(first posted 7/16/2020) Presence. Some cars just have it. It’s hard to define, but as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said (about something else entirely), “I know it when I see it”. When I ran across this 1970 Sedan deVille, I definitely saw it! These days you are much more likely to see a Caddy of this vintage at a car show than on the street. At a show, it really wouldn’t stand out being surrounded by other cars having their own healthy dose of Presence, but out on the street in 2020, this car makes the modern vehicles fade so far into the background, it’s like they’re not even there.
I spied this DeVille at a car wash, where its owner was getting ready to give it a little TLC. You can tell the love because it wasn’t even really dirty! Since he loves his car, he was glad for it to get the attention and photos. The Cadillac is part family heirloom, part hobby car and sometimes daily driver. He’s not sure if his dad bought the car new or as a late model used car, but it has been in the family his whole life. It’s not hard to imagine how a Cadillac of this vintage would have escaped being sold. Ever since it was about ten years old, it’s been obvious that GM would never build a flagship sedan like this again. If one values Presence over practicality, why would one have wanted to replace it with an 80’s or 90’s model?
Since his dad passed away several years ago, it’s been all his and he’s been slowly refurbishing it. The biggest item so far has been paint, in the original color. One thing I really like about the car is its 15 inch wheels, whitewalls, and Cadillac hubcaps. At least in this part of the country, if you see a car like this in the big city, it probably has either giant, 20 inch+ aluminum wheels or wire wheels with outlandishly long spokes (i.e. Swangers, see my CC on that phenomenon). Those wheels have their place, but I really appreciate the stock look. Yes, these hubcaps are from a 73-76 but they look totally at home on the 70.
The original 472 c.i.d. Cadillac big block looks bigger in person than it does in the picture. It’s rated at 375 hp (gross) and 525 lb-ft of sweet, sweet torque to move its 4,725 lbs with respectable alacrity. The odometer quit working a while ago, so mileage is unknown. The TH400 transmission has been rebuilt.
The 1969/70 Cadillac interiors had a bit less Presence than the body, certainly less than some of the glorious-looking, chrome-trimmed, bright interiors of a few years earlier. Cadillac did offer about 10 interior colors but strangely the steering wheel only came in black. At least with a black interior, the wheel matches, so that was the best color choice in 1970. New upholstery is on the owner’s to do list.
Badges are not needed to instantly know from any angle that this is a Cadillac. The ultimate expression of stretched-out styling, the long, graceful lines are in no hurry to end. With a wheelbase of 129.5 inches and length of 225 inches, the DeVille is only 1/2 and 5.7 inches shorter, respectively, from that model’s all time record dimensions (in 1975/76). Fleetwoods were a few inches longer in both figures. Given that the later 70’s models’ extra length is mostly accounted for by bumpers, this may be the longest-looking standard Cadillac ever.
With all side windows down, the massive opening makes the lack of functioning AC in this car a less serious problem. The wing vent windows found on Cadillacs through 1968 would have helped even more.
The brochure contained an identical car apart from interior color. Tom Klockau did a full Curbside Classic on a 1970 Fleetwood Brougham several years ago, so I’ll refer you there if you’re interested in the full backstory on the ’70 Cadillacs. I’ll just mention that in terms of styling, the DeVille/Calais hardtop roofline has it all over the Fleetwood’s boxier, pillared look. The hardtop’s lower height, expansive side windows, and vee’d rear window fit the styling so much better, IMO.
Along with many classic car enthusiasts, I tend to be prejudiced in favor of two door models. However, the last few years I’ve been coming to the conclusion that for large, luxury-type cars, four doors are more fitting with the overall look and mission of the car and, with few exceptions, are better looking. Unless we’re talking convertibles and that’s a whole different matter. It’s worth noting that 1970 was the last year for a DeVille or any rear-wheel-drive Caddy drop top (not counting the XLR).
