I had the pleasure of spending the week of this past Thanksgiving with my older brother and his family in the greater Washington, D.C. area. It’s not a guarantee that siblings will like each other, either while growing up or in adulthood, so I’m thankful for those relationships. I have watched their kids grow from infancy to where they are now, which is to say officially beyond elementary school.
Their oldest son, who has been in college for a little while now, had also returned to partake in the Thanksgiving festivities. He’s the one with whom I had once had so much fun playing with Matchbox cars on the floor, with him choosing a purple Gremlin X as his favorite over the other selections I had brought him that included a Mustang Sportsroof fastback and a Dodge Challenger. I actually loved that the Gremmie was his favorite.
The WMATA Metro Center subway station.
Now, here we were in 2022, with both of us being adults, visiting my brother’s and sister-in-law’s house during the week of a holiday. I had expressed at breakfast that I wanted to go into the city from their suburb before Thanksgiving Day and explore the National Mall and its landmarks in and around that area. My nephew volunteered to come with me, so instead of exploring on my own, this trek became an adventure the two of us would embark upon together. We talked about anything and everything while taking public transportation there and back, and throughout the afternoon. Being the uncle is such a great place to be, as I felt that his and my conversation was frank and unfiltered (and hilarious) in ways it might not have been either if he was younger or if I was his parent or guardian.
Wandering from our restaurant in Chinatown toward the National Mall, this ’79 Eldorado seemed to magically materialize not far from Mount Vernon Square. The combination of grille pattern and clear turning signals on this example were specific to the first year of this generation’s redesign, which I’ll admit wasn’t something I knew before looking it up. My nephew instinctively and gamely moved out of the way as I got a few shots of this beautifully preserved, Colonial Yellow example before we continued on our walk.
1954 Cadillac Series 60 Special. Chicago, Illinois. Saturday, May 28, 2011.
It wasn’t until later that something else had occurred to me. My very first entry here at CC from January 2015 was a Curbside Outtake featuring a couple of pictures of a ’54 Cadillac Series Sixty Special I had photographed back in May of 2011. The main thrust of that piece was that I had found it fascinating that this gentleman, according to him, had owned this car for what was then fifty years. That ’54 Cadillac was manufactured just over twenty years before I, myself, had rolled off the Dennis family assembly line. While I greatly respected this Cadillac in 2011, specifically its artistic styling, presence, and pristine condition, it was still a really old car which, to be clear, I’m not saying was a liability.
The Carousel on the Mall.
Fast forwarding from then to just a few weeks ago, my nephew and I had come across a ’79 Eldorado which was a new car just over two decades before he was born, representing roughly the same age span between me and the ’54 Cadillac. By ’79, I was already identifying the makes and models of cars concurrent with learning to ride my bike with the training wheels off. My question, then, was whether my nephew perceived this Eldorado as being as archaic as the Sixty Special had seemed to me.
I realize that automotive design and technology has progressed at an accelerated pace during certain stretches of time, and that there was a greater difference, at least superficially, between the cars of 1954 and their lower-longer-wider counterparts of ’64. But for someone born after the turn of the new millennium, and with current technological advances involving power that doesn’t involve the burning of fossil fuels, how does a car like this ’79 Eldorado register with someone around the age of 20?
“Delta Solar” by Alejandro Otero, 1977, near the National Air and Space Museum.
There are only a handful of coupes left that one may purchase as new cars. While I’m sure there are yellow cars for sale in 2022 (I’m being careful not to say anything definite after this summer’s goof in which I learned that new, orange Cadillacs are still available for purchase), I can’t recall having seen any lately. My brother and his wife have a minivan and a family sedan, both Hondas and the furthest things from a car like this luscious, lemony Eldorado. There’s no way my nephew couldn’t have seen the ’79 as being as much an anachronism as I had seen the ’54, even if both are beautiful Cadillacs.
The front-drive, E-Body Eldorado lost literally over 1,000 pounds with the crisp, ’79 redesign, going from a dry weight of about 4,900 pounds to just under 3,800. Its wheelbase shrank by over a foot, going from 126.3 inches to 114.0″, with its overall length dropping by twenty inches to 204″. There was only a marginal loss in interior room despite the drastic reduction in exterior dimensions. Its $14,700 starting price represented an 18% increase over the ’78, though sales were up an impressive 44%, to 67,400 from 46,800. Power came from a modified Oldsmobile 350 V8 with 170 horsepower, which was down just ten horses from the previous year’s Cadillac 425.
My nephew and I walked past the Carousel on the Mall, where it seems like only a handful of years ago he and his siblings had sat atop one of these horses and enjoyed this ride as young children. It felt a bit haunting to see it closed for the season, with a few weeds popping up through the asphalt underneath. Purposefully flipping through pictures on my phone as he and I continued to talk, I found a shot of the two of us from the mid-2000s when I was holding him up as a preschooler while we were at a fishing pier. What he told me will serve as yet another memory of this afternoon: “Uncle Joe, you look the same.” Indeed, I looked similar on the outside that day, but with a decade and a half of more wisdom and personal growth on the inside. I liked the idea of my appearance providing him with a sense of continuity within our shared history.
I suppose I could have chosen to wrap this essay by reflecting that I hope he sees me more the way I see the ’79 Eldorado than the way he probably does, but I have observed over the years that he is something of an old soul with a gift for memory and an unusually heightened sense of awareness of himself and others. Also, the more I thought about it, the less it seemed to matter whether or not he sees (or will eventually see) me as “old”. I am a middle aged man, and even if he’s technically a young adult now, I still have responsibilities toward him as his uncle with my all of my additional years of life experience. I suppose I could text him now to ask what he actually thought of the Eldorado, but part of me just doesn’t want to know. What I do know is that I’ll probably always cherish that afternoon, and that life keeps moving.
Wednesday, November 23, 2022.