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
I know I’m in the minority here, but I happen to find the 1971 and 1972 Cadillac’s very attractive cars, at least on the outside. Don’t know about the quality compared to the immediate forebears, but purely from a stylistic standpoint, I like them. Vinyl roofs and all. Don’t get me wrong, I also like their predecessors from the 1960s. And their successors from 1977 to 1979.
Rgearding your msing on the location of the directional signals. Might it be due to new bumper regs in place for the 72 model year. 72 models had to withstand a frontal 5 MPH flat barrier impact with no damage. Perhaps it was thought the bumper mointed lights would be an issue. Of course, stylists just may have thought moving them would a way to differentiate.
I thought it was the 1973 model year that required the 5 mph standard on the front bumpers and ’74 for the backs. That’s why most ’73 models have solid beam, park bench bumpers on the front end.
GM gave their full size cars (and others) 2.5 mph front bumpers on their own volition in ’72. Most of them were just beefed up and had black rubber strips front and rear like this Cadillac, another visual difference from the ’71, but Oldsmobile and (maybe) Pontiac used two leaf springs behind theirs.
I imagine that moving the turn lights out of the bumper was a visual transition to the ’73’s rather ugly big ones between the headlights. ’74-6 put them outside the headlights, then ’77-9 moved them inside. After that, they were under for a decade.
You are correct, it was 1973.
Thanks, Paul, for all you do.
I am not normally a fan of these 1970’s Cadillacs, but this one, at least, seems to be subdued enough in it’s excess to be somewhat appealing.
Nice car. Not perfect in any way, but still seems to be a clean old example. I’ve always liked these 72’s. But the 75-79’s are still my favorites. But then again, I’m kind of a Cadillac nut. After picking up another, I’m now the proud owner of two 80’s decade Caddy’s. My beloved 1988 Cimarron with 62K in near perfect condition and now my 1986 Seville, one previous owner with 22K in perfect condition.
This is a special spot for me because I learn so much. Car guides only go so far – they are very cold and often incorrect. Here, we learn about WHY we love a specific kind of car, discover others with similar interests, and read insults about some of our favorite rides as well, (but sticks and stones,,,). I have spent many hours recommending and sharing this site to those I meet who love cars.
Importantly, our host is hard to beat. It isn’t just because of his thorough research, or his opinions, but because he is fair. Paul is like a Jedi warrior. You must really be certain in your statements, or at least sincere. I sincerely respect you. Not all your opinions, but you.
Happy that this beast sparked this site. Happy to have been here all these years.
We ALL make mistakes and hopefully learn from them! To Err is human. To forgive, DIVINE. Just keep up the great work. Only recently discovered this spot, but really enjoy it! 🏆
If it makes you feel any better, it was just today when I learned how to tell a 71 from a 72 from the parking lights. I must not have been paying attention when that issue came up the first time it ran.
I have had a long love-hate relationship with these, that has been more hate than love. But I will say that the early ones (71-72) were attractive cars with a lot of presence. A friend owned a 72 Sedan DeVille he got from his father’s estate around 1984. It was probably in a condition not far off from this, but with a little more rust getting a foothold. That car nickled and dimed my friend Karl badly, until someone hit the front and he could no longer open the hood. He sold it that way.
The interior had lots of cheapness in the materials, but those leather seats were lovely to sit in.
In ’72 GM added a front rubber impact strip and some models, like the Riviera, had projecting rubber covered bumper guards. I think that the bumper mounts were strengthened and the bumpers were moved a bit further away from the body. This was for the 2 1/2 mile impact requirement. In ’73 the front bumpers became the familiar chrome battering ram, while the rear got some rubber strips added.
Vinyl tops are a real problem on old cars, in many cases the manufacturers didn’t properly protect the roof’s surface under the vinyl. I’ve had some late ’60’s and early ’70’s cars that had “rust bumps” around the rear window trim. I just overlooked them, I knew what was underneath, but I didn’t have the money, or the intention to “restore” a car back then. And the cars weren’t worth anything at the time. I just used and enjoyed the car for a couple of years and moved on. This ’72 is over fifty years old, GM did not build cars to last half this long, they were considered disposable after seven years. This example is in pretty good preserved condition. I had a ’70 CdV in the late 70’s and I preferred that sharper lined style to the more curvaceous ’72, though I’d love to have this ’72 now.
