What you’re looking at behind that Ford Excursion SUV is a Cadillac Coupe DeVille from its second-most-plentiful year, 1979. With just under 122,000 coupes sold (out of 215,000 DeVilles total), it also represents the second-to-last model year where the two-door DeVille would outsell the four-door. The very next year, 1980, would be the last time this would happen through the coupe’s final year of ’93. That the ’79 Coupe DeVille achieved near-record sales that model year was even more remarkable given the arrival of the second energy crisis that spring.
Its base price of $11,728 would be the equivalent of about $38,700 in 2015 – which is roughly Lexus IS money. Standard on this Caddy would have been a 425-c.i. (7.0L) V8 churning out 180 hp. Combined with a three-speed automatic transmission, this powertrain would have been good for something like an 11-second 0-60 time and fuel economy of 14/20 mpg hwy/city as estimated by the EPA.
I would have been around Kindergarten-age when this car was new, which was also around the time I would start learning the makes and models of every car whose nameplates I could read. I’d ask Mom or Dad for help when I couldn’t quite make out the cursive ones. As a youth growing up in the factory town of Flint, Michigan, I came to associate these new-ish Coupe DeVilles, and cars like them, with a certain type and class of Genesee County citizen.
Back in ’79, there were no fewer than seven major General Motors plants humming away in the Flint area, with over 70,000 jobs employing folks living in both this area and those surrounding. Many men and women who had toiled in the factories for decades would reach their retirement when I was growing up. Though Flint’s blue-collar middle class would steadily diminish due to plant closures, suburban flight and other causes, it was still fairly sizable at that time. And for many retirees in this immediate region, one of the most popular cars of choice of the upper echelon appeared to be…the Cadillac Coupe DeVille.
Along with the same-era Olds Cutlass Supreme and Buick Electra 225, the first-wave of GM’s downsized DeVilles were cars that my young mind quickly learned to associate with upscale taste and prosperity. Another thing I remember from that period of the late-70’s / early-80’s was that there seemed to be a general lack of extraneous adornment on these cars that I’d observe in traffic. Sure, occasionally I’d see one riding on Cragars or aftermarket wires, but for the most part, the extra stuff I remember seeing on these cars was limited to maybe a pine-tree or Playboy-bunny air freshener dangling from the rearview mirror, a fuzzy steering wheel cover, or “static strips” dragging behind the rear bumper.
My next-door neighbor, Mr. Elia (whose lawn I mowed for years), had retired from Buick on Flint’s north end, if I remember correctly. He also had a downsized GM full-sized biggie not dissimilar from our subject car: a beautiful, silver, ’77 Buick LeSabre coupe that he kept in mint condition well into the late-1980’s. By that time, that car really stood out by virtue of being a large-ish, square-rigged, RWD near-luxury car in a swelling sea of anonymous, aero-shaped front-drivers.
Mr. Elia was a class act and a cool cat, and probably the oldest guy I had ever seen up to my pre-teenage years with a forearm tattoo. The Elias really were great neighbors in our middle-class neighborhood known as the East Village, and people the Dennises liked a lot. Mr. Elia was exactly the kind of retired autoworker I grew to associate with cars like our subject Coupe DeVille: from the old-school, hard-working, and deserving of enjoyment of his GM retirement in something better than a beater Colonnade.
As I was photographing this very stock-looking Caddy, which ended up parked in front of a barber shop, I was slightly wary only because of the transitional nature of this neighborhood. Also, the last thing I wanted was for some nice gentleman to end up with a messed-up haircut because he moved suddenly when he noticed some stranger on the sidewalk paying a little bit too much attention to his well-cared for ride. (There are some things a dab of Brylcreem won’t fix.) But I got my shots and went on my way, and hope the owner would appreciate these pictures.
I try to remain cognizant not to post anything too political on this entertaining and informative site. But even Paul Niedermeyer’s CC (his first) on a ’72 Coupe De Ville ponders somewhat related socio-economic-political realities. There’s something about a Cadillac that inevitably touches on so many aspects of the American experience. I’ll add that the American middle class as a whole still appears to be diminishing and unless a miracle happens, I’ll probably be underwriting insurance policies until I’m at least 70 years old. Having said that, I’d like to think several things will be true in the year 2045: that there will still be manually-operative cars, that they will be somewhat attractive to my eyes, and also that I’ll be able to afford one. But if and when I do reach the age when I’ll be able to enjoy a pension, I hope to roll in something that exudes as much style, class and élan in those days as this ’79 Coupe DeVille did on this otherwise uneventful Saturday afternoon.
Caddy photographs as taken by the author in Uptown, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, October 22, 2011.
General Motors Flint Assembly Plant as photographed by the author in Flint, Michigan.
Sunday, November 17, 2013.
Orrin’s piece on his Buick Electra 225: My Curbside Classic: 1977 Buick Electra 225 – The Green Goddess Of Linden
From Tom Klockau: eBay Classic: 1977 Cadillac Coupe de Ville – More Butter Please!