I’ve become increasingly convinced over time that class is a state of mind over anything else. Amid the dense, hurried foot and vehicular traffic of holiday shoppers along Chicago’s upper-end Michigan Avenue retail district, I can almost hear a vacuum-like whoosh of money being collectively sucked out of people’s wallets and purses. Beautiful window displays showcase wares that are out of financial reach of many, glittering in the rays of perfectly-positioned pin-spot lighting. As I have many checks to write for the young ones in my extended family, my year-end budget is normally stretched pretty thin. Also, with all of the sales, some of which feature things I actually need or would otherwise buy, it’s hard to avoid the temptation to purchase things for myself and not just wait for the end-of-holiday bargains after the beginning of the new year.
On what is colloquially known as the “Magnificent Mile”, where I photographed our featured car, the upper-echelon nature of these high-end goods is often at odds with behavior I witness and identify as being less than charitable. Some pedestrians seem almost as if in a trance, as words like “excuse me” and “sorry” seem to be forgotten in the quest to get somewhere or to something first. Still, there’s something very festive about seeing so many people out enjoying what Chicago has to offer during the winter holiday season. As for me, even though I try to remain a part of the action, and even though I sometimes have forgotten to say “excuse me” (nobody’s perfect), I try to maintain some mental semblance of dignity and goodwill as I head toward my destination.
Twenty-Eighteen wasn’t a particularly easy year for me, which was part of the reason why my musings here at Curbside Classic weren’t as numerous that year as in ones previous. At the end of last year, however, I made a pledge to myself to compose and post at least one essay here for each full week of Twenty-Nineteen, which is a goal I attained. I stand by, and am proud of, each one of my pieces. I also have CC founder Paul Niedermeyer especially to thank for having given me the chance to do some creative writing here and hone those skills, share my photography, and express myself – sometimes even when cars were somewhat tangential to my main premise.
This past year, sitting down with notepad and pen or at my computer (usually on Saturday mornings) gave me a chance to put everything else on “pause”, focus on a vehicle and related subject to write about, and use my creative mind. Doing so provided a certain sense of structure at the official beginning of my weekends, as I sought to put some pieces of my life back together.
My circle of friends and acquaintances also got smaller this year. This isn’t an unusual process as we age and as we delve deeper into our passions, whether for work, hobbies, or whatever else is important to us. We simply grow into having fewer resources to allocate elsewhere. To this end, in 1940, Cadillac was still a very exclusive, low-production make. Total Cadillac production for 1940 was a touch over 13,000, including when just the chassis was manufactured. For 1940, Lincoln sold about 22,000 units, and the price spread between the lower and upper ends of its model range was about the same as Cadillac’s. Packard sold more units at around 98,000, but pricing of their lower-end One-Ten and One-Twenty models that made up the bulk of that figure was substantially lower than that of the entry level offerings from Cadillac (or Lincoln).
Compare Cadillac’s 1940 production figure of 13,000 to their sales record-year of 1979, when over 383,000 units were sold. It’s true that the Cadillac of 1940 was a much more bespoke kind of car than the mass-produced, almost ubiquitous ’79. I was a toddler when the newly downsized DeVilles made their debut for model year ’77, so the newer cars are definitely within the range of my observational experience, just a few years later, to recognize them as Cadillacs and appreciate their upscale nature. The 1940 model, however, is completely out of any firsthand experience I might have had with one. (If my maternal grandfather was still alive today, I’d love to ask him for his opinion of the ’40 Cadillacs, as he had once volunteered to me about the Cord 810 and 812 models, which he had remembered as new cars from his own young adulthood.)
This pre-war Cadillac glided down Michigan Avenue with a solemn, stately dignity and elegance unrivaled by anything else around it. (Check out the late model, similarly-shaped Lincoln MKT in the background.) Even comparing the presence of this Series 75 against that of a ’78 Fleetwood Brougham (like the one I spotted in Las Vegas this past September) would be like comparing the slick, graceful dance moves of Fred Astaire against those of John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever”. I suppose both have their merits, but these days, as I continue to move onward and upward and look forward to what the year 2020 has to offer, I want to be a little more “Series 75”, even if only in my head.
Downtown, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, October 5, 2019.
Breaks my heart to see what Cadillac was to what it is now. The only thing remotely close to Cadillacs past is the Escalade.
I think Cadillac sales jumped in 1941 when the Cadillac 61 replaced the LaSalle, but your point is well taken that Cadillac was not a car designed for the masses.
