse.
In fact, Don was constantly getting job offers from other dealerships in the Quad Cities. My aunt once told me that at a Christmas party in the late ’70s, Erv Peters, a local Ford dealer whom Don was working for at that time, asked Candy how to keep Don on? Simple, she said, just pay him more money! So he did.
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.
My first mishap with a car was with my first car, a 1991 Volvo 940 SE, black over tan, with sunroof. I was eighteen, had only been driving a few months due to health issues, but LOVED driving. So much so, on occasion I would get up really early, like before sunrise, to take the car for a ride before school. I remember several instances where I’d sneak the car out about 5:30 (so as not to wake anyone up and ask me why I was doing a damfool thing like going for a drive at 5 AM), go for a ride around town listening to the oldies station, and then head back, get my school crap and head off to Alleman High School.
The biggest single reason I’ve been so infatuated with cars from my earliest memories is due to the fact that I was born into a family of major gearheads. My ancestors were from Germany, and were coachbuilders. I mean actual coach builders, because their work pre-dated the automobile. They emigrated to the U.S. around the turn of the century, and initially settled in Chicago. A short time later they learned there were a lot of Germans in Rock Island, Illinois, and they moved there. And we’re still here!