Five years ago, I encountered this 1972 Coupe DeVille on one a walk near downtown Eugene. It inspired a story, which became the first Curbside Classic, in March of 2009 at TTAC. Little did I know that it would spawn a very successful series and a dedicated web site two years later. So I decided to revisit the old Caddy, to see how much it’s changed. The answer: A whole lot less than I have.
I’ve learned more in the past five years about older cars than I could ever have imagined. Good thing too, since I started out on the wrong foot, identifying this Caddy as a 1971, when it’s actually a ’72; an inauspicious beginning!
This ’72 DeVille sits in front of 385 Lawrence St., along with its faithful companions, a 1976 (or so) Toyota Corolla, which inspired its own CC one year later, and an old bread truck. All three have been there for years; maybe decades for all I know. The only thing that’s changed is the car in front; now it’s a Fiat 500.
Back in 2009, it was a matching silver Honda Element. Presumably the Element and Fiat are the daily drivers; the Cadillac certainly isn’t. So how exactly did it come to be that this particular tired old Caddy inspired Curbside Classics? Here’s a little bit of the back story, as I certainly didn’t exactly set out to become an automotive historian. For that matter, I’m not sure I really consider myself one yet.
It all started on a dark and stormy night in December of 2006. In a desperate effort to stem the decline in brain cells, I wrote and sent my first submission to TTAC, about the future of Chrysler’s minivans, no less. It was published, and I was encouraged to write more. My second post, “Peek Oil” (not my choice of title), taking on the volatile subject of questioning oil change intervals, went viral, compiling over 100k hits as well as a radio interview on KABC. Suddenly I was a “blogger/automotive expert”; the web is a scary place. And I discovered bobistheoilguy.com, and learned (and forgot) more about motor oil than I ever knew was possible. It’s one of those bottomless (oil)pits.
I made then-TTAC Executive Editor Robert Farago very happy with that piece, and quickly re-learned what I already knew from my tv days: controversy sells. I’ve indulged in a wee bit of that over the years (GM Deadly Sins?), but I wasn’t really interested in generating that for its own sake.
In fact, for my third submission, I took a very different tack: a gauzy memoir of my early childhood obsession (and encounters) with cars in Innsbruck, Austria, in the fifties. It was not intended to be a series, but I was encouraged to keep writing more chapters of the Auto-Biography, which became a Saturday morning staple at TTAC, like the COAL series now here at CC.
Next up, I was encouraged to try my hand at a new car review. Once can’t exactly get press cars in Eugene, although TTAC wasn’t getting press cars anywhere back then, especially Subarus, due to Faragos’ infamous “flying vagina” comment in his review of the 2005 Tribeca. That got him fired from writing reviews for newspapers, and forced him to focus his energies on TTAC, which was a rather different place back then. More like a salon; less like a bar.
So I went to my friendly Subaru dealer and was very honest: I wanted to take a 2007 Forester XT for an extended drive so that I could write a review. And they obliged, quite readily. I didn’t realize just how fast these were: 0-60 in 5.3 seconds; 1/4 mile in 13.8 seconds; the fastest car I’d ever driven to date. They were faster than the WRX because of lower final gearing. Writing the review was a bit of a challenge, especially in 800 words (as all posts at TTAC back then had to be): it’s really more like impressions than a proper review (Forester XT review ere).
I only did a couple more reviews, as begging cars from dealers wasn’t all that much fun. But my Scion gen2 review also went viral, as it was just about the first review of it to hit the internet, and called it out for what it was.
TTAC’s founder Robert Farago is quite the character, and I didn’t learn until sometime later that he had been a professional hypnotist in England for ten years prior to moving back to the US, reviewing cars and starting TTAC, which got its break-through due to his GM Deathwatch series, which is how I first found the site. His having been a hypnotist explained a lot. And one thing became clear very quickly: his automotive historical knowledge was about as deep as TTAC’s commitment to the “the truth”. So by default, I became the automotive historian, for better or for worse.
My first stab at the subject, “In Defense of the Corvair“, is a bit sketchy, for trying to take on way too large of a subject in 800 words. And I gave GM way too much of a pass in its irresponsible deletion of the front anti-sway bar and rear anti-camber compensating spring. But since a ’63 Corvair was my first car, and it did have the optional sport suspension with the sway bar and rear camber limiters, I was a bit prejudiced, and it showed. Maybe that’s why I felt the need to write this DS piece five years later, questioning GM’s decisions and execution in building the 1960 Corvair.
In addition to my weekly Auto-Bio posts, I took on other subjects. I was interested in finding “the truth”, even if there is of course no ultimate arbiter of that. But a bit of common sense, skepticism, and some real-world experience were a useful guide in taking on such subjects as Audi’s UA (Unintended Acceleration) fiasco in the 1980s. To see a car company so destroyed by utter nonsense and malicious tampering that it almost exited the US market was mind-boggling. My take on that (“In Defense of the Audi 5000″) was of course years later, but it did inject a very fundamental bit of obvious truth that was remarkably poorly understood, even by all-too many “car guys”: that brakes are always much more powerful than engines. Some folks still don’t seem to get that.
