(first posted 3/2/2017) Ralf K. has posted a car that has eluded me so far: a downsized (1977-1994) Cadillac Fleetwood limousine. I found and posted a prior-generation 1973 Fleetwood 75, which was the longest production car ever. The un-downsized ones seem to have more lasting appeal to lovers of what these cars represent: excess. And they sold better too; by the time these downsized ones appeared, the limo market was rapidly moving to aftermarket limos that were much longer than these factory-built jobs. And the whole image of limos was changing, becoming a rolling
barf-mobile party-mobile instead of a truly prestigious and exclusive carriage for the wealthy. But if these weren’t a big (literally) success, it’s midget-mobile successor was an even bigger bust.
Yes, this sad little limo mini-me. It’s hard to believe Cadillac built this, instead of just keeping the bigger one going, since they had already decided to keep the RWD Brougham going. These little FWD limos were an instant joke, and sold terribly (405 in 1985), and after three painful short years, they were history. Not only had Cadillac managed to destroy most of their brand equity in the 1980s, they also destroyed their long-standing grip on the factory limo market.
So when is someone going to find one of these to write up? Good luck.
The only thing more embarrassing than the shrunken-head FWD Cadillac limo was the rather similar Chrysler Executive Limo, which I also found and posted (link below). Oops; not so fast. I just checked the stats on these two mini-limos: the Chrysler executive limo is actually two inches longer than the 1985 Cadillac Fleetwood limo (220.5″ vs 218.6″). Who would have thought? At least the Cadillac packed its mighty 125 hp HT4100 V8, compared the 2.2 or 2.6 fours in the Chrysler. What a shoot-out.
One of my great regrets is not pulling into the local high school parking lot where there was one of these stretch FWD DeVille six-door sedans parked for several years straight. I kept telling myself I’d do it soon, but obviously the kid graduated, and I’ve never seen it again. It took some searching at Google to find a picture of a similar one – right here at CC. Back in 2012, it was posted at the Cohort and written up by Mr. Tactful. That makes me feel a wee bit better for having flubbed that one here.
Ok, we’ve had our deep dive into the sad decline of Caddilac limos. Now I need to go wash my hands.
CC 1973 Cadillac Fleetwood 75: The Longest Production Car Ever
CC 1984 Chrysler Executive Limo: The Ultimate 1980s Folly-Mobile
The problem with limousines is that at one time they were cars for the rich and were very exclusive. Then they hit the rental market so that adults could act rich for a wedding or special occasion. Then they started showing up at high school proms. When they lost their exclusive status, they became fairly common to the point that when you see one now, you don’t even consider that a Rockefeller could be being driven in it, you think it must be high school prom night.
The ultimate,appropriate inspiration credit (demerit?) for these “mini-faux-limo’s” likely was Mike Meyer’s character, Mini-Me. Ah, the perfect image maker for Mini-Me, the mini Deville Limo, the almost perfect parody of the one time, long ago, truly special Cadillac limousine. Imagine Min-Me arriving at Parliament in Ottawa in one of these, Mike Meyers couldn’t have imagined it better or more absurdly.
Roger Smith’s dream became our collective nightmare. A topsy turvy world, a replacement of old values with the “faux”.
I agree that with the current image of riders in elongated “limo’s” being of drunken, declasse’ teenagers, the old image of a “luxury ride” is long gone, passed into the “dustbin of history”. It is hard to imagine “old money” desiring a ride in a widely elongated, stretched Hummer limo. Sic transit gloria.
Cheers, Yr Lyl Fthfl Srvnt
I’ll never be able to see this generation of Cadillac Limo and not see and hear the opening credits of “Diff’rent Strokes” playing in my head. Mr Drummond apparently owned and was driven in one of these.
Today’s useless trivia factoid 😉
Same here…I’ll always remember Mr. D coming to pick up Arnold and Willis in the sleek black Cadillac limousine. Also Michael Knight’s boss Devon Miles also used one.