In contemplating the nebulous Presence quality, I think it would have to be said that any separate-framed Cadillac has it to at least some extent. Just conjure up any model from the Teens to the last one in 1996 and they pretty much all have it, but for me the best years were in the Sixties (with the 70 being very similar to the 69). To my eyes, earlier and later models were certainly attractive, just not in the gorgeous, uncompromised, low, long way the 61-70 models were. The 65-70 generation is respected for being well-engineered and built. CC readers are probably familiar with the following generation’s faults and the corporate-wide and industry-wide compromises and distractions that effected Cadillacs for decades to come.
So, the 1970 model represents a sort of finality as possibly the last great Cadillac before their troubles really set in. This may not have been obvious to car buyers in the early 70’s, but became more so over time, making this car’s owner’s father quite prescient in holding onto the car. The fact that this Caddy is still loved and on the road makes it a welcome Presence indeed.
photographed in Houston, TX June 6, 2020
Curbside Classic: 1970 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham: Last Of The True Cadillacs
Vintage Review: 1969 Cadillac Coupe DeVille – Golden Goose
Curbside Classic: 1965-66 Cadillac Sedan DeVille – The King’s Last Stand
This is just the highlights, there are actually quite a few articles on this site on 65-70 Caddys if you want to search for them. We love those land yachts!
Note: If you have an opinion on the proper way to write this model’s name, please chime in below. It could be De Ville, de Ville, DeVille, deVille, Deville, or DEVILLE.
Cadillac did indeed used to be good at knowing what a Cadillac should look like, then building one.
I am incredibly conflicted on this 65-70 generation. The 65-66 I like a lot, the 67-68 and even more the 69-70 were great on the outside but less great on the inside, a situation that got worse with each 2 year cycle. I don’t ever recall noticing that steering wheel design from this car. But then I never knew anyone with a 69-70 Cad, either.
A near-retirement age lawyer I started working for in the 80s fondly remembered his first Cadillac – a 1970 model. He had driven Buicks since the 50s and was finally ready to move up. His younger partner waited until 1981 to make that move. The first guy bought several before switching to Town Cars in the late 80s. The second guy had just the one, switching to Hondas after that and never looking back.
When you own a car, you look at its dashboard much more frequently than you look at its exterior. I think the dash of the 1965-66 is great, but would rather have a ’67 simply because of its energy-absorbing steering column. The dash changes for ’68 weren’t too terrible, but I don’t like the 1969-70 dash at all, neither the shapes nor the materials.
Caddy dashboards and steering wheels rarely had Presence. They were simple and linear, giving more of a Biscayne feel than a Coupe de Ville feel. Chrysler dashes, with a few exceptions, expressed luxury and architectural grace.
Compared to other brands, Cadillac dashboards of the 50’s and 60’s were plain and sometimes even rather dull. Nothing you would expect given the flashy exuberance of the Caddy exteriors.
My friend’s 1970 Coupe DeVille was impressive on the outside and the leather seats were pretty nice but the rest was…well my 1980 Toronado had the same steering wheel and column in bordello red. The Caddy door panels were plastic-based stamped units and that parts-bin steering wheel wasn’t even coordinated to the rest of the car, being black in a creamy beige interior. Except for the intermittent wipers and four cigar lighters, I recall Mom’s ’69 Beetle may have had more standard features.
Unmistakable for anything else. New Cadillacs are just another car on the road.
Just like new Mercedes…
Thing is, I find that Mercedes (especially the “S”, but also the “E”) have the modern equivalent of Presence (which I define as looking bigger than they are). The latest Jaguar XJ also has this quality. BMWs, Lexuses, not so much.
I can’t imagine what the cylinder walls look like in that engine, being run w/o an air filter and all.
The owner said he uses the air cleaner, but had it off and left it off for the short drive to the car wash. Personally I wouldn’t drive more than 10 feet without it.
I agree with you 100% about the missing air cleaner. Several other items appear to be amiss under the hood. First, the AC condenser and fan shroud are MIA; the radiator appears to be awfully small to handle the cooling chores of such a large engine; the radiator does not have a transmission fluid cooler on the passenger side as it looks like an aftermarket cooler is in front of the radiator for the tranny.
One last point: Not being a diesel, I wonder why this car has 2 batteries?