I am coming around to the notion that there will forever be a tug of war between exclusivity and popularity. How many exclusive designer labels have cashed in on volume lines offered at “regular” department stores? And how excited Cadillac management must have been when sales rocketed into the six figures. Look at them now.
JP, exactly, about that tug of war thing you described. JC Penney’s “Halston III” line from the early ’80s was an example of this.
I find it’s not a pretty car, not like a 1940 Ford or the magnificent Lincoln Continental.
And the GM family resemblance is unmistakable.
No matter. It’s HANDSOME. AND it carries presence. It would carry presence even if a Model 62 coupe. And while its GM family presence is unmistakable, it’s also unmistakably top of the pecking order. It doesn’t take after Chevrolet or Buick…Chevrolet and Buick take after IT.
IMO, Cadillac’s worst mistake was the late ’60s decision to chase market share. It already owned the luxury segment, it could shout “jump” and all Lincoln or Imperial could ever do is plead, “how high?”
By 1977, the brand was diluted and Mercedes had left it in the dust. While those new downsized DeVilles and Fleetwoods cut their own presence in that day, the fact that 383,000 of them found homes was itself a mistake, for the General had forgotten one of the most important luxuries of all when it comes to Cadillac’s former intended target audience…
Chas108, I totally agree that this car’s exclusivity and presence overshadow its lack of a pretty face.
I like its front end just fine; it’s the rear end that doesn’t work for me.
I love Mitchell’s 60 Special version, but this 75 is a bit clumsy in the back third. But yes, it does still have a lot of dignity.
Joseph, nice find. That car bespeaks power and authority, and it’s not difficult to imagine it as a new car on those same Chicago streets, likely carrying a member of the…I mean, a well-connected man and his posse. Thanks for the post!
PLEASE GET RID OF THAT ANNOYING NEW POP-UP AD ON THE BOTTOM! It takes forever to load, so I click it closed before I can even see what it advertises – which makes it completely useless, in addition to being annoying. I understand that the site needs to make some money, but this is going too far. There are already plenty of ads here, there’s no need to have pop-ups too.
Agreed. My old iPad can’t cope and keeps reloading the page every time the pop up appears. Might not be within this site’s control though.
Lovely old Cadillac that beautifully manages the balance between old-style class (that roomy limousine rear) and modernity (front end) without looking in the least awkward or disjointed. Memo to all those stretch-limo builders: this is what a real limousine should look like. Memo to all modern prestige-vehicle designers: study this, modern for its time yet also stately and dignified.
Elegance personified in sculpted metal. Series 75s were also available in 2 and 4 door convertible versions! Eighteen feet of pre-war majesty. Love it!
“Majesty” is the perfect word!
I’d like to own one of these GM giants of the late ’30s to early ’40s. Even a Buick or Olds might do. The only pre-war car I ever owned was a more or less stock 1940 Ford Tudor.
It would be interesting to see how much more you got for your money back then.
Unfortunately, there seem to be only two conditions of these cars available,
nice condition (restored, street rodded), or derelict hulks. The days of finding one somewhat intact and getting it back into running condition, however poorly, are gone.
In the summer of 2018 my wife and I had rented a chalet near Markdale, Ontario with a group of friends. One afternoon, we decided to go for a short drive and I came across a 1940 Cadillac, a maroon Fleetwood Seventy Two. The interior needed a bit of work, but the body and paint looked great, and I snapped several nice shots of it. The owner was a mechanic, and he had found it (properly covered) in a barn where it had been sitting since the early ‘60’s. He paid $5000 cash for it and got it running without much trouble, and now he uses it as a summer driver. He said the engine had never been apart, and it was quite reliable. A real find, and these were from the days when a Cadillac was really something special. A modern Cadillac really doesn’t have the presence of these old ones, and I’m not sure that a 2020 Cadillac will even rate a second glance decades from now. On the other hand, a Cadillac from the marque’s best years will command respect well after the newer ones are long off the road.
If someone had bet me odds on seeing a prewar Cadillac zipping thru normal Chicago traffic on a fall day I would have taken that bet. And lost.
You Mr. Dennis seem to have an in with the automotive Gods.
I enjoy your stories, photography and continually fascinating finds.
Thank you for brightening my day!
Thank so much, Bill! I can say with 90% confidence that this Cadillac is probably the oldest car I’ve seen out and about on the road in a non-car-festival setting.
Restomod? The wheels and tires don’t look stock
Wheels could be original 16″, I’m not sure about the wheel covers. Look like modern low-profile tires. Needs much more white, or all-black tires.