I was going to mention Devin and the Caddy limo. I loved watching Knight Rider when I was a kid(and still love watching it now) The show airs on the El Rey channel and I got to watching a few of the episodes and noticed that a lot of the baddies/rich folks on the show tooled around in early to mid 1970’s Cadillac limos even though they were 10 years or so old by then because they just screamed classic luxury
Nancy Reagan, the President’s wife, was a very superstitious person. By way of example she had their Bel Air address changed from 666 Saint Cloud Rd. to 668 Saint Cloud Rd. When Reagan was shot in 1981 it was as he was getting into a Nixon-era Lincoln presidential limousine. Around this time an article was circulating about all of the commonalities between Presidents Kennedy and Lincoln, one of which was how they were both shot in Fords, Lincoln at the Ford Theater and Kennedy in the Ford Lincoln automobile.
Not wanting to tempt fate Nancy ordered that the Lincoln, a Ford, be replaced by a Cadillac limo like the one in Paul’s article. We’ve debated this before and IIRC the Reagan limo was specially made with the 425 big block engine which had gone out of production in 1979.
Around the time these came out I was driving limos for a large funeral home. They ran a black 1971 Cadillac (actually a 7 passenger sedan without the divider window) for immediate families in funeral processions. That old Caddy was getting really worn by 1978 when the owners augmented it.
As with everyone else, they ignored the new Cadillac 75 limo and bought a 6 door Lincoln stretched by Armbruster Stageway. They bought a second one the following year and the old Caddy was sold or traded.
You are exactly right about the difference. The 71 Cad was at the tail end of the era of a limo as an old-school luxury conveyance. The 6 door Lincolns were in the most basic trim level and were just big sedans. There was a world of difference from the interior vibe of the two cars.
For a while the Fleetwood Series 75 was referred to in the limo and used-car trades as the “Corporate” Limo, partly because it was made by the GM Corporation and partly because they often were first owned by corporations as executive shuttles which was the intermediate step between “Old Money” and “party bus”.
I love the Cadillac factory limos. Still classy, stretch out room, not as impossible to park as the current ridiculous stretch limos, and factory build quality – not aftermarket outfitter build quality.
A 1977-1984 with the “commercial” 368 V8 would be a great addition to a collection.
I’m more enamored of the LeBaron-bodied Imperial stretch (eight-passenger) sedans of the 1930s, and of the Chrysler and DeSoto eight-passenger sedans of the late 1940s through the early 1950s. (I only guess, but I bet those were Briggs bodies.) The DeSotos were made iconic by every cab company in the Big Apple. Heck, they were Checker before Checker was. Watch any A- or B-movie from, say, 1937 through to about 1952 and every cab you saw was a DeSoto with the suicide rear doors and twin jump seats just behind the massive front bench seat.
Some day, I would like to have one of those. I’ll take mine with a flathead straight-eight, three-on-the-tree with overdrive. 🙂 (1951 DeSoto in the photo.)
I saw a K car limo not long ago…in pretty nice shape, actually. And turbocharged. Maybe not factory…but kind of cool.
adillac held onto the proper limousine configuration with the main rear seat set behind the doors until the two door models ended. Fleetwood built the body by essentially mating the regular sedan through the B-pillar with coupe quarter panels, creating limousine-specific rear door and roof structure as well as stretched floor pans. As the specialty limousine builder stretched sedans came to dominate, it was one more reason for Cadillac to quit its own efforts in the segment.
For those of us who appreciated the factory Fleetwood limousines and seven passenger sedans, it was the sad end of an era. Those gross airport/coachline ‘buses’ that pass for limousines now are just another indication of the do-anything-for-a quick-buck that business has become.
Fleetwood built the body by essentially mating the regular sedan through the B-pillar with coupe quarter panels, creating limousine-specific rear door and roof structure as well as stretched floor pans.
Visually I always thought that was what happened, glad to hear it confirmed.
Post 1996 when Cadillac Fleetwood production ended Superior Coach (IIRC) was permitted by GM to take some FWD Devilles and give them a 6 in stretch in the middle for more rear legroom. I always thought those were pretty cool.
Fleetwood 75 seven passenger sedan and limousine annual sales amounted from 1,500 up to around 2,000 between 1960 through 1975. Utilizing as much of the higher volume sedan and coupe stamping allowed these low-volume cars to be possible even for Cadillac. This build method began with the 1950 75. The major costs were the unique top stampings which no other Cadillac utilized. Frequently the upper door frames cut into the roof on some body series, as well as the rear door which had the threshold cut lower into the rocker panel. A great deal of handcraftsmanship went into their creation.