Wow, great catch on the two batteries. I wonder if it is for hot starts. I recall more than one big 472 or 500 cid Cadillac in my past that struggled to crank over when fully warmed up on a hot day. I always wondered if it was just too many cubic inches for a starter probably shared with smaller engines to handle. Or maybe carbon buildup from too much low-speed running and short trips. This premium gas high compression version would probably suffer more from that sort of thing and would certainly be more work for an already marginal starter to handle.
A second battery wired to engage during starting might solve those issues. Then again, maybe the guy has some high-electrical draw accessories that he likes to run when the car is off.
I agree completely on the hot start issues, especially on a hot day. My parents’ 1969 Continental Mark III would be very hard to start hot. It almost sounded like the timing was over advanced. If I remember correctly the compression ratio on a 1969 Ford 460 was 10.5 to 1. Once it did finally start the exhaust smelled like it does when an engine diesels or runs on after shut down. It would really cause your eyes to burn and tear up and water. Many high compression engines of the late 1960’s suffered from this malady. Once the lower compression ratios of about 8.0 or 8.5 to 1 came in about 1971 or 1972 this problem largely disappeared. These lower CR’s were necessary for the coming of unleaded fuel.
GM did use a bigger starter on the big high compression engines, and a bigger battery, but not bigger wiring. Dad’s Toronado and my in-laws Electra had exactly the same problem. The exhaust pipe ran too close to the large diameter starter and heat soaked it, increasing the resistance of the copper windings. My solution, a lot cheaper than dual batteries, was diesel engine battery cables. All I can say is that it worked.
Yes, quite a bit of AC plumbing has disappeared. This image is from a ’68, the fender skirts are slightly different, and the radiator support seems to have some differences as well, but the general layout is similar. Note the overflow tank in the ’68, its space is occupied by the 2nd battery in the ’70.
Where is this coming from?
Nobody said anything about not using a air filter
I love it — it’s great to see one of these cars being well used and enjoyed.
Regarding my preferred way or writing the model name, I’ve settled on DeVille. As far as I know, even Cadillac literature has treated this name differently from time to time, so I guess we’re free to pick our preferred spelling. So, here’s my opinion:
a) deVille seems too affected – the lower-case ‘d’ is like the accent mark at the end of Allanté… just too much pretend sophistication.
b) De Ville (with a space) doesn’t read well to me, because inevitably, the De and the Ville will end up on different lines when you’re writing about it, which is irritating. It’s like writing Mc Donald with a space… the two parts of the name seemingly belong together.
c) Deville simply looks wrong, and bears too much of a resemblance to words like ‘Defile” or “Devil,” which probably wouldn’t score well in marketing focus groups.
d) DEVILLE is just screamingly obnoxious, though I can see Cadillac going with all caps for the ESCALADE.
e) So by process of elimination I’ve settled on DeVille.
“de Ville” (with a lowercase D) only works when it’s preceded by Coupe or Sedan. So anything made after the CdVs were discontinued in 1993 (or when referring to the series as a whole) looks more “right” as DeVille.
“de Ville” by itself never seemed right to me. It’s French for “of the town” or “of the city”, so “sedan of the town” meant about what Lincoln’s “town car” meant, just in another language. “Of the town” though is half a phrase.
French language has the way of arranging the nouns, prepositions, adjectives, adverbs, etc. that seems to string along on and on.
For instance, the car door would be written like “portìere de voiture” (door of car). Sometimes, the word choice seems bemusing: “baguette de flanc” (car door protective moulding). One can imagine baguette, the long, thin bread attaching to the doors…
Growing up in an area of the US where French was sometimes spoken and was definitely part of the culture, I’ve always been amused by the literal translation of certain French terms.
In addition to “baguette de flanc,” there’s the “pomme de terre” (potato), which literally translates to “apple of the earth.”
Place names can sound downright strange to the uninitiated, such as my hometown of Baton Rouge (“red stick”), and the nearby town of Gros Tête (“big head”).
