(first posted 5/10/2013) Walking to my mandolin lesson in scenic Long Island City (or as I call it, Where The Taxis Live™), when I see something big and green as I turn the corner…what the hell is THAT??
1975 Coupe DeVille? Sure. We’ve gone over the model evolution before (1975 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham). But there’s something different on this curbside….
It’s a genuine ‘70s Pimpmobile. With true pomp to befit it. Behold the ultra-padded vinyl top! The dual opera windows! You gotta give the builder some credit. This top is in great shape, and for a custom-something from the ’70s, that’s amazing. There’s also no visible rust in any of the usual spots and it is fully tinted, so I’m guessing it was originally from a temperate climate.
“Custom Regent”. Internet searching of this term comes up with only a few things; one of which is an AACA forum post from ’02 describing a 1974 with the same options being parted out; the others tell me that Plymouth had Satellite wagons called either “Custom” OR “Regent”. It looks to resemble the Plymouth’s script, so I’m fathoming a guess that the builder liked the combination of the two names and got himself a few Mopar junkyard badges for his projects.
However, the listing for a “Custom Regent” was for a car somewhere in Florida, and I’m certain that this sort of less-Pimpy pimpery was entirely common down there. Gosh, it could be a dealership special, too – imagine my beloved Aunt Estelle being shown one of these down at her Cadillac dealer in Sarasota? Oy.
Ah, the fake Rolls-Royce grille, the prow seen here from the side. The grille cap is the hallmark of true pimp style. This one appears to be missing its once, I’m sure, utterly (ahem) glorious Winged Ecstasy “Goddess” knock-off. (More like Winged EssexCounty, New Jersey.)
But sadly, all we see is the flaking rust of cut-rate chrome plating surrounding the big ol’ hole.
Getting back to the meat of things…How ironic that this Lincoln-esque touch is the crowning hallmark of the Pimpmobile- which were most often Caddys. And it destroys the actual intended line of the front end as originally designed…which is decidedly anti-Lincoln.
No top chrome on the coffin-nose; just a simple band around the trademark Caddy eggcrate grille. Sigh. A great design. How and why did this awful aftermarket “styling” begin?
To explain, let’s talk about the Pimpmobile phenomenon. Broadly disseminated beginning In approximately 1971, with the release (and subsequent 1973 rerelease) of Gordon Parks, Jr.’s SuperFly, and subsequent movies of the “Blaxploitation” genre, this concept, which I will define as “A car as representative of the true underlying power and worth of an individual stuck in terrible socioeconomic circumstances, as a raised middle finger against the Man, through expression of pure individuality with severe customizations upon said vehicle” took our young nation by storm.
This is never more simply and eloquently expressed than in the final scene of SuperFly, in which Ron O’Neal’s drug-hustling protagonist, Priest (who is trying to leave the world of vice) fells “the Man,” (a corrupt whitebread upper-level NYPD heavy who attempted to con Priest into one last hustle for his own gain, at Priest’s expense). Priest then drives away, a bit angrily, but with a whole lot of dignity and class.
Now, if that isn’t a badass giving a finger to the Man, then I don’t know what is. Trying to get over, indeed.
While this sort of over-the top car customization was certainly present prior to the film’s release, Les Dunham, a Boonton- NJ-based car customizer, must have been surprised when the calls started coming in after the SuperFly release. Apparently the producers rented the movie car (a ’71 Eldo ‘vert) from one of Dunham’s customers after seeing it parked somewhere in New York City. The owner was a pimp named “K.C.” (who actually wound up in a cameo role in the movie). This bit of luck quite literally made Dunham’s career, as it led to Les being contracted by the producers of Live and Let Die to build the “Corvarado” for a “pimp” scene in the movie.
It’s quite a bit of vehicle for any Bond, even Roger Moore. This precursor to the Cadillac XLR is …nothing more than a somewhat massaged Caddy body and parts over a Corvette chassis. In the front shot, it looks like any old slightly-blinged Eldo …but from the back and sides, you can clearly see its roots as a ‘Vette.
I’ll posit that this appearance in the Bond film more than likely took the unfortunate style to the masses, and also, sadly, furthered the actual exploitation of the communities and styles depicted in the so-called “Blaxploitation” films.
Regardless, by 1975, the concept had infiltrated modern ‘cool’ culture to the extent it was found unironically in mainstream funk songs and driven by the god of funk himself, Mr. Isaac Hayes.
One of my favorite song references from this time is “Mr. Cool”, by Rasputin’s Stash – there’s a line about driving a “long white pig,” “Pig” apparently being a ‘70s reference to thirsty Caddys. White on white in white, you dig?
You’ll be pleased to know Les Dunham is running strong, making all things once-dull flash, sparkle and bling, and giving the world the chance to express their pimp-tentions on innocent Cadillac flesh, with hand-made reproductions of his silver-screen success available for the true connoisseur.
