This article was originally published on September 5, 2015 on CarLustBlog.com. Some links have been added or refreshed, a video was added and some very minor editing has been done.
Where I work, there’s a used car dealership right beside us. It holds an eclectic collection of automobiles, ranging from Hyundai econoboxes to old Ford Super-Duty trucks suited for different applications. Among them there’s old ‘80s metal for sale. Parked right outside the window I stare out of in a daydream-like haze is a worn-down, big, white Cadillac.
From that view to that dealer I’ve lusted after a neat, red Z31 Nissan 300ZX and a beater early-3rd-gen Chevrolet Camaro, to name some. Then how come that Cadillac, with mismatching whitelines and blackwalls and faded business advertisement telephone numbers still present on its rear flanks grabs my attention as much as iconic 1980s sporty coupes? Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we have a case of car lust.
1977 Cadillac Sedan De Ville. Apart from the grille and other minor details, the rear taillights were also replaced for ’78.
As I brushed up on my history on these Cadillacs, I was surprised to have forgotten that it wasn’t just the Fleetwood Brougham that carried this body style, and that there were coupe versions as well.
First up are the twins, the 6th-generation Coupe De Ville and Sedan De Ville, pictured respectively. Both could be had with the d’Elegance package, which featured among other things exclusive plush upholstery. Also, there’s the special edition Phaeton, available in both body styles. For a little while, between the Cadillac Calais bowing out and the introduction of the Cimarron by Cadillac, the Coupe De Ville was the brand’s entry-level model. Let that sink in for a moment…
In its 5th-generation, the Fleetwood Brougham was the top-of-the-line Cadillac model, available in coupe form under the same name, until 1985. Having more in common with the De Ville twins than the previous generation, it was the details that set them apart. And if the Fleetwood Brougham wasn’t enough, there was also the d’Elegance package. The Fleetwood Brougham was able to outlive the De Ville twins when Cadillac decided to use their name for a new batch or wrong-wheel drive vehicles.
Click here for brochure pic.
Look at the picture of the 1990+ model above. Aside from the headlights, not much else is obviously different in comparison to previous model years, right? Overall, you’d be correct. It did remain pretty much the same until it bowed out… except the name. For model years 1987-1992, it was to be known simply as the Brougham. Yes, the d’Elegance was still available.
As mentioned earlier with the De Ville twins, the Fleetwood name was also used for worse or for worse on a wrong-wheel drive chassis –standard and limousine-sized (!!)– starting on ’85 but was completely yanked and pasted to those cars in ’88 and remained so all the way until the Brougham’s replacement came out, the full-size 1993 Cadillac Fleetwood, RWD as God intended.
Earlier cars could be had with 7.0L (EFI available as an option) or the 6.0L big blocks (code-name L61, 1980-1981), both from Cadillac. It’s the latter versions that received the equipment that would transform it into the infamous (L62) V8-6-4 for ‘81. ). The also infamous Oldsmobile 5.7L Diesel V8 (available since ’78-‘79) could be had in the De Ville twins and Fleetwood Brougham, as well as other models, the Eldorado and Seville.
Younger and older brother. On the left: the grille is from ’82-’86. The winglets in the amber lens appeared for ’84. The thicker white line on the front bumper molding came around for ’86. The hood body-line chrome spears indicate it’s a Fleetwood Brougham, a sedan, circa 1986.
Later on after the significant 1980 refresh, this generation of Cadillac came with the ‘High-Technology’ HT-4100 throttle-body-injected 4.1L V8 (the same displacement as the optional Buick V6), an engine that was used within the Cadillac family of the time, including the then-new breed of wrong-wheel drive Cadillacs. It was saddled to GM’s 200-4R 4-speed automatic transmission, when other engines used to make due with just three gears from the ol’ TH400. This iron-head/iron-sleeved aluminum block-based architecture may have been light, smooth-running and even technologically impressive, but lacked power and wasn’t all that efficient, either.