Perhaps the French have an offbeat sense of humor, which may also the popularity of Jerry Lewis in France. 😁
I agree with you. I think DeVille when it’s by itself, but then de Ville when preceded by Coupe or Sedan. That seems to be what Cadillac did most often. They used a capital D on convertibles (DeVille or De Ville Convertible) and the lower case d and a space for closed cars (e.g. Coupe de Ville). I did notice, as you say, that they were not too consistent, so there is certainly no absolutely right answer. The late DeVilles even used DEVILLE, at least on the badges.
I don’t know why d is in lower case on de Ville. I went to grade school with a guy named Dave de Rox and I also want to point out New York City’s mayor is Bill de Blasio.
Apparently Cadillac couldn’t decide on which spelling they preferred either. In this brochure page, there’s at least three different spellings.
A slightly pedantic lesson in French grammar:
“La Ville” is a feminine noun (as are most French nouns that end in a vowel), and correct grammar for “of the” with feminine nouns is “de la ville.” But of course, Coupe de la Ville or Sedan de la Ville on a fender emblem would look ridiculous.
For masculine nouns, “of the” is translated as “du” and the “le” is dropped (French grammar can be as inconsistent and illogical as English). For example, along the Loire River is the town of Le Lude (a masculine noun that’s an exception to the rule above). There’s a chateau in the town that’s known as Chateau du Lude.
I know all of this because 1) three years of French in high shool 2-1/2 in college and 2) it’s the source of my last name, which was long ago Americanized into Dulude. It is unfortunately commonly misspelled, which is annoying because 1) Delude looks ugly, 2) to delude somebody is highly negative and 3) it’s bad French.
But I digress.
If Cadillac was going to botch French grammar, Coupe de Ville and Sedan de Ville aren’t that objectionable. At least they got the construction correctly with the d’Elegance models.
If you think “de Ville” is botched French grammar, you might want to write to Paris and tell them to change the name of the Hôtel de Ville. Surely it should be the Hôtel de la Ville? 😉
I’d say that “Coupe de Ville” is a reasonable translation of “city coupe”. Compare “voiture de ville” for “city car” at https://www.seat.ch/fr/seat-cars/small-cars.html
To finish the quote, this car is like rolling porn…
Very nice! Great to see someone enjoying it.These also sound great with a bit of exhaust modification IIRC this was last year for all metal grille and bezels before they went to parts-bin plastic
I’ve always liked the 1969-70 Cadillacs a lot, I do disagree with you that 1970 was the last great era of the Cadillacs (I consider 1979 to be the last truly great year of the good Cadillacs), nice to see a Cadillac of this vintage in good shape, while I agree the interior’s of this era of the Cadillac wasn’t the best I thought they were better than the follow up generation of the Cadillac’s
That’s what Cadillac had. Even during the early malaise era, thru 1979, IMO, Cadillacs had it.
I don’t think the 1980 facelift was that bad either, our perception of it was soured by the fact they kept building cars that looked like it for the entire decade.
I would’ve liked the 1980’s Cadillac’s more if they had better engines and durability (8-6-4, 4.1 Liter V8’s was what made me not like most of the 1980’s Cadillac’s).
Presence. Yep, that’s what Cadillacs had, until they didn’t. Presence is what Isolde had.
Isolde was a 1970 Fleetwood owned by an operatically-inclined baritone I knew in college and with whom I worked quite a bit in the ’90s. He was driving Isolde then, and like most divas of a certain age, she clearly showed the passage of time, but still had presence. Her pale yellow exterior had faded a bit, but her black leather interior still looked sumptuous. Alas, her A/C had given out, which would make a Tucson summer quite a trial. But she was stalwart, and kept going, and going, and going, living up to her name. (As an aside, Isolde is an operatic pinnacle role, and needs a singer with an immense voice and immense stamina.) Alas, my singer colleague is no longer with us, and I wonder what became of his faithful automotive companion.
I love four door hardtops. Drop all the windows crank up the tunes and cruise! Opinions about the dash will vary, but in my opinion, I felt that in my ’70 Coupe de Ville, the driver oriented instruments (not many!) and controls combined with the tall armchair like seats, gave it a more intimate feel. More like a personal car, just a mighty big one! What a gorgeous car. Note white over gold Coupe in the background of the picture. Both mine. Glory Days!
Quite a cool pair there!