But back to our subject at hand. What I find most interesting about our subject car is its distinct lack of flash… It’s quite subtle, at least by seventies standard…no fake Duesy exhaust, no bug-eye lights… But remember my Aunt Estelle down in Sarasoty (that’s how she says it, anyway)? Seems my guess wasn’t too far off.
Researching the grille cap, I came across this tidbit from www.cadillacdatabase.org:
In the mid- to late-seventies it was not uncommon for some major Cadillac dealers like Potamkin in New York or Center City Cadillac in Philadelphia, to dress up basic Cadillac models like the bottom-line Calais (adding some special trim items like a Cabriolet padded roof, a grille cap, script ID badges) and to sell them as custom jobs with such fancy, French-sounding names like Régent, d’Etoile, d’Marchand, etc. Those unfortunate de and d’ prepositions are largely overworked in the pseudo-French practised by many coach-builders in the USA.
Yeesh…the thought of Dr. Joe Kornbluth (“My cousin, the urologist!”) pimpin’ out prostate exams in exchange for easy payments on a vinyl-topped Brougham d’Merde at good ol’ Potamkin boggles the mind. (Potamkin is a NY institution, btw. Their 70s commercials were legendary, but all I could find was this gem from 1983.
Remember, if you didn’t get your car at Potamkin, you probably paid too much!
Of course, someone could also have won this car on Let’s Make a Deal. That actually might make the most sense of all. I mean, you win a car on a game show, it’s not going to be totally up to your specs, right?
And you got a few extra bucks lying around, since all you had to pay were taxes…Might as well give your new ride a makeover. Just go to Wisco:
And build the Caddy of your dreams! Sigh…anyway, the CDVCR’s grille cap seems to match up with the Wisco stuff; I’m guessing these were pretty common items then. Why not, with Caddy crankin’ em out a mile a minute…sub-Standard of the World.
The “Restyling” offered by these fine American companies actually makes a lot of sense in the context with the crap Caddy was putting out, and the ever-present need for people to raise their own flag. If anything, these companies are in the tradition of classic coachbuilders, albeit on asmaller scale of actual hands-on production and design and utilizing mass-produced “glamor” parts. The demand was there, and for the first time, supply met up with it, leading to the glut of semi-customized large barges that still lurk out there, like this one.
Forgetting all the pimpery for a second (though it is certainly seared into my brain), this is also the first time I’ve ever seen a square headlight CDV in the flesh. It’s a helluva car for this Cadillac fan to experience.
Sporting the last real Cadillac engine, the ubiquitous 500 ci v8, under its massive hood, the 1975 sported a no-lead engine and a pitiful 8.25:1 compression ratio, for a mere 210(!) net horsepower (but a still-hearty helping of twist: 380 lb-ft). There are probably massive cats under the car, unless they’ve been bypassed (I couldn’t get underneath to see). 1975 was the first year for US automakers to introduce catalytic converters across the board.
Interestingly, the axle ratio was changed in 1975 on all Cadillacs except limos to increase mileage, which is somewhat laughable…even with a 27.5 gallon tank, what kind of range can a 4-barrel, 8.2 liter monstrosity expect? Luckily, fuel injection was an option…for $688! (I’m sure Cousin Joe would much rather buy himself an extra grille cap, of course. “With the money I’ve saved, darling, I can buy one to class up the family LTD wagon!”)
I’ve seen quite a few surviving Sedan DeVilles and Eldos from this period on the street here in rust-friendly NYC, but not sure why I haven’t seen any CDVs; they were the most produced of any Cad model in 1975, with 110,000 slapped together in Detroit. And damn, I like the styling…a lot. I think the 1975 remodel was really gorgeous and classic, referencing Cadillac’s past and boldly looking forward.
There’s the hint of pontoon at the front, bringing to mind the 1947 Series 60.
And looked at from the side, the slab-side back end with just a hint of skeg screams 1966. I especially like the little flare on the lip of the fender skirt. Sexy.
But lest us get caught up with the Cadillac’s style aspirations of the time, which weren’t all that bad – there’s the execution. Did someone say dissolving urethane bumper fill?
Yup. It’s hard to believe by ‘75 or ‘76 that Caddy hadn’t realized the material was scheisse. Yet they went on using this material til the mid-eighties. I see skeletal remnants of Caddy rear ends all the time in NYC, and they always make me a little sad.
I actually like the interior treatment a lot. The shape of the dash is great, and boy, remember when cars actually had more than four A/C vents? This car looks to have been green from the factory (although of course the metalflake exterior paint is not original), judging by the dash pad color. It looks like 1966 in here, with the wood grain flanking the dash and door panels.
The interior is quite comfortable looking, if nasty and dirty.
It is a pimp car, of course, so God only knows what’s gone down on those seats.
Mmmm..three-tone interior? Do you think the door panels are actually a different color than the seats, or just a vinyl that ages much poorer than the admittedly yucky leather?
So here you have it. As the sun (literally) sets on the best Detroit could do in 1975, I say to the driver: I salute you! Let your pimp flag fly…Cadillac style.