Such a seemingly simple word certainly incites strong feelings around here. After a recent piece on a ’72 Mercury Marquis Brougham (CC here), it seemed appropriate to further investigate the history of the word, its associations and why it provokes either euphoria or nausea.
The use of the word “brougham” in regards to transportation hails back to the early to mid-1800’s when Lord Henry Peter Brougham of England commissioned the design of a carriage with a front mounted window.
Whether the incorporation of a window was his idea or simply a design element he made fashionable is unknown. Lord Brougham would later become Lord Chancellor of Great Britain.
Upon the creation of the automobile, use of the word was transferred to automobiles having an enclosed passenger compartment and an open driver station. Automobiles of this type were generally expensive and chauffeur driven – presumably, those who could afford such a car did not want to ride with the hired help in the same compartment.
image source: www.gmheritagecenter.com
General Motors can be credited (or blamed) for transitioning the term “Brougham” to a specific automobile, rather than a type of automobile. In 1916, Cadillac had their first Brougham; it is interesting Cadillac also offered the $3,600 six passenger “Berlin” that year, while the rest of the world was mired in the Great War.
So what is the definition of “Brougham” as it applies to automobiles produced since, say 1965? Webster’s doesn’t give an automotive related definition, nor is there a definitive definition found online (although Urban Dictionary has a few definitions that thoroughly mangle and butcher the English language). In the interest of facilitating fairness and promoting clarity, and for the purpose of this article, “Brougham” is being defined as:
Any automobile clearly identified as such by its manufacturer via badges or name in addition to being documented as such.
To look at it another way, any car (two- or four-door) laden with a vinyl roof, wire wheel covers, and falsely luxurious pretenses does not automatically constitute it as being a Brougham unless it is so stated by the manufacturer. Thinking in analogies, you can put red lights and a siren on a four-door sedan but it is not a true police car unless the manufacturer certifies it as being such.
While we all know the Ford LTD of 1965 was the first hatchling of the Great Brougham Epoch, the name Brougham did not officially appear on a LTD until 1970. There were a plethora of cars with Brougham on the brain throughout the 1970’s and even 1980’s (Chrysler Cordoba, anyone?), but the reasoning for the admittedly strict approach outlined above will soon be evident.
One might be inclined to believe that The Great Brougham Epoch was the exclusive domain of the North American market. That, like many other stereotypes, can be easily disproved.
For instance, typing “Brougham” into the Google search tool at the top of this page yields this Australian market Holden Brougham, no version of which was never sold in the United States. With Australia having been ensnared in the tentacles of the Brougham, who else may have joined the party?
A wikipedia search for “Brougham” gives us this Daewoo. Similarly, it was never available in the United States. Arguably the United States has had a higher Brougham populace, with products ranging from the
Cadillac Eldorado Brougham of 1957 to
the unlikely Valiant Brougham of 1975, to
the 1996 Cadillac Brougham.
The Great Brougham Epoch started with the 1965 Ford LTD (CC here). Its appeal was predicated upon offering as standard what would ultimately come to be the definitive elements of Broughamantic posturing – nicer trim, a few chrome embellishments, and a jazzier sounding name – all on a car with humble origins. And it worked. For 1965, Ford sold 105,729 examples of the new LTD, a car that was nothing more than a Galaxie wearing slightly nicer garments and fancier cologne. The flood gates were opened with Chevrolet following suit with its 1966 Caprice and Plymouth, with the 1967 Fury VIP.
As the years unfolded, nearly all the other United States car manufacturers jumped aboard the Brougham express, giving the car buying public something a little nicer and a little more pretentious, if not always classier.
In an effort to better understand the jubilation and repulsion of Broughamification, the popularity of Brougham consumption was analyzed, as seen below. Using 50 Years of American Automobiles, 1939 to 1989 by the Editors of Consumer Guide, Brougham sales by brand were tabulated for the years from 1965 to 1988. In an effort to create as objective a review as possible, only those cars having the word “Brougham” in either name or trim level as found in the book were counted.
As such, there is no official Brougham for Ford in years one would typically expect, nor are there any entries for Lincoln or Buick. Perhaps Buick did slap a Brougham tag on some of their cars, but nothing was documented as such. The same applies to Imperial.
There were a handful of instances (with Ford, Mercury, Plymouth, and Oldsmobile) where the base model production totals were clumped together with the upscale Brougham trim. In such cases, the production was assumed to have a 50/50 split between the two trim levels.
As this book only covers cars produced by AMC, Ford Motor Company, Chrysler Corporation, and General Motors, the examination is limited to them only. However, as these makers were the prime purveyors (or perpetrators) of Brougham, that is sufficient.
Let’s start with Ford.
The peak of Ford’s Brougham affair occurred in 1973. Oddly, the duration of Mercury’s illicit Brougham dalliance lasted twice as long as Ford’s.
The spike in Mercury Brougham sales in the 1980s stems from the Fox bodied Marquis. The culprit of Brougham sales prior to 1980 was primarily the full-sized Marquis line, although there was a Cougar Brougham and as well as a Montego predecessor.
The first Brougham from Mercury was the 1967 Mercury Park Lane Brougham.
For 1979, the LTD II was the last standing Brougham at Ford as no Panther bodied LTD or LTD Crown Victoria was christened as a Brougham.
With Chrysler’s acquisition of AMC in 1987, the attempt at an Ambassador Brougham is being clumped in with Chrysler. Yes, there were very broughamy AMC’s, but they just weren’t officially Broughams.
