Curbside Classic: 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham – Tired, But Soldiering On

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Just one week ago this past Tuesday evening, I was walking to a small gathering at the home of two close friends.  They are the same couple who had invited me over for a bonfire when their friend with the ’73 boattail Riviera had surprised us with the burble of that 455-powered beauty gliding into their backyard.  This was a similar, beautiful, crisp autumn night in my neighborhood of Edgewater.  Fall leaves crunched underfoot as I strode purposefully on the ten minute walk to their house, with a bottle of wine to present as a gift.

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My work week had already gotten off to a start as rotten as this car’s sheetmetal.  Following the elation felt by the entire city the previous week, when the Chicago Cubs had finally won the World Series for the first time in over a century, by 5:01 PM last Tuesday, I had already felt mentally drained and physically tired by a series of challenging scenarios – both inside and outside of work.

My pre-loaded public transit card had mysteriously stopped working, and I had to buy a new one on Monday morning at the station.  A pinched nerve had flared up (which still refuses to stop hurting completely).  There was a steady stream of needy and unresourceful people flowing in and out, unrelenting e-mails and phone calls, and believe me…anyone who tells you a relationship never requires hard work is straight-up lying to you.  However, at this point, here I was – about to break bread with close friends, and on a weekday no less, which is an exception for me.

I don’t feel I need to dumb-down or gloss over the fact that it was an Election Night gathering I was headed to.  What I do feel at liberty to say is that early in the evening, it was hard for me, after two crummy days, not to identify with our featured car.  I spotted it while walking back home around 8:00 PM Central Time, ending the night early in preparation for the workday ahead.

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Much like my foul attitude needed major work that night, the condition of this Cadillac seemed a near-perfect mirror image of my soul right then.  My general state of mind was decidedly not in tune with my religious beliefs, just like this Cadillac’s shape stood in direct contrast to this make’s identity as the “Standard Of The World”.  You’ll never see a Rolls Royce or Mercedes-Benz looking this clapped out and still being driven.  Still, this car’s (very) tired appearance couldn’t entirely mask its regal lines and presence.

These cars are huge, with a total length of 233.7 inches (about nineteen-and-a-half feet long), riding on a 133-inch wheelbase, and weighing over two-and-a-half tons.  A 500-cubic inch Cadillac V8 with either (only) 190 or 215 horsepower provided motivation.  I can’t imagine double-digit city MPGs, even on a good day.  Exactly 24,500 were built, starting at just under $11,000, which is roughly $46,000 / adjusted for 2016 – the starting price of a new, midrange CTS.  It was the last of the biggies before the Big Shrink of ’77.

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I had first photographed this car about five and a half years ago, just one week before I was to start work with my current employer.  What a difference five years makes.  This Fleetwood Brougham’s outward condition looked much better, with still-matching body panels, all four of its wire wheel covers accounted for, and with the car still looking generally original.  I had taken the above shot while walking in the morning from a local motel to my house after having having slept there to try to actually get some rest.

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This was during a period when the belligerent teenage son of my downstairs then-neighbor (a kid who I had seen grow up since I’ve lived in my building) insisted on regularly playing “Gran Turismo” or some other driving game on his Sega Playstation into the early morning hours, with his woofer thumping some serious bass through their ceiling / my floor, while his single mom worked her night shift job.  I’d go downstairs and knock on the door (which he’d answer only sometimes), and property management did what they could.

The problem was eventually resolved when they moved away shortly thereafter, but on these few days in the spring of 2011, I had stumbled across a car that looked as exhausted as I was.  Sleep deprivation is a certain kind of torture I wouldn’t wish on anyone.  I also hope the young man and his mom are doing alright.  Everyone’s situation is different.

Fast-forwarding from 2011 back to last week, as I walked from my friends’ house, I marveled that this car was still here in the neighborhood, five years later.  It was still truckin’ even if so much worse for wear…soldiering on, staking its big, bold claim to its patch of precious, city-curb real estate – resilient, and ready for another day.  It seemed to be saying just by being there, “I’m not dead, yet, and I’m not going anywhere.”  This week is a new, seven-day set.  Like this old Cadillac, I will try to face it with tank-like determination and some dignity…and hopefully, after getting a lot more sleep.

Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
November 8, 2016, and March 23 & 24, 2011.

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