Many of those years the total produced is an even number such as 1,600 or 1,900 cars which suggest they planned to build only that many 75 bodies for that year. The 75 also carried over basic substructure longer than other Cadillacs: the 1959 body was held over through MY 1965 even with wrapped windshield, when the 1965-titled 75’s still wore 1964 styling. That had an antecedent in the 1941 75 body which carried over through MY 1949.
In the postwar years, both Chrysler and Packard started out as active participants in the LWB segment competing with Cadillac. Buick and Lincoln had quit this segment when their Limiteds and Customs didn’t return postwar. For an analysis and perspective from the Packard point of view, check PackardInfo Forum for the thread “Postwar Packard Long-Wheelbase Market Overview by 58L-3134
Fun limo fact that will stump them everytime: The last year for real Cadillac fins was not 1964 but 1965, on the Series 75 Limo only.
The change already happened by the start of the down-size in 1977, where the limousines looked like a standard front untill the b-pillar, followed by a custom door, before the rear seat section was taken from a coupe.
We enjoyed our 1978 7 passenger limousine very much, in particular the indoor trim and panels, but the car in general didn’t have the air and style from the 1971-76 years.
One of the things that disappeared in the Fleetwood 75 limousines, was the keyhole in the right rear door and the fact that it was the right rear seat passenger was the master of the partition.
My wish for the future is to find a 1973 Fleetwood 75, which has not been domolished by previsous users. I know that will be hard.
What a gorgeous beast.
I kilnda sort of like the downsized FWD Caddy limos and their counterparts, the Chrysler Executive limos. They are cute as a button!
If I had that pos I’d sell it for beer money and be a happy man not to see it ever again.
I’m just old enough to recall having ridden in one of these on my first plane trip from Ohare, whoever the limo company was who picked us up, the Fleetwood was the limo we were a shuttled in, I know it was because I specifically remember being disappointed or troubled by the fact that it WASN’T a prom night stretch limo I was so exposed to in movies at the time(forgive me, I was like 5), instead we had what seemed like a coupe with an extra big door in the middle. This would have had to have been in 93 or 94, so it was probably nearing the end of it’s service life.
A perfect way to showcase the decline and fall of Cadillac–from menacing chariots for the world’s movers and shakers to stubby cartoon limos. I loved how for decades Cadillac actively marketed the Limousine as part of their line-up, including featuring the stretched cars in the sales brochures.
Here’s the 1976 brochure–the limo is so long it can’t even fit entirely on the page. The image reinforces the seriousness of the product: this flagship was all business, whether that business was shipping parts, bananas or drugs…
The VIP vibe still continued after the first wave of downsizing–these cars were still all about moving important people.
But when the Mini-me limos arrived, all was seemingly lost. These looked like goofy transportation for an old-folks home–take the residents of The Tower (upscale elder care, no doubt) for some mall walking…
My mother had one of the K car limos for reasons that I don’t think I ever sought out. Maybe I’ll have to ask this weekend.
It was interesting for carting around kids. We got to sit in the back with independent control of the radio. The jump seats were horrible, but better than sitting in the middle. And my parents were more than happy to close the (cheap, plastic) divider window to shut out whatever the argument du jour was between me and my siblings.
You mean the driver (your parents) could operate the divider from the front seat?
As a chauffeur, I have only been able to do that in limousines stretched by custom coachbuilders.
If I recall, the slider was a cheap plexiglass or lexan affair. Could be manually slid from either side. Not at all like the motorized ones in real limos.
I have an ’89 Superior Cadillac 6-door limo. It has less than 25K miles in it. It is a fantastic car, and can easily hold 7 passengers and the driver.
Back in the ’70s my Brother and myself had a little business located in Hayward Ca. on Mission Blvd. A block or two back in the neighborhood behind us, there was a very nice old Estate home. This was a home much older than the neighboring houses and it was large, on a couple of acre lot. Very impressive and well kept. One day I was driving down the street and saw a 67-68 Cadillac 75 limo parked at the curb in front of the home and the driver was opening the door and assisting an older couple out of the vehicle. I figured that these were the owner’s of the car and the estate. Now, that is how a limo is supposed to be used. Your own limo with your own driver. I imagine that the driver may have been their butler or house man. I remember seeing that car passing by on the Boulevard a few times. Driving Miss Daisy in real life. Now that’s the way to live if you had the bucks.
