COAL: 1988 Cadillac Brougham – Last Christmas at Clark Street

On Monday December 14th 1987, one of many black Cadillac Broughams rolled down the Clark Street assembly line just as many Cadillac automobiles had before it. Boombox radios blasting stations like WCSX and WLLZ competed with the symphony of machinery as workers did their part to turn a jumble of individual pieces of chrome and plastic into a Brougham that would burble down the American highway. But this was one of the last Broughams to be built in Detroit – by Friday December 18th , the Clark Street Assembly plant would be shut down for good, with the last Fleetwood built body stamped out a few days before on Wednesday the 16th. Some of the workers found jobs at other GM plants, others were not so fortunate – and the Brougham found a new home in Texas at Arlington, at least until 1996.

Fast forward to Spring 2017, and I get a Facebook notification that I have been tagged in a photo from a friend of mine. It’s a black Cadillac Brougham – my friends know my obsession with old Cadillacs…and it’s for sale! But even with it being sharp looking and in great condition (new bumper fillers, windshield, vinyl roof, and carpet) I had to pass as I had already purchased a 1996 Cadillac Fleetwood from a friend. Looking back, I should have gone with the Brougham – I had a 1984 Sedan deVille as my first car and it suited me fine, but I didn’t want to renege on my agreement to buy the 96. But hey, no use crying over spilt milk. The owner of the Brougham is an older radio guy from northern Michigan, so he and I become FB friends and stay in touch. And two months ago, he messages me that he STILL can’t find anyone who wants his Brougham…so would I take it off his hands for a bit less than the advertised price?

The only picture I have of Dads 87 Brougham “Igor”

This time I say yes! One of my Dad’s limos was a black 87 Brougham named Igor – and how can I say no to another car from my youth?! I agreed to his price, and made plans to come out and get it over the July 4th holiday when I would be in the area (ironically enough, in Cadillac MI) and not have to make a mad dash to get the car and be back in Pittsburgh for work. But you know what happens with the best laid plans – something came up with work around July 4th (Christmas related ironically enough – shooting a holiday TV special in July), so I had to mad dash to Michigan and get the car over a weekend.

Take the last train to Elkhart…

Trying to make this as painless (and cheap) as possible, I ended up taking the train overnight from Pittsburgh to Elkhart Indiana where a friend of mine would take me north to Traverse City where the car was. The train ride was fun, even if the train station was a bit…sketchy. I paid extra for a sleeper car and got some shut eye on the way to Indiana – well, as much as possible on a train car that’s rocking and rolling. And due to Amtrak delays we were over an hour late getting to Elkhart. No worries, as I had planned to drive in the evening after getting the car and stay somewhere in Ohio before getting to work Monday morning.

Amazed this has lasted since Dec 87 – the build sheet

Manual rear height adjustment – roughly 90 PSI is stock ride height

We got to the Caddy about 5 in the afternoon – and it was just as advertised. Paul showed me around some of the quirks of the car, like the air shocks that are manually adjusted via a tire valve near the gas cap and the car cover in the trunk.

But when I opened the drivers door for the first time…all I could think about was my Pap’s 1983 Oldsmobile 98 Regency sedan. This Brougham smelled EXACTLY like it! I settled in behind the familiar wheel (leather wrapped this time), adjusted the power seat, and started to make miles towards Ohio as the soft burble of the 307 Olds soothed me along rural Michigan.

Living room on wheels

Unfortunately, my serenity went away quickly as about 40 miles down the road…one of the rear tires decided to disintegrate on MI 115 doing 55. At 6:30 in the evening, about 18 miles from Clare MI…when nothing is open. Check the spare…and it won’t hold air. Call AAA – which was an ordeal in itself…my AT&T phone wouldn’t play nice with their automated phone system (not recognizing voice commands or DTMF), so I had to use my Verizon backup to get a live operator. And then due to a dispatch error, the tow truck didn’t get there until 10 PM.

What 15 year old tires look like

But you know what? It ended up being ok – I stayed at a hotel in town after dropping the car off at a tire shop, and got some work done (last minute radio show to record – have mic, will travel) and got a good night sleep. Called Bob’s Tire at 8:30 AM – and I was in luck! They had two tires in stock that fit the Caddy – with whitewalls! Hankook Optimos that ended up matching the front tires – the fronts were ok (date code 2015), while the rear tires were from 2005!

Even on a tow truck it looks cool

Back on the road at 11 AM, and had an uneventful but rainy trip back to Pittsburgh – with a stop in Saginaw for a Culver’s ButterBurger & cheese curds.

