Cohort Pic(k) of the Day: 1972 Cadillac Coupe DeVille – I’ve Learned A Few Things In The Past Fourteen Years

posted by William Garrett

Rambling along the streets of Eugene, I encounter cars that unleash memories and musings. Today’s nostalgia comes courtesy of the 1971 Cadillac Coupe DeVille.  That’s how I opened my very first Curbside Classic at the other site, almost exactly fourteen years ago. It was an essay inspired by the difficult financial and economic conditions at the time (2009) at the depths of the Great Recession. But I made an embarrassing mistake, the first of many: I identified the Coupe DeVille as a 1971, when in reality it was a 1972, as several commenters quickly pointed out.

That was the beginning of a long journey of learning. I did not write that first CC because I thought I was an expert automotive historian; that CDV reminded me of an experience I had riding in one, and I let my thoughts flow from there. I’ve learned more about automotive history since then than I’d ever imagined, thanks to your comments and a commitment to keep studying the subject.

So in addition to a few other things, I can say with great certainty that this is a 1972 Cadillac Coupe DeVille.

Here’s the most obvious proof: the directional signals that migrated from the front bumper to between the wide-set headlights. Was that strictly a stylistic move, or was there some other reason? You see, I’ve still got a lot to learn.

Another obvious tell is the lack of the one-year only vents on the trunk lid of the ’71’s. That was because GM made a major goof putting them on all of their 1971 cars, as they leaked under certain conditions. You’d have thought that they would have tested for that.

The 1972’s 472 cubic inch V8 was rated at 220 hp; the 1971’s was rated at 345 hp. Seems like a huge drop. I did know then that the reason was mostly because of the switch to the SAE net rating from the gross rating. And the ’71’s 345 gross hp rating was 20 less than the 1970’s 365 gross hp, because the compression ratio had been lowered from 10.0:1 to 8.8:1, in order to be able to run on unleaded regular gas. It was lowered further to 8.5:1 for 1972; maybe because it was still pinging?

The drop from that 345 gross in ’71 to 220 net in ’72 was a 36% drop, more than average. The whole issue of the relationship between gross and net hp is complicated and can be a bit fraught. Back in the late 40s and early-mid ’50s, the difference between the two could be quite modest, often around 10-15%. Why such a small difference then and a 36% difference in 1972?

The logical explanation is that as cars added ever more power equipment, and then also had ignition (and sometimes cam) timing retarded for smog control, the difference between that as-installed condition was ever greater than when tested for gross hp, which was done with the engine stripped of all power accessories, restrictive exhaust system, and ignition advanced to whatever gave the maximum dyno reading. These two situations diverged more and more over the years, hence this 36% drop, which is still one of the bigger ones I’m aware of.

I used to dislike vinyl roofs for aesthetic reasons; now it’s because of all of the roofs they’ve damaged and/or destroyed over the decades, having heard about that so many times in the comments. You can see what looks like a rust bubble pushing it out in the corner there. Hiss; boo.

I knew back then that Cadillac had really cheapened their interiors starting in the mid ’60s. Does this really look any different than a ’72 Caprice; not in certain individual details, but in its general feel and ambiance?  I do know now that all of that beautiful bright work and chrome plated castings that made earlier Cadillac dashboards look so special were essentially outlawed by the new federal safety regulations that took effect in 1968. But I also know that it was still possible to make luxury cars look special despite that, but Cadillac decided that selling ever more volume at aver more affordable prices was the way to ever more profits.  Until it wasn’t.

But the most important thing I’ve learned is that while it’s easy to find fault in almost all cars, this car is loved by its owner, otherwise it wouldn’t be here. I’ve made a lot of owners unhappy (or worse) over the years, dissing on their cars. My apologies; it was never about your specific car; just some of the decisions behind them. That 1972 made me stop on the street back in 2009, and motivated me to tell a story. And that led to more Curbside Classics, and eventually this site.

So I thank you, dear commenters, for correcting me back then in 2009, and for still doing it in 2023. There’s always so much more to learn.

Curbside Classic: 1972 Cadillac Coupe DeVille – The First Curbside Classic, Ten Years Later