None of these new stretched out monstrosities can convey any sense of elitism or class. I remember catching sight of an 80’s Mercedes S class with a well dressed gent in the backseat whistling along the fast lane. That would do.
Stretched out monstrosities indeed!
It makes you wonder, what are some people thinking?
That looks like a boat with wheels on it.
Yeah, really… all it needs is some Teak wood.
It never ceases to amaze me what some people with money will do to cars. Just when I think I’ve see it all, someone will go “Here, hold my beer….!”
I always loved the 1971-1976 Cadillac Fleetwood limo, as to me it was a car for rock stars! I think it even graced one of my K-Tel album covers as a kid. I rode in one sometime around 1975 from the Los Angeles Airport (LAX) to my grandparents in Pasadena. I thought it was so cool, and my six year old self rode in the front seat, partially because I was into cars even then, but also because the Fleetwood’s utility moving six or more passengers was limited, employing jump seats, better than a checker cab, but still jump seats to seat passengers number 4 and 5.
The transition of the limo into the party bus therefore had another step: The businessman’s or rich politician’s mobile office and meeting room that required seating for more than one or two passengers. Imagine you’re the Governor of New York (Nelson Rockefeller, his 1970 stretch Imperial limo attached). You need a place for your aides to sit while they take notes, and certainly facing you, in real seat was a far more luxurious proposition than a jump seat.
With that thick rear pillar narrowing the opening so much, that looks a mite undignified to get into.
Factory Limo aside. the true essence of Limousine is the Lehmann-Petersen Lincoln of the 60s. Father of a friend was a banking exec had a 67 L-P Lincoln. In presidential Blue. Astounding car. That was a Limo for the ages. His father replaced (one does not “trade” a Limo, with a 71 MB LWB 500 Pullman. Rode in both, now that, my friends is being driven.
He sounds understated;-)
Yes, for me the Mercedes Benz W100 600 Pullman limousine manufactured from 1963-1981 is the quintessential VIP limo
They are facinating.
Does not like to ride them as passenger though, as they are very undiscreet to the passengers because of the large greenhouse unless you pull the curtains.
They are perfect for parades and weddings, where the passengers like to be exposed, though.
The King of limousines
These still make more sense than the ubiquitous “stretch” limo. IMHO, a true limousine is a lengthened sedan, not one stretched to ungainly proportions.
Those ’71-76 Limousines were truly the last of the great ones. I’ve never actually seen one of the downsized ’77 or later ones, but I’ve heard that the leg room for the driver was quite tight (much worse than for a regular Cadillac sedan or Coupe).
In the Fleetwood 75 version with partition it is. Similar to the legroom for the chauffeurs of Daimler limousines, but the 7 passenger Fleetwood limousine from 1977-79 has all the legroom you can ask for.
Because the partition is not there, the front seat can tilt and go back as freely as in any Cadillac.
I don’t know if this is connected, but wasn’t John Delorean involved in some sort of machinations during his final tenure at GM corporate that involved him personally profiting from Cadillac limousines?
I say possibly connected because it seemed like the early seventies was the time frame when limousines started becoming livery transportation, widely available to anyone with the cash for a night’s rental and, thus, no longer had the same prestige as vehicles solely for the very rich. It just seems like the kind of scheme Delorean would come up with.
Limos didn’t lose their class because of baby DeVilles, as the photo of the Reagans shows. They lost their class when they became nothing but a carnival ride.
This begs the question, just what do the super rich ride in now?
It seems to be Rolls Royce Phantom Drophead – if they are behind the wheel themselves.
The rebirth of the Maybach is nothing but a label Mercedes.
I expect nobody wants to been seen alive in a Maybach Exelero 🙂
Some of the richest people I know drive (yes drive) more modest cars. Camry’s, Avalon’s, Accords. Some Lincolns, Cadillac’s (not limos or anything looking too pretentious). Even pickup trucks and not the fancy “King Ranch, Titanium or other really fancy trucks. They prefer to drive themselves and not draw attention. Limos are now seen as party cars as you all have mentioned.
When Caddies were great.