UK-spec’d 1983 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. Note the UK-compliant taillights and rear foglamps add-ons. Take a moment to bask in the privacy-enhancing rear glass that Brougham brochures always touted. In case you’re wondering (like I did) that’s a UK-spec Pontiac Trans Sport on the left.
The HT-4100 suffered more than its share of problems –most of them stemming from poor, conflicting metallurgy and materials- which has given this engine a tainted reputation as the V8-6-4 and Olds Diesel. A later version of this engine made it into the Cadillac Allanté. Post-HT-4100, other engines used include the L05 Chevrolet 5.0L and the more coveted 5.7L, as well as the L02/LV2 (?) Oldsmobile 307ci (5.0L) for 1986.
Not a very elegant stretch, but it works.
Big Cadillacs were not exempt of the downsizing trend of the 1970s, and as a result these new generations of big Cadillacs were smaller and lighter in relation to their predecessors. Though if the customer was still of the bigger=better mentality and didn’t want to end up with the extra attention/seating of a Fleetwood Limousine, there were coachbuilders that gave this body style a stretch, like Phaeton Coach Corp. and Moloney Coachbuilders (pictured above).
Speaking of conversions, there were always a couple of customers willing to pay for a Cadillac station wagon, since the factory prototype never made it to production. Moloney Coachbuilders did one and looks good, as well as Hess & Eisenhardt, WISCO, Custom Coach Inc. and American Custom Coachworks (ACC).
Here’s a pic of how R.S. Harper Custom Coach Work did their “Estate Brougham Station Wagon” conversions. This one’s also got a sunroof.
If there were wagon conversions, you can bet that there were convertible conversions done on these cars as well.
Hess & Eisenhardt again, with their convertibles taking up the bulk of the search results. But they weren’t alone, as the names of Phaeton Coach Corp. and American Custom Coachworks (ACC) pop again, though they also did 4-door convertibles.
American Custom Coachworks (ACC) Cadillac Paris Sedan De Ville 4-door convertible
Fleetwood Limousine/Fleetwood Formal Limousine brochure piece
All of these companies (as well as Armbruster Stageway, Kelly Stageway, Bradford Coachworks, Limousine Werks, Pinnacle Limousines, O’Gara, Cove Cadillac Corp., etc.) also made limousines, except Hess & Eisenhardt/S&S, as it seems they (as well as Miller Meteor, Superior, McClain Leasing, etc.) did only ambulance/funeral vehicle conversions. Here’s the link for some of those. While passenger cars’ engine displacement shrank, that wasn’t the case for limos and commercial chassis vehicles, being equipped with the aforementioned Cadillac 7.0L and 6.0L… including the V8-6-4 mechanism. But Brougham-only limos carried the Olds 5.0L and Chevy’s 5.0L and 5.7L as well.
There were also Presidential Limousines:
“After decades of Lincolns, Cadillac was finally given the chance to produce a limousine for the secret service in the early 1980s during the Reagan administration. Appearing in 1984 was a pair of 1983 Fleetwoods built by Hess & Eisenhardt. Since the coachbuilder started with production Fleetwood limousines, the cars were stretched only 17 inches and their roofs raised three inches. Power for both came from Cadillacs own massive 500 cubic-inch V8. Though awkward in appearance, the Fleetwoods provided excellent visibility for the president. Large greenhouses were made possible by the development of 2 3/8ths inch think bulletproof glass and powerful air conditioning systems that kept the cabin cool.” — http://www.motorcities.org
There were also limousine conversions done that mimicked the Presidential limos, so don’t jump to conclusions when finding one with that unique greenhouse design out in the wild!
Just as rare are the Presidential security cars, the ones that the secret service rode hanging on outer guardrails and running boards, also by Hess & Eisenhardt.
Cadillac Caribou ad. Note how they ape the “Best Of All… It’s A Cadillac” slogan.
A more, um, specialized type of conversion would be the luxury pick-up. These are not to be confused with flower cars. American Custom Coachworks (ACC) with their Paris De Ville (did they really name every conversion after the capital of France?) conversions and Caribou did these.