I would trade Eat n Park for one of these in Pittsburgh

The cruise control worked wonderfully, and I kept the Caddy rolling at the speed limit with the help of my phone GPS since the speedo is a few MPH off. Rolling along at 70, the 307 Olds managed 23 MPG on the flatlands of Michigan & Ohio on regular gas, even as the Electronic Climate Control was set to 60 throwing out that wonderful icy cold conditioned air that GM is famous for.

The Caddy Crest leading the way home down Perry Hwy

Back home, I am now getting to make a few repairs to the car – the windshield had a nick in the glass that I fixed with a kit, some touchup paint to fill in a few nicks, and repairing a small tear in the vinyl roof.

At least the badge looks powerful

Much has been said on this site about the game of musical chairs Caddy played in the 80’s with the RWD C/D body engine choice, and while the 307 Olds is not the 425, it isn’t as bad as I remember it. Granted it struggles up steep grades here in Western PA, but I haven’t had any issues merging onto highways nor keeping up with traffic. What does drive me crazy is the tendency to not want to restart when warm – but that might be due to the ethanol content of the gasoline. But I would be lying if I told you I haven’t been googling how to convert it to EFI.

Classic vs Contemporary

Driving it daily isn’t much different than my 91 deVille, except I make sure to leave more room in front to stop. The power steering is WAY overboosted for that “drive by pinky” feeling, it rocks and rolls in the corners, but not dangerous once you get used to it. The ‘91 deVille feels like an BMW by comparison – the extra 60 HP, smaller dimensions, independent suspension, rack & pinion steering, and 600 pounds less weight make a world of difference. It’s a shame Cadillac let the big car wither on the vine – the interior on paper isn’t much roomier, but it FEELS roomy. And while I love the styling cues of the 89 and up FWD C car, nothing says “Cadillac” quite like these.

But the sales figures speak for themselves – people loved the new deVille & FWD Fleetwood at first, even if it didn’t help Cadillac attract younger buyers. That tufted velour/vinyl top/wire wheel cover Broughamitis is a hard habit to break, especially when you still believe that the competition is a Chrysler Fifth Ave or Town Car rather than a Benz or Bimmer. The Brougham never sold in great numbers, with 1987 being the high water mark of 65k produced. Compare that with 100k for the FWD C body – and production steadily trended down to under 40,000 by 1990. These cars appealed to older tastes and were a throwback even then – watch the sales video below. The only two people not members of The Greatest Generation are the goomba Murano glass types from New Jersey (I resemble that remark!) – aside from those two, it’s all senior citizens throwing on the cardigan sweater before heading to the country club for a few holes, then maybe a nice steak dinner at the place with the dark wood interior that matches the Brougham.

But there were enough hard core Classic Cadillac people out there – along with coachbuilders for hearses and limos – to keep the Detroit plants going, even after GM said they were closing up in 85. But then GM decided to shut the plant down, and the final Clark Street Cadillacs came down the line. And with it a bit of the neighborhood too – I found on YouTube a two hour home movie shot by one of the Clark St employees with newscasts at the end of it. You can feel the wounded pride of people who truly believed that they built the best Cadillacs, local bars and restaurants worried about where their business will go, and a city bracing for the next round of closures and jobs fleeing elsewhere. With work being in all Christmas mode for our upcoming show, I think about how I would feel having to lose my job right before the holidays…and no way to get it back.

It’s not fast, it has no pretensions of being sporty, and the interior has more plastic wood than a 73 Zenith console TV – but I love it. That long hood with the Cadillac crest pointing the way, the seats that could be in my living room, and that boulevard ride make me feel like a king when I’m behind the wheel. Those who know me call me an old soul – I was wearing sweater vests to high school in 2004, I still listen to mostly 50’s and 60’s oldies, and my current favorite TV show is Perry Mason. So this car fits me like a glove – especially being a Jersey Guy who looks like a low level enforcer (seriously – some of the background singers at work thought I was security for my boss).

Three body trunk as we say in the Garden State

This past week I ended up going to a car show on Father’s Day – mostly to hang out with my friend who was emceeing it, but also to look at what the Steel City has to offer for classic cars. With the forecast calling for rain only about a dozen classics showed up, so I ended up putting my car in the show!

Mafia Staff Car – Keepa You Hands Off

I was pleasantly surprised how many people stopped to look at the car – having grown up around these all my life you just take them for granted. I’m still coming to terms with the fact that a car from the year I was born is a “classic,” but time marches on I guess. I even had a handful of people ask if it was for sale! Nope, and I’m not selling my 91 deVille either.

“See kids? This is what they used to call a land yacht before Escalades”

You can’t go home again, but with this Brougham I can at least visit. One second of that soft V8 burble and I’m back in 1999 with my Pap & Dad, lamenting how the transmission has “no holdback” and enjoying the soft velour seats. I can’t get that from a Benz at any price.