For those not growing up in that era, it’s hard to overstate how much and how quickly Cadillac quality declined. Cadillac in particular, as quality had once been it’s calling card, but in all makes really, between about 1964 and 1971. Our neighbor bought a new ’64 Sedan deVille from Chesapeake Cadillac, trading in his carefully maintained but gauche baby-blue ’59 deVille for a much more restrained and classy ’64. It was absolutely dazzling in it’s quality of materials, careful assembly, truly jewel like in appearance. It made an impression so strong that I still remember the very first time I saw it to this day.
In Fall 1968 another neighbor bought a Charcoal gray Sedan de Ville. It still had a lot of quality and presence, but the dash evinced evidence of the start of a cheapening, having lost all those chrome cast details on the dash and gaining safety features that made it lose some of the quality and appeal. But that car was still gorgeous and it retained that unique Cadillac aura of magnificence. Bottom line: it still impressed.
Fast-forward to 1972, just eight short years from ’64. During my Senior year of college my room-mate’s parents bought a new ’72 Sedan deVille, trading in a nice dark blue ’66. We had the use of the new ’72 one day during a visit to their house off Loch Raven Blvd. I was totally gobsmacked by the loose & floppy body structure, the tacky dash materials, the cheap looking door panels, and it’s over-all impression of being just a chrome-y larger Chevy Impala. For me it was final proof of the death of a once iconic brand and a sad end to a reputation once hard earned.
My grandmother had a ’64 which had several mechanical problems, so she traded for a ’70, which had a beautiful outside, but the black inside was too dark and the seatback too high for her to see over. To me, her ’72 Calais felt like a step up in quality in yellow cloth without the huge, hollow plastic binnacle, but as a base model, it had textured black plastic on the dash instead of fake wood. Her biggest problem with that car was the windows squeaking on the seals until we discovered WD-40.
The Standard of the WORLD unfortunately started a descent beginning in early 70s 🤔! Notably disastrous engine offerings after 80. Once drove beautiful 81 Deville with V6, such a disappointment! Need I mention Cimarron? Had 89 RWD FLEETWOOD deElegance! A great true LUXURY vehicle. Subsequently had 93 RWD Brougham with much lauded Corvette engine. Quality was no where close to 89,Notably cheap carpet and bonded leather seats with top layer peeling. Numerous other problems. Worst was premature rust though of rear wheel wells. Sad to see what now wears Cadillac name 😢. Have since gone to Town Cars. Last gasp of traditional American Luxury vehicles! 😎
In the mid 70’s Cadillac quality took another big hit. Their paint sucked. Living in the rust belt it wasn’t uncommon to see a two year old Cadillac with rust blotches everyplace that the side rub strips bolted through the body. I’m talking 6 to 8 inch blotches right down the side of the car.
There were no federal bumper standards for the 1972 model year, but in anticipation of the requirements for 1973, General Motors beefed up the front bumpers of its large cars in 1972, as Jose described above. However, when the Insurance Institute tested these cars at the time, they did not perform very well in low speed crashes.
Looking at the AMA specs reveals some interesting things about ignition timing for these engines:
For reference, a 1964 Cadillac 429 had a maximum centrifugal advance of 8 to 10 degrees at 2,000 rpm, and a maximum vacuum advance of 9.5 to 10.75 degrees at 20 inches Hg.
The 1968–1970 472 had centrifugal advance of 14.5 to 18.5 degrees at 1,950 rpm, with a maximum of 26 to 30 degrees at 4,400 rpm, and maximum vacuum advance of 25.5 degrees at 16 inches Hg. For 1971, vacuum advance remained the same, but maximum centrifugal advance was stated as 22 to 26 degrees at 4,000 rpm.
At this point, the 472 and 500 had 2.00-inch intake and 1.625-inch exhaust valves, which was the same as a Buick 430, and they didn’t look especially anemic in terms of camshaft profile. (For 1971, it looks like Cadillac actually increased the valve lift and duration a bit, perhaps to try to compensate for the lower compression ratio.)