The ULTIMATE conversion has to go to Matthews Motor Coach Co.’s Coupe De Ville-based Cadillac Diamante neo-classic car. In ’79, it would’ve set you back $65,000 or $208,704.97 in today’s money. $14K+ for a Coupe De Ville doesn’t seem so crazy, does it?
Scene from the excellent movie Black Rain, where Cadillacs of this vintage were good enough for the Yakuza.
There are many reasons why these big Caddys are my favorite of the late 1970’s-1980’s. Growing up on re-runs, you’d see plenty of them used by characters of importance, good or bad. Growing up in real life, there were plenty of them on the streets, but you could tell right away which ones weren’t being babied:
The filler panel between the rear fenders and the tailfin-lights were missing on many. That and the condition of the hubcaps, if not missing. It was embarrassing. Then again, if Cadillac parts were as expensive then as they are now, well…
One of my favorite canceled shows of the last couple of years –Sym-bionic Titan– used a Fleetwood Brougham coupe hot-rodded with alien technology as transportation. Click here for a fan-made The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift parody using the show’s street racing episode (it’s titled Roar of the White Dragon. Click here to see the actual episode). You won’t believe how well it all works out.
There’s always that one guy that breaks the mold. More info on this masterpiece here.
Beyond childhood memories and literary/audio-visual entertainment references, there is another reason why I like these cars. Allow me to save ourselves a few thousand words:
Look at the pic above. Guess which one is FWD. If you’ve answered “all of them minus the Fleetwood Brougham”, you’re right. Remember, the De Ville went wrong-wheel-drive in ’85. But my quips don’t end at RWD fetishism. While they have their high points, none of these cars do it for me. The Cimarron has become an automotive curiosity in my eyes, but that’s not enough. Their designs are so uninspiring that my brain doesn’t bother trying to separate one from the other (which is saying something, since these differ more between each other in relation to the Deville twins and Fleetwood Brougham previous to ’85.). And that’s before you mix ‘em up with their corporate cousins from Buick and Olds. Usually I go against the whole “all cars look the same today” argument because I believe it’s always relative to the design philosophies of the time, but this time I draw the line. Perhaps that’s because it’s GM.
The old-fashioned way the Fleetwood Brougham (using it as an example out of all of the variations of the chassis) delivered the Cadillac experience countered all the engine-related problems and dated nature as well as the sea of change that GM put itself through. Old people afforded it drove it but I didn’t think of it as an old people’s car, unlike the rest of that lineup. It stands out. It screams Cadillac. It’s cool. I could tell as a little boy, as well as a teenager. I wouldn’t have bothered drawing ‘em in Middle-School/High School study hall if I didn’t believe so.
Fleetwood Brougham intro pic: wheelsage.org
Dealer view: http://retropopcult.tumblr.com
D’Elegance brochure pic: https://notoriousluxury.files.wordpress.com
Moloney Coachbuilders 1978 Fleetwood Brougham ad: https://www.flickr.com/photos/autohistorian/albums
Moloney Coachbuilders Fleetwood Brougham station wagon: http://jalopnik.com
H&E Vert Caddy: http://ink361.com
ACC 4-door convertible pic: https://www.flickr.com/people/127955147@N08/
Diamante ad: eBay
Fleetwood Formal Limousine ad: http://www.oldcarbrochures.com
1977 Sedan De Ville, Phaeton Coach Corporation ad, Cadibou ad, front-end compare and wagon conversion: https://www.flickr.com/people/that_chrysler_guy/
1986 Cadillac line-up ad and 1983 engines: https://www.flickr.com/photos/smokuspollutus/albums
Brougham pic and Presidential Limo: autowp.ru
Presidential security car: http://cadillacdatabase.com
Black Rain scene: http://www.imcdb.org
Animated Caddy: http://sym-bionic-titan.wikia.com
Autocross Cadillac: http://www.jherush.com
Black Caddy driving: http://www.cryark.com
Rear/Front Cadillac sketches: Le me.