Luckily the refined and prestigious Devon Miles rode in the big Fleetwoods in the philanthropic crime fighting series, Knight Rider. That image helps. I won’t mention the time Michael took it out for a spin when KITT was awol…
I like the 80-84 versions especially, but certainly they would have been well into their decline in pop culture prestige by then. The 71-76 75s are still portrayed as the flagship and in movies of that time and before, it was clear they were. Perhaps the most memorable 75 in my mind is the dark grey 1958 car used to kidnap Cary Grant/Roger Thornhill from the Oak Bar in Alfred Hitchcock’s “North By Northwest”(1959). What a beauty. Years later, when I had the grey 1993 Fleetwood Brougham, a friend and I drove out to Old Westbury Gardens, which was used as Townsend’s house in “Glen Cove”, passing through the gate like the 1958 car in the movie. Not quite the same, but a cool experience (as was the house tour).
The ’85 1/2s deserve greater respect. Even though shrunken, they were undeniably handsome. There was a sad loss of nerve in the front end, which was as close to generic as you could get. But the rest of the car had a certain dash about it. The clean fit of the doors and the thick, contoured chrome surrounds was very pleasing. There was some beautiful, simple detailing on that car – elegant, but perhaps too unobtrusive for Cadillac. And the interiors were as spacious as ever.
I had the privilege one day of caning a brand new limousine around Chicago in ’86 or thereabouts. Drove like a big American car. I got her up to 85 for a stretch on Lake Shore Drive. A fine machine, and hugely roomy.
If only they’d pushed the front wheels forward and shown some nerve with the details of the styling (and the EPA hadn’t choked most of the oomph out of ’em) these cars would be remembered fondly.
Someone asked what the modern ‘rich person’ rides in. From my hospitality experience, a long wheelbase Land Rover or a G Wagon (not very spacious). The rental/corporate space is completely taken by black SUVs, Escalade at a slight premium to a standard Tahoe or Burban. The company i work for has sold off its last (front drive!) Cadillac stretch; all SUVs and Sprinter vans now.
How rare are those Caddies becoming I saw an ad by someone looking for the filler panels ahead of the tailights recently so one if them is over here, it was an 83 and in Rotorua the sulphur atmosphere over there eats plastic trim, but I see the featured car is missing the same pieces.
I believe Cadillac didn’t have a bumper filler panel that didn’t get brittle and die until the late 80s. No sulfur required.
A strange-looking beast. You can see what it’s supposed to be, but somehow the styling lacks the gravitas of the previous generation; it looks too much like a stretched sedan. Something about the pillar and window arrangement or shape, I think. But entry to the rear compartment should be a breeze.
But they got the proportions right, not like that front-drive successor. I wonder whether they consulted limousine customers in the development process for that, or just went “Here it is.”?
Something about the pillar and window arrangement or shape, I think.
The backwards cant of the C pillar looks odd, but they wanted to use the fixed glass window from the ’77-79 Coupe de Ville. I wonder how many people were hit by the frame of the door glass.
I think that the Escalade and Navigator have replaced the traditional limo. The jump seats probably weren’t used much with executive or plutocrat transport anyway, and they look like they would make it pretty crowded and awkward inside. Two important passengers in the rear seat, the personal assistant in the rt. front alongside the driver. The rest of the entourage could follow in another Tahoe or Expedition.
In the book, “The Lincoln Lawyer” Micky Haller, rode around in Town Cars, and had his office equipment; computer, printer,files, etc. available to him in the rear seat. His driver would drop him off right in front of the courthouse. Now that would be convenient! In the TV series, Micky gets driven around in a Navigator, though he did drive an early ’60’s Continental in one episode.
I would love a traditional limo, but I would look silly driving myself around, and my Wife refused to wear the hat!
220.5 inches for the 1985 Fleetwood 75, absolutely pathetic.
My 1991 Brougham was 221″ long and A LOT wider/more substantial looking. A 1995 Fleetwood I was also considering at the same time was 225″ long. It physically wouldnt fit in the garage I had at the time. The 91 had about 1 to 2″ to spare. I stapled some bubble wrap to the front wall. Didnt matter, there were two clear holes in the drywall where the front bumper guards rammed thru
Celestiq has potential to bring the Fleetwood 75 back