Is it possible that there were enough differences in the combustion chamber designs of the 429 vs. the 472 to account for some of that?
What do you glean from those spark advance figures and differences?
My grasp of spark timing principles is not strong, but I assume that the advance curve has been altered for better emissions performance, and also to compensate for the use of the Air Injection Reactor (for which the 472 and 500 were designed with integral provision), which used a “ported spark” control to lower idle HC emissions by eliminating the vacuum advance at idle speed. (If you port the spark at idle, it requires a very fast initial advance above idle speeds to get the engine back on something like a normal curve.)
My point is that it seems like there’s a substantial amount of ignition timing and other emissions-related prestidigitation that is probably not reflected in the gross ratings very much if at all.
H’mm. I don’t claim to be the emissions-and-spark-timing oracle, but I don’t think of a direct connection between ignition timing and secondary air injection. The original purpose of secondary air injection, before catalytic converters came in, was to lower tailpipe emissions of unburnt hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide by burning them. The air injected into the exhaust stream as close as possible to the back of the exhaust valve (i.e., in the cylinder head’s exhaust ports) provided oxygen for this post-combustion recombustion to take place. Adjustments to things like spark timing and carburetion would affect how much combustible stuff was in the exhaust coming past the exhaust valve, and so all these factors would be juggled and balanced to make the car comply with applicable emissions regulations. I’m not aware of anything done with the spark timing to “compensate for” (eh?) the secondary air injection system.
Ported spark advance (i.e., no vacuum advance at idle) was used on many, many cars for many, many years, stretching back well before the controlled-emissions era. Manifold vacuum to the spark advance (i.e., plenty vacuum advance at idle) was also used on many, many cars/years. Then the emissions era came in, and there started being more different reasons for choosing one or the other—and which one worked which way to do what was not consistent. On some cars, ported or manifold vacuum to the distributor was one of the differences between the carburetor for use on a given engine with automatic vs. manual transmission—see attached from a 1976 Chrysler emissions manual.
Better driveability with automatic transmissions? Interesting, and web forums are full of advocates for running manifold vacuum for “better performance”. So I tried an experiment on my ’73 Dart. Its carburetor’s vacuum advance hose nipple did not have vacuum at idle—this was a ported system. So I capped that port and connected the vacuum advance to manifold vacuum instead.
Driveability did not improve, it got worse; the car’s pickup sagged slightly but detectably immediately after the 1-2 and 2-3 shifts, and light-throttle acceleration in 2nd and 3rd gear (well short of causing the trans to kick down) was noticeably mushier. Once I put the advance hose back on the carburetor and readjusted the idle speed, the sag and mush went away. Clearly, the driveability improvement with manifold vacuum spark advance, mentioned in that ’76 emissions book, is specific to the overall configuration and calibration of what passed back then for the engine management system. All this got started with the CAP in 1963.
I don’t agree. With the vacuum advance port above the closed throttle plate (a “ported” system), as soon as you open the throttle there is a vacuum signal to the distributor. You can watch this with a timing light; see your base timing while the engine’s idling, then nudge the throttle a little and watch the timing jump more and quicker than can be explained by centrifugal advance.
I completely agree, as commented in detail here.
The reason I made the comment about having a faster spark advance off idle is that that’s what GM engineers said in a 1967 paper about air injection that I read through earlier this afternoon while musing over the comment. As I said, my grasp of spark advance curve stuff is not strong, but that one was from the horses’ mouths, as it were.
Another consideration with air injection and spark advance, which I again don’t feel I understand strongly enough to assert with any great confidence, has to do with exhaust temperature. In general, it seems that air injection worked more effectively if the exhaust temperature was high, but there were also practical issues (again discussed by the people who developed the GM AIR system) with not letting it get TOO hot. If I understand it correctly, advancing or retarding spark timing basically trades off combustion temperatures versus exhaust temperatures, so advancing the spark raises the former and lowers the latter, and retarding the spark does the reverse. So, I would assume there would be some juggling in that regard.
Very good points about the sudden loss of power, not just on paper but in the driving characteristics as well .
Nitrous Oxides were a thing back then ~ the tailpipe SMOG tests didn’t yet test for them but the manufacturers knew what was coming and were slowly moving towards those targets .
