Museum Classics: 1987 Cadillac Broughams – The End Of Clark Street

The Clark Street Cadillac assembly plant closed in 1987, but a small part of it lives on at the Detroit Historical Museum, where some of the lowest-mileage 1987 Cadillacs in the world have been sitting idle for decades. Heck, they even have window stickers. If you like your ’80s cars big, and your mental soundtrack is the theme from The Golden Girls, you’ve found your spiritual home.

Clark Street Assembly was Cadillac’s home base since the 1920s. In GM’s comparatively dark days of Roger Smith’s reign, times were changing fast, and few would argue that they were changing for the better. So proud plants such as Clark Street (and later Buick City and others) were closing their doors.

Clark Street once built this 1955 Coupe DeVille.

And this 1962 convertible.

By 1987, they were dropping smogged-out Oldsmobile 307s into their newly-renamed “Brougham” models. I had to zoom into this picture to identify the engine, and even then the sheer bulk of vacuum hoses, servos, and valves made identification dicey, so I went to the internet for confirmation. My parents had a LeSabre with a 307 back in the ’80s, and my young mind couldn’t begin to make sense of all that underhood detritus, and I imagine many experienced mechanics didn’t feel much more confident.

When the plant closed, a portion of the body drop line found its way to the Detroit Historical Museum, which is famous for having more cars than they know what to do with (a problem that some people, such as your author, are familiar with).

This video shows some of their huge collection, which unfortunately is housed in an old warehouse out of the public eye. The museum itself is set up so that only a handful of cars are ever on display. Because of this, the Clark Street installation, which takes up a significant amount of space, may be an example of a gift you wish you could regift.

Whatever, it’s unique. The actual “body drop” Brougham shows some signs of being dropped too many times (the lower doors are badly creased, which doesn’t show up in my picture), and the display itself was unfortunately out of order on the day I visited. I remember seeing this exhibit when I was an adolescent and the display was new; decades later, maintenance must be a liability for a city museum.

These big Cadillacs are fairly popular these days, so the idea of assembling a brand new 1987 Cadillac must invite a Pavlovian response for some, although the thought of reconditioning 37-year-old cars with their miles of vacuum hose doesn’t sound like my idea of a good day in the garage (although the bumper fillers are holding up well out of the elements).

Regardless, Michigan is proud of its manufacturing history, and it’s never a bad thing to remember the salad days when so many of us could graduate high school and get a good job on the GM line, making enough scratch to buy a house and a new GM car in whose assembly we may have had a hand. There’s a reason everybody in Flint drove Chevys and Buicks: They built them and they bought them. That mentality still exists to some extent in Michigan, but it feels like it’s slowly fading.

The Detroit Historical Museum is a reminder of how good that must have felt. Almost everyone in Michigan knows someone who worked the line, and it must have been a sad day when Clark Street closed its doors. At least there are a few partially assembled Caddys to help us remember. Sure, rose-colored glasses play a part, but they are always involved when nostalgia is.