On a Monday this past February while on vacation in Las Vegas, I came across these three Cadillacs representing three very different eras. Las Vegas and Cadillacs just seem to me to go naturally hand-in-hand. Rat Pack member Sammy Davis, Jr. name-checked Cadillacs in two recordings I can think of: “Lot Of Livin’ To Do” and “Eee-o-Eleven”.
These three representations of GM’s premium make couldn’t have been more different from one another – as different as the respective decades during which each was manufactured.
The first one I saw that day was this pink 1970 Coupe DeVille convertible that was parked next to the Holiday House Motel and its adjacent wedding chapel. Bruce Springsteen (and the late Natalie Cole) immortalized the “Pink Cadillac” in song. There’s something about this ’70 CDV that is so over-the-top, so immodest, and such a spectacle (in other words, so Las Vegas) that speaks to me.
Both its styling and the bright, rich shade of its custom paint are intended to grab your attention like any number of flashy neon signs lining The Strip. There is not a bashful line in its heavily sculpted, super-sized sheetmetal aft of its wide-mouthed grille. Like the era which produced this car, the remaining emblems of this particular time period in this city (Circus Circus, the Plaza, the 70’s-era remodel of the Golden Gate) are what I find the most enjoyable. This is the Las Vegas I came here to see.
A little further south on Las Vegas Boulevard (in front of the still-unfinished Fontainebleau Resort) and heading toward The Strip, this ’55 Sixty Special passed by in traffic in a more subdued shade of pink. By this time, I was starting to wonder if every wedding chapel in Vegas owned a pink Cadillac from some era, though I didn’t see any decorations or markings on this one. I highly doubt it was just a privately owned automobile. To me, this ’55 represents the beginning of Las Vegas’s “boom” years, with the Riviera Hotel & Casino having opened in that same year as the tallest hotel in the entire state of Nevada. My perception is that like this Cadillac, Las Vegas in the mid-to-late 1950’s seemed to have more of a classic elegance about it (El Rancho, the Moulin Rouge) than what would follow by roughly ten to fifteen years later.
This was an era of fedoras, crisply tailored suits, cigarette holders, cigars, and martinis, Pally. Even leisure seemed to have had more of a straightforward, no-nonsense quality to it. This Cadillac’s shade of pink seems less ostentatious and less deliberately limelight-seeking than that of the ’70, perhaps befitting the 55’s greater aura of exclusivity compared with the ’70. “If I can afford a Cadillac, I’m going to have it painted any color I darned well please.” As well you should.
Closer yet toward the Strip, this c. 1987 Coupe DeVille in a demure shade of icy blue crossed the intersection at Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara. It is perhaps here that my “Cadillac as Vegas symbol” metaphor unravels, but I ask that you bear with me. By the late 1980’s, Steve Wynn’s Mirage had opened – then a $360,000,000 spectacle when new (almost $700M, adjusted), and was widely considered to be the first mega-resort casino property on the Strip. The Mirage started a trend of super-scaled resort casinos that spelled the end of the older, more vintage style of lodging and gambling hall along the Strip, with many such establishments being imploded to make way for newer, bigger, more superlatively constructed places.
While the scale of the new-for-’85 FWD DeVille went the opposite direction of new style of Las Vegas resort, to me it still represents a similar idea – a new way of thinking that worked well and adapted for the times, but signaled the death of what many had come to Cadillac dealerships and Las Vegas to experience. The featured ’55 and ’70 Cadillacs wouldn’t actually need to announce their presence with pink paint to command your attention, much like a place like El Cortez could only exist in a place like downtown Las Vegas.
The ’87 CDV is more like the geometric-looking Wynn Las Vegas that could simply be a nice resort in one of many large cities in the United States. In another seventeen years (the age gap between the ’87 and the ’70), this CDV may still grab your attention, but perhaps only in a way that shows how far Cadillac has progressed since the dismal Roger Smith era at GM. It will likely also never be beloved enough to be custom-painted pink.
Things seem to change with such frequency in Las Vegas. When I’m back there next month, I plan to revisit many of my favorite, classic haunts – particularly in the downtown area. With so many properties either crumbling to dust or being remade into something different (not unlike with an “Art & Science” restyle, like the Lady Luck Hotel & Casino’s 2006 – ’13 transformation into the Downtown Grand), I want to get another fix of the classic sites, sounds and smells and take another round of pictures, if only to document a few fading legacies of American leisure. Perhaps a few more Cadillacs will again make their presence known. (RIP, Riviera Hotel & Casino, 1955 – 2016.)
Las Vegas, Nevada.
Monday, February 8, 2016.