If you’re in the market for a midsize car today, you have plenty of choices. Well, for now, as the ever present crossover is rapidly compelling the manufacturers to kill off the traditional midsize sedan. Several nameplates from which to choose–Camry, Impala, Fusion and Optima and of course Accord, to name a few. And they all come in the same flavor of competent albeit repetitive design and styling. Where’s the flair, man? Once upon a time, before safety standards, emissions and plain old public demand trumped style, a buyer could get virtually whatever their heart desired, right down to colors, options–and yes, Virginia, even a body style other than the now-ubiquitous four-door sedan. Want an aqua Skylark convertible with a white interior, V8 and four-speed? Done! How about a red Lark Wagonaire with a red interior, 350 McKinnon (nee GM) V8, power retractable roof over the cargo area, and automatic transmission? No problem. You could have those cars and everything in between–in 1965. Everything from cheapskate beige two-door post with manual everything to fully loaded sports convertible with a fire-breathing powerplant. So let’s set the way-back machine to Autumn 1964 and see what we can get.
A good friend, Julie Werthmann, passed away last week. A close friend of my parents, and probably one of my mom’s best friends. Well, hell, she was a friend of mine too. Yesterday, we attended the memorial and said goodbye. She was a terrific lady. She and her then-husband met my folks back in the ’80s when they moved our Chris-Craft to a new dock at Sunset Marina. Mike and Julie became our ‘boat neighbors.’ They lived year-round on their boat, a Grand Banks double-cabin cruiser. I have known her since I was about five years old. And since I was a car nut even at that early age, I remember all the cars she had. And rode in most of them over the years.
The earliest car I remember was a dark green 1982 Delta 88 Royale Brougham. Just like the car in the brochure picture above, it had the color-keyed styled steel wheels, plus a sage green interior with matching top. And the 350 Diesel V8! But they never had an issue with this car. In fact, they kept it well into the 1990s, and it stayed nice and reliable all that time. The sound of that GM Diesel is permanently etched into my memory.
Yesterday morning I woke up very early and was on the road by 6:30, bound for Shirey Cadillac. Why? Simple. Broughamage.
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!
Back in 2013, I saw perhaps the finest Brougham in the wild as I have ever seen (excluding car shows): A 1977 Cutlass Supreme Brougham coupe. It was, quite simply, gorgeous. And I have a history with the Colonnade Cutlasses! That’s right folks, it’s another ’70s Brougham post. Buckle up!
From 1971 to 1976, General Motors had the market covered when it came to the finest in upper-crust land yachts: Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight, Buick Electra, and the Cadillac Sedan de Ville and Fleetwood. It was the last stand for true full-size luxury. No diets, no exercising, full steam ahead with room, space and wheelbase! And velour. Lots of velour. But times were changing. Fuel economy was slowly but surely becoming more important to buyers, especially after the 1973-74 gas crisis. Could one still get all the Broughamage they wanted, yet with better economy? Have plenty of stretch-out room despite dimensions being trimmed? Indeed, they could!
GM proved it with the downsized 1977 B- and C-body full-sizers. Easier to drive, easier to park, yet with power everything, room, space and the ever so important gadgets, gizmos and nameplate prestige! And if you didn’t want to spring for the high-priced Cadillac version, you could still get nine-tenths of its luxury in an Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Regency. Continue Reading →
Of all the GM wagons made in the final full-size, B-body station wagon years, I think I loved the Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser the most. I mean, first of all, is that a cool name or what? “Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser.” Even if you didn’t even know what kind of a car was, you’d probably agree that is a most excellent name. And these final Olds wagons remained unerringly, unapologetically full sized to the very end in 1992. They even eclipsed their Eighty Eight brethren starting in 1986, establishing them as perhaps the Broughamiest Olds in the lineup.
Yes, the second round of downsizing hit the Oldsmobile full-size line in the mid-’80s. The first round, for those of you just joining us, was in 1977, when the trim, smaller on the outside yet bigger on the inside B-body GM sedans, coupes and wagons appeared on the scene. Round two started in 1985 when the top of the line Ninety-Eight shrunk, along with its corporate cousins, the C-body Buick Electra and Cadillac de Ville/Fleetwood. They were also front wheel drive, and unit-bodied. Not a rare format in 1986, but completely new to the Olds flagship, which had been proudly gigantic and full-framed for decades.
The Eighty Eight got the same treatment in 1986. So now all of the big Oldses were front wheel drive, V6-only and unit-bodied. What was a full-sized car lover to do? Buy the wagon!
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.
Remember Oldsmobile? Sure you do. Well, most people born before 1990 do at any rate. As a kid in 1980s Illinois, my neighborhood was full of them. There was the next door neighbor’s daughter’s beige Cutlass Cruiser station wagon, with wire wheel covers. Her husband had a metallic root-beer brown Custom Cruiser. Across the street and two doors down lived a cedar metallic 1982 Cutlass Ciera Brougham. About a block away, a friend’s mom had a white FWD Firenza hatchback. Expanding further outward, one of my classmate’s parents had a triple burgundy Cutlass Supreme coupe, and both my aunt and a cousin had a 1976 Cutlass Supreme Brougham and ’77 Cutlass Supreme coupe, respectively. So yes, I am familiar with the make, even now, over a dozen years after the marque’s demise. But what I remember best are not the Aleros, Auroras and Bravadas seen in the make’s final years, but the plush, velour- and leather-lined gunboats of the ’70s. Like the Ninety-Eight Regency. Continue Reading →