Similarly the ignition retarding of initial and full advance was set back as over 29 degrees BTDC in anything from back then was tricky unless it was a low compression ratio or like Porsche had really well designed combustion chambers that could use up to 32 degrees full (all in) advance and not ping nor have sub audible knock, another thing the average Mechanic didn’t know about, understand nor care about .
Good discussion here I think .
I’m looking at the paper again and I misunderstood the point about ported spark. What it’s saying is that for some applications, ported spark didn’t provide enough spark retard at idle, so they also modified the distributor’s centrifugal advance further retard the timing at idle. In those applications, the modified distributors were set up with a very fast initial advance curve in the idle to 1,200 rpm range, to get back to the standard spark curve as quickly as possible at higher crankshaft rpm.
They also noted that while retarding the timing at idle reduced hydrocarbon emissions, it also increased heat rejection, so some applications had a temperature-controlled valve that would restore normal vacuum advance at idle if the engine was in danger of getting too hot.
Ah! That comports better with what I (think I) know.
Retarding the timing does indeed make the engine heat up, because the exhaust valve opens a shorter time after the ‘meat’ of the combustion event. Keep retarding the spark and the tail end of combustion is still happening as the exhaust valve opens—there’s your hotter exhaust temp you were talking about—which heats up the cylinder head, which heats up the coolant.
Chrysler called the widget that takes out some of the spark retard as an overheat countermeasure a TIC valve, for Thermal Ignition Control. Above 225°F coolant temperature it sent manifold vacuum to the distributor. In addition to the combustion alteration, this also raised the idle speed, which raised the engine-driven radiator fan speed.
(check your email)
Also, to be clear, the 1971 472 was also rated at 220 net hp; the specifications list both the 345 hp gross rating and the net rating. So, while there’s a huge spread between gross and net output, the latter did not change between 1971 and 1972.
I’d like to know what the net HP [not gross] ratings were for 1970 models, as some call the “zenith”. Probably closer to the “malaise era” than some think.
Thanks for the clarification. I forgot both ratings were available in ’71; I know Chrysler showed both in their brochure that year.
My uncle had a very similar Coupe deVille – same color and top, and from some year in the early 1970s.
I don’t remember that car itself, but I remember his recollections because a similar one happened to live near us at one point. My uncle fondly remembered his Coupe deVille days – it was big and extremely comfortable, therefore he loved it. I suspect the cheap build quality didn’t bother him much.
The steering wheel is super ugly, that’s my biggest complaint at least from a cosmetic standpoint, the 71-72 was pretty nice looking otherwise, I like it better than the 69-70, lots of presence and character, later updates blanded it down, and by 76 with it sporting rectangular headlights it looked like a bloated version of every Cadillac Deville iteration of the 80s and 90s.
Call me weird but I like every GM that ever put turn signals between the quad headlights, be it these, 67-68 Cutlasses, or 77-79 Grand Prix. I also like when the turn signals are above the headlights, so yeah probably weird.
That’s an aftermarket cover on the wheel rim. The plastic wood inlaid in the rim invariably cracked and fell out in pieces due to temperature changes.
It’s not the rim I find unattractive(cover notwithstanding) it’s the center
Glad I could help with the memories, Paul!
One thing is for certain. The old Neurosurgeon refusing to step onto the hedonic treadmill has spurred some of the funniest stories here at CC.
I got sidetracked by the HP ratings comments .
I think this was and remains a fine looking car and am well pleased to see it still doing Yeoman Duty and holding up in spite of cosmetic neglect .
My primary complaint against vinyl tops is the rust issue ~ I remember five year old cars with holes rusted clean through .
Kudos to anyone who is willing to feed and maintain this beast ! .
Their kind will never again pass .
There was no regulatory reason, so likely it was done for what GM used to euphemise as “model year identification” (i.e., planned obsolescence).