Cadillac (and other GM divisions) used metal and chrome to help make their interiors look elegant in the ’50s through about 1966-67. When new safety regs meant scrapping shiny, protruding, or hard trim, the result looked cheap and plasticy, Chrysler interiors went downhill during the late ’60s even more than GM’s did.
Yes, 1968 saw the start of the cheapening process, continued through ’69 and ’70, with molded plastic door trims, less elaborate fabric upholstery, less complementary leather trim, and a change from genuine rosewood veneer to plastic “Tamo” (Japanese ash) appliques.
“Presence” is such an apt descriptor. This one is a beauty. I love that it is also a family heirloom. This shade of bronze is stunning – especially viewing the car in full profile.
Thanks! It was a very pleasant find
From the time when a Cadillac was a Cadillac. Enough ‘presence’ for TWO cars, and then some
I wonder if the side molding (per the brochure pix) was removed for the repaint, or if it ever had it? (IMO) it looks bare without it, otherwise PRESENCE dominates! 🙂
Looks to be so. All of the side molding is bolted through the panels on this car, so getting to the nuts means removing the inner door panels, and filling the holes. Some take a short cut this way, and then affix aftermarket bodyside molding. The DeVille script on the rear fenders is also gone, as is the molding around the rear window. What I can’t figure out is that the bottom of the trunk lid looks to be really bubbling up after such a recent repaint.
Nice find! Without A/C, this guy certainly needs those windows rolled down.
This is a nice clean example, well kept and functioning. I think that the body side moldings have been removed, giving the slab sides complete freedom. Seems unusual for a Cadillac not to have the side trim. Must be a matter of taste.
If the owner says he is going to fix up the upholstery inside, that is an indication this car is destined to remain under his loving care for years to come. Bravo.
Too true…I live about 2.5 hours west of Houston, and when I moved here (from up north) 37 years ago, I kept my non-airconditioned car for 4 years until I finally gave in (guess I could have AC added, but didn’t) and a “must” on my next car was of course AC. Couldn’t do that for long nowdays, the city I live in is much more crowded than when I first moved here; driving around with the windows down works for cooling when you have some vehicle movement, which definitely is impeded during rush hour (the evening one in particular). With humidity in Houston (plus the traffic) I’m sure it is even worse.
As for the Cadillac, no one in my family had one, but a great Aunt had a ’69 Olds 98 which was a very nice car…my Uncle took it over after she had a stroke, and I did get to drive it a few times when we went to visit them (by air, so we had no car, as we eschewed renting one when visiting relatives). Now that I think about it, that might be the oldest car I ever drove. She had several prior Olds’ cars that my Uncle seemed to end up with once she moved on.
Great essay on a nice tank. I drove a 1969 that belonged to a coworker. When we returned to the office parking lot, I had to enlist the help of a harbor pilot. Just kidding. Nice ride!
My dad’s second Cadillac was a new 1970 Coupe de Ville – Gold metallic with a white vinyl top; gold brocade cloth interior. His 1968 CdV, which was his first, remains my favorite of the ten Cad’s he had. Dad was very successful at what he did. He was a person who could walk into a room of business associates and he had a commanding presence. The 68 and 70 Cad’s had a commanding presence. The cars shouted authority and presence.
The attention to small details detail was impressive, even in the 1970. The was an ashtray on the passenger door armrest, and the A/C grilles we such that the A/C outlet could not be pointed at the ashtray. Another great feature on the 70 Cadillac was a vacuum operated purge door on the bottom of the A/C evaporator that purged the hot humid air in the A/C evaporator before it closed and allowed normal A.C.C. operation.
The Fisher bodies were tight, and did not squeak and rattle. The antenna embedded in the windshield was a poorly executed idea and the dropping of the “V” under the Cadillac crest on the ’70 & ’71 De Villes caused the hood and trunk to look incomplet. Fortunately the “V” was restored by ’72, but the quality did not improve.