Dodge and Plymouth both dipped their toes into the Brougham pond for 1971 with the Dodge Coronet and Plymouth Satellite, but the water must have been too cold.
With the restyled full-sizers for 1974, Plymouth and Dodge came charging back, to join brother Chrysler in the Brougham escapade. This time Dodge and Plymouth shared the Broughamance between the mid-sized and full-sized offerings, such as this Gran Fury.
During the 1980’s, Oldsmobile was rightfully blasted for their shamelessness in using the Cutlass nameplate on just about everything. Yet when it comes to Brougham, Oldsmobile was like the boy who doesn’t hit puberty until age 15 and then grows into a giant. Not starting to use the Brougham moniker until 1975, Oldsmobile would soon be completely intoxicated by the name,
even going so far as using it on the Chevrolet Nova based Oldsmobile Omega
and its front-drive replacement. Oldsmobile was brazen enough to use the words “Cutlass” and “Brougham” on both its Supreme line and the Ciera. In 1984 and 1985, Oldsmobile was out-broughaming the rest of General Motors combined, by a factor of five.
By the definition given above, Chevrolet didn’t officially join the Brougham Brotherhood until 1986 with the Caprice Classic Brougham (CC here). Ah, both “Classic” and “Brougham”.
The anti-Brougham contingent is absolutely correct in saying the Brougham is crass, tacky, and shameful. Just look at the examples this name was attached to, some of which can be seen in this article.
If the intention of Brougham was to create an air of prestige in an ordinary car, as was the case with the 1965 LTD, how was this credibly achieved this with an X-body Omega or A-body Ciera? Was the Ciera a good car? Yes. Was it able to create a convincing aura of luxury swirled with a whiff of condescension? Absolutely not. It came across as well as Hamburger Helper at a steak house.
Most of the various ads seen above are uncropped to allow full intake of marketing propaganda. Doing so allows one to understand the sheer audacity being bandied about at the time. Several of the ads even seem to admit some degree of defeat.
A Valiant styled like European cars? What European cars? The Valiant was a great car, but it was about as European as a bowl of grits. The Omega touts itself as being roomier and less expensive than a Volvo 244. While that is a valid observation, did anyone actually cross-shop the two? Neither is being sold on their own unique merits and both appear to be painfully tarted up to gain an audience,
much like the aging entertainer who keeps having plastic surgery in a vain attempt to retain his youthful appearance.
Broughams were the epitome of all that was wrong in Detroit at the time: vinyl tops that promoted rust; wire wheel covers on bottom rung cars; interiors as tasteful as a Las Vegas bordello and in general, promoting luxury on cars woefully short of substance, hardly competitive with European or Asian competitors.
Churning out product like this for so long, it’s no wonder The Big Three eventually lost market share.
Those who are so vehemently against Brougham simply don’t get the point. The intention of a Brougham is to provide the buyer with something a little nicer, a bit more comfortable, and with a touch more class. Going Brougham yielded the buyer a car that was tangibly different yet cost little extra to acquire. To the never ceasing credit of every manufacturer, they did a terrific job of giving buyers what they wanted. Face it, if the market doesn’t want it, it won’t be purchased – just ask Ford about their efforts in selling safety in 1956. For the years from 1965 to the late 1980’s, the Brougham was always in charge.
A distinct and generally overlooked factor of The Great Brougham Epoch is the general demographic for Brougham purchasers. It was a often aimed at children of The Great Depression, a populace whose childhood and early adult years were vastly different from what many of us experienced. These people appreciated the benefits of a little extra luxury for a minimal entry fee; they also had a different definition of luxury than did their children.
There is nothing anymore offensive about the Brougham than there is in the blandness and sterility of a higher end, non-Brougham car. A Brougham caters to what its buyer wants, be it a few more conveniences, a more upscale appearance, or a more sophisticated demeanor. So what if the special talents of a Brougham are applied to smaller cars? A good business knows its clientele and gives them what they desire – or makes them desire something not previously considered. So why should a person who by choice or circumstance is seeking a smaller car not be given the latitude to fulfill their desires? The Brougham was market driven, just as Oldsmobile sales reflect.
Perhaps the Gran Fury ad best encapsulates the Brougham philosophy; it is trying to comfort you in a manner similar to what you have in your home. Why should a person spend a significant amount on a car simply to be uncomfortable whenever they spend time inside it? Let’s be honest; a Brougham is purchased because its owner liked it, found it appealing, and truly did not care what people think. Others could buy whatever penalty box they wanted – Brougham intenders wanted something that appealed to their fundamental desire for comfort.
Broughams were the embodiment of everything that Detroit knew the market was yearning for and they delivered it in abundance.
Style and taste are very fluid; you may have worn clothes or sported a hairstyle ten, twenty, or more years ago which seemed fashionable at the time but which isn’t any longer. The same happens with cars. In twenty years, that silver jellybean in your driveway with its 20″ wheels and obtrusive console will either be embraced as a wonderful creation or will be the source of profound derision. It’s the Brougham of the future.
I may be one of the few who is indifferent to the allures or allergy inductions of Broughams. For me, a Brougham is just another form of automotive expression, like a lifted 4×4, a CUV, or a motorcycle. Think about a Brougham in terms of family – appreciate it for what it is and be aware of its faults; spend time with it accordingly.