An unfunny thing about that: you’re talking about Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard № 107. It was enacted in the late 1960s to prohibit chrome metallic surfaces on components in the driver’s field of view, such as instrument panels; windshield wiper blades, and horn buttons The idea was to prevent drivers being zapped by intense glare from sunlight reflections. FMVSS № 107 was rescinded in the 1990s, with NHTSA’s rationale being that everybody had stopped using metal on dashboards; they’d shifted to plastics. And wiper arms were now black-painted metal rather than chrome. Not long after the standard was quashed, chromed plastic elements re-entered the driver’s line of sight on horn buttons, dashboards, HVAC duct handles, and elsewhere. Why do we even need to hold up this umbrella? It’s not as though we’re getting wet; let’s just throw it away!
As a kid, I always liked to watch the view unfold through the windshield, even though in those pre-seatbelt days, I had to ride in the back seat. I remember my eyeballs being seared by the sun’s glare off the chrome wiper arms and blades of my mother’s 1961 Chevy Bel Air.
Today as you mentioned, we have plasti-chrome emblems on the horn pad (airbag cover) and glare from sunlight reflecting off those center screens. This is progress?
Today’s back-seat passengers don’t get to watch the view through the windshield; there’s way too much seat + head restraint in the way.
This is NHTSA’s long, consistent track record of profound institutional incompetence and regulatory malpractice.
Your knowledge of arcane government regulations never ceases to amaze me. This issue (of reflective surfaces on dashboards) is something I never knew was once regulated, but I’ve occasionally wondered about.
One of my newer cars has both a small amount of chromed plastic, and also some shiny hard plastic (like fake wood but without the grain) that sometimes can reflect in the driver’s face. I’ve never considered it dangerous; just annoying – but I can see it being much more problematic with more of those materials on a dash.
I’m curious, though, why the rule was rescinded? Even obsolete regulations tend to hang around in government for ages, so it seems odd that NHTSA would focus its energy on reviewing a regulation like this. I’m curious whether it part of a larger, systemic review of 1960s rules, or did the auto industry actually lobby to have this modified.
It was rescinded as a show of blah blahbitty reduce burdensome blah blah needless regulatory blahbitty reinventing regulation blah blah. See for yourself.
Ah – so the President fulfilled a blahbitty campaign promise to streamline government, and to comply NHTSA found some “obsolete” rules to discard – including this one, which was considered obsolete because it successfully reduced a problem, therefore that problem would never come back. Because we all know that nothing ever comes back in fashion after having been considered out of style for a while.
Thanks again for all this information!
Nice shot of the ’72 CDV in the final picture; I also like the F-150 sitting behind it.
I liked the “Caddy , body style that ran through “1968”. Think it started in “65”.
As the great philosopher M. Loaf once wrote, “There ain’t no Coupe DeVille hiding in the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.”
Not to be “that guy” but the ’71-only trunk vents weren’t on all of GM’s cars, only the all-new ones, the B and C bodies and the Vega.
I wonder if that is my car I have now? Same colour and everything! mine has the factory sunroof which I hear is a fairly rare option back then.
It’s possible this was an emissions-related change. GM had discovered that hydrocarbon emissions were in part a function of combustion chamber surface-to-volume ratio, which could be reduced by lowering the compression ratio. Even a small reduction in compression ratio could produce a meaningful reduction in hydrocarbon emissions. This reduced efficiency, but potentially less than attaining the same HC reduction by retarding the timing.
For 1972, the feds revised the test methodology for HC and CO emissions, which made the test more stringent than the previous 7-mode test even though the grams/mile limits actually increased. (See https://www.bts.gov/content/federal-exhaust-emission-certification-standards-newly-manufactured-gasoline-and-diesel-3) So, getting existing engines that had passed the 7-mode test to pass the CVS-72 tests was harder, and it’s possible that Cadillac further lowered compression to get its engines under the line on HC emissions.
Another way to differentiate the ’71 from the ’72, the 1970 and 1971 Cadillacs did not have the “V” under the crest. They just had the crest,, front and rear. The 1972s did.
Thank you for your postings. As a total novice I learn so much from you and your fellow commenters.
My own opinion, for what its worth, is that, from the mid Sixties on, Ford interiors looked to be far better quality than either GM of Chrysler’s.
Whether they were or not, is another question, but GM’s overall were just cheap looking, even on Cadillacs.
Chryslers I think also looked better, my dad had a 70 Plymouth Fury, annd I really though that looked better than say, a 70 Impala.
Taste is subjective, however.