In believe the 1970 model year was the last of the truly well-built Cadillacs. The drop in intrinsic quality between the ’70 and ’71 model years boggles the mind. The same 472 V8 power plant that could chirp rubber on its 1-2 shift in 1970 could hardly propel the car out of its own way in 1972. Horsepower measuring methods changed, but output dropped dramatically 1971 models and forward were living off the past legacy, but in retrospect it is obvious that they weren’t going to fool the people much longer.
I was naive enough to think they’s get their act together. I often thought GM’s competitors paid off GM employees to do many of the travesties done post 1970 M.Y.
Good points, thanks!
Like your alias…miss the roadside smudge pots in construction areas I recall from when I was a kid (though I’m sure my Dad didn’t care for them as they marked obstacles and generally slow going though the area). Wonder when they went away, they seem to have just “disappeared” without my noticing them being gone.
I had to look it up online to learn what a smudge pot is/was. I’ve never seen these things anywhere.
Fantastic find! The car looks great with the windows down and the roof unencumbered by the extra cost vinyl roof. Such a clean, striking design and as you note, unmistakably Cadillac! So happy to see the owner is taking such fine care of his family heirloom, and it’s a fantastic reminder of what once was when Caddy ruled the U.S. Luxury car market.
Great looking car, to me at least. If I lived in the States…..
Personally, I never did like the thin C pillar on the 1969-70 Cadillacs. It just seemed out of proportion to this very large car, from the side view. The thin C pillar also seems to emphasize the massiveness of the car. The side view is just a little too plain looking with no side trim, although, in general, I like a clean look.
Another one of my rather simple photoshopping to thicken the C pillar and add a simple horizontal trim. Still not my favorite Cadillac design, but an improvement. I prefer the 1971-72 Cadillacs styling.
I agree, it’s too much body mass for the small greenhouse. The pillared sedan is better, plus it has more room.
But I prefer the chisel tips to the 50’s retro styling cues in the 71’s.
I like it! The Fleetwood has a more substantial c pillar, but I dont like that roofline as well. This is a nice compromise. It seems this car lost its side trim in the repaint.
And maybe with a very slightly more unified look, by adding color coordinated Cadillac style wheel covers.
There have been so many car designs over the years that came so close to having the right combination of unified design and proportions – only to miss the mark by a hair. I enjoy attempting to refine those errors, so as to see what could have been – in my minds eye, that is.
We had two Sedan Deville, a ’66 and a ’76, both of which succumbed after long lives to New England rust. The older car was by far the better of the two, in every way possible. The ’76 had been cheapend and suffered for it. The major components weren’t affected badly, but all else was not up to the standard we were accustomed to with the ’66. The emissions changes on the 500 in the ’76 made it the ultimate dog; the 425 in the ’66 was half as fuel thirsty and much pepper. We also had hot soak issues on restarts. My heavy truck instincts made the dual battery modification seem intuitive. Less voltage drop means fewer amps needed to spin the engine, and heavy amp draw and the heat thus created kills starters prematurely. I always got started without embarrassed and never changed another starter. I’d love to have another ’66 as a daily driver, but wouldn’t cross the street to be given a ’76. Good old days, nevertheless
Great essay with much affection. Thanks. i knew a man who died at the age of 101 a few years ago. His daily driver was the 1970 Coupe de Ville in dark green. He bought it then and drove it until her was about 98.
The ’70 Cadillacs unquestionably had presence, but as someone who values practicality too, I can’t look at these without immediately fixating on those huge front blades and rear fins that protrude from all four edges and together add about 10 inches to the car’s length, just in case you found a massive car like this too easy to park if it had normal squared-off corners. By contrast most modern cars aren’t just much shorter, but also have large-radius rounded edges which greatly ease either parallel or perpendicular parking.
This is not to say intangibles like presence don’t matter to me at all though, and because they do I can’t warm up to this car. It is overflowing with presence on the outside, yet nearly bereft of presence once you’re inside the car driving or riding in it. Compare the interior of a Fleetwood Talisman from a half decade later. Whether or not you’re a fan of its aesthetic or bothered by the quality of some of the materials, the Talisman interior oozed presence like few others.
The black wheel might be explained by anti-glare hysteria. They wanted to match the inside of the deep fairing. Fortunately, sanity prevailed for the ’71s.