In the fall of 2008, TTAC had a budget cut-back, so I quit writing, and got caught up on other projects. But my son Ed, who was then the Managing Editor, called me in February of 2009, begging me to write something; anything. And so it was one day on our regular urban hikes that we saw this grizzled old veteran of a Caddy right near the railroad tracks. It triggered a memory, of riding in one on the hitchhiking trip when I left home in February of 1971. (CC here).
Now this wasn’t the very first time that I shot an old car on the streets of Eugene, or had it published on the web. I had been following Murilee Martin’s Down on the Street series at Jalopnik, on of the first of the genre. And since he had mentioned a lack of Saabs in Alameda, I went and shot this one sitting in front of a nearby cafe where I’d seen it the day before, with a For Sale sign ($800). I sent it to MM, and he posted it (link here). This was in March of 2008. (I did a CC on the same car later).
I also sent him pics of this incredibly pristine Sapporo, which he also ran. And which I also later wrote up as a CC. Now some folks have said that I ripped off MM’s DOTS, when I started CCs at TTAC in 2009. Well, it may have inspired my CCs, but there was always a very big difference. DOTS were never more than shots and a paragraph or two of text; what we’d call an Outtake here. Click on the two links just above to get an idea of how different the approaches were. Umm; one of us was putting a whole lot more into the concept than the other. And it’s not exactly like MM was the first person to post shots of old parked cars.
But his series rightfully did inspire me to document the incredibly rich resource of old cars in Eugene, even if it was in a substantially different style.
My first CC on the Caddy was autobiographical in nature, as well as political, as it was written in the depths of the financial crisis in March 2008. I also didn’t know if this was a one-shot deal, depending on the reaction. Well, it was an encouraging start, and I started posting one CC per week.
In September of 2009, TTAC Founder Robert Farago left, and son Ed took his post. Since Ed’s experience was rather thin, especially outside of his interest in politics, he hired me (based on my strong suggestion) as his Managing Editor. I started posting CCs three times per week, as well as lots of other content, obviously. At one point, I was writing one CC as well as two-three other blog posts, five days per week. And pretty much in charge of the weekend content. I learned to be quick, efficient, and just crank them out.
The real seeds of a CC web site started when one day I had the idea to create a Portal for all the CCs I was writing, since I knew these articles had “legs”, unlike most short-form blog posts. Sure enough; after a while, the Portal was getting some 250k views per month, and bringing lots of new visitors to it from Google searches.
To make a long and complicated story short, I quit TTAC in January of 2011. Things just weren’t working out well, as might be imagined given the dynamics. But I couldn’t leave CCs; so I snagged the curbsideclassic.com domain name, and started work on this new site, which went live just three weeks later.
Ok, enough of the personal history; how about the actual car? Isn’t that what we’re really here for? So we went back recently to take new shots, and document what five year’s worth of weathering does, even in our benign climate. I was particularly interested in the progress that the vinyl top was making, since it has such an advanced case of vinyloma. Oh; the train is coming by; how convenient.
Like so many hundreds of other cars and vehicles, I’ve long been meaning to do a Trackside Classic on our “Cascades” Talgo Trains that run between Eugene and Portland (and on to
Seattle Vancouver, B.C.) , Amtrak’s NW Corridor.
Talgo trains were invented (and are built) in Spain, and are very lightweight, sharing a single axle between each of the short cars.
And they have a patented system that tilts the car a bit in curves, offsetting some of the apparent effects of centrifugal force. Not that the run to Portland has hardly any curves, or runs fast enough to notice. The $10 Bolt bus is faster and much cheaper, but it is a nice ride if one is not in a hurry.
It’s a bi-directional train set, but only one end is powered. This is the “dummy” end, an older locomotive without its prime mover, and used as the control car for the return trip. Isn’t ADD wonderful? Back to the Caddy…
A close-up of its roof shows it to be in a wonderfully advanced state of become a new Eco-sysyem of sorts. Lichens feeding on decaying vinyl?
But the “Coupe deVille” emblem is still intact.
This window was still intact five years ago. Someone obviously broke in, although I can’t imagine why.
That means we can only see the rear seat. It’s seen better days.
Here’s the front seat from the shoot from five years ago. Just as I remember it from the story I told about riding in one through the mountains of Western Pennsylvania, with a high school kid at the wheels who could barely keep it in its lane.
But I did get a pretty clean shot from the driver’s side. How did that happen? I always tell our Contributors not to do that, because of the inevitable glare.
This Caddy obviously started its long live somewhere else, because Oregon does not cause this kind of rust. or where these Caddys that bad in terms of rust resistance? And only on the one side; odd.
These sure make a fab three-some. This owner has had this collection of his at the curb here for ages; beats paying for a storage lot.
My apologies; I’ve really wandered all over the map here tonight. But let’s make a date to return to this Cadillac five years from now and check in on it again. I’m betting it’ll still be here.