Life is a rather funny thing sometimes. When you’re down in the dumps and feel like no hope is going to come, a mysterious savior can come in the most unlikely forms. Sometimes it can be a person who enters your life unexpectedly, other times it can be the smallest gesture or gift that’s completely unexpected. In my case, the mysterious savior came in the form of a car, which while looking pristine and clean on the outside, turned out to be broken and in need of fixing. It still has its problems, problems that will plague it and never go away even with the necessary TLC, but it’s a reliable and good friend. It’s certainly one of a kind and one that very few people tend to forget, for better or worse. This COAL is partially a story of me, but also a story of my first and only car, a car that I’ve formed a bond with and will certainly never forget.
The year was 2014; I was getting ready to graduate high school at some point late in the summer. As an avid video gamer with some Christmas money to burn, I picked up Forza Motorsport 4 for the Xbox 360. I had no interest in racing games before, but I picked it up because it was cheap and I thought it might provide some hours of fun. After playing the game for a while, something about it clicked on a switch in my brain that was covered in cobwebs and neglected. It re-triggered my car enthusiasm.
I was a car enthusiast in the loosest terms when I was little; I had plenty of Matchbox, Hot Wheels, and Maisto cars when I was a kid, and even had a book of cool vehicles that I read for a while, but over time that interest faded. I eventually sold most of that stuff to make way for other toys and more video games, even growing up as a gamer, I never played traditional racing games with real world cars because they weren’t of interest. That all changed when I played through Forza 4, and I can name the exact car in the game that triggered my car enthusiast lust once more: The 1965 Pontiac GTO. The second I laid eyes on that car, it started a renewed enthusiasm for cars that would not stop.
Because of my enthusiasm, I decided to do something I never thought I would ever consider; start looking for a first car. Naturally, because of my love for the GTO, I wanted a big old muscle car, something that my parents were very much against. 1: Because they were big old cars with low gas mileage and old-car steering, 2: Because they were getting expensive. I tried to find compromises though; I looked longingly at second and third generation Pontiac Firebirds and Chevrolet Camaros, a new Dodge Challenger, I even found a beat up 1968 Mercury Cougar on Ebay in the San Diego area for three grand, but alas, my parents wouldn’t budge. Probably for the best now that I think about it. I still looked for old-school cars, telling my parents about stuff I had seen on Craigslist, and the like, but to no avail, considering I hadn’t even started driving classes in any circumstances and it was too late in the school year for me to start, I just had to wait.
The only thing I told my parents was two thing: 1: I didn’t want a boring Camry/Accord/Prius/any four door, front drive, I4 or V6 car that was boring and dull. 2: I didn’t want an SUV or a Minivan, as the high ride height, limited visibility, and large size was something I was scared to try. I’m just more comfortable driving a big car that’s big in either length or width than I am in driving something that’s tall.
I started to think of what else I could go with instead. Sure enough, I found an unlikely alternative to my dilemma, but one far weirder than my parents, my peers, or anyone sane could’ve ever thought: A big luxury car. I thought about why that was, and realized it was the influence of two cars in particular. First was another car from Forza 4, a 1962 Lincoln Continental, one of the most iconic and revered American cars ever.
The other was a car was from my childhood, and one that long ago was my quintessential dream car, the Mercedes Benz W140 S-Class.
These two influences created an unhealthy alternative that gave my parents more headaches: ’66 Toronados, Buick Rivieras, ’67 Cadillac Eldorados, First Generation Lincoln Town Cars, Cadillac Broughams, Mercedes Benz W126s (that particular one wasn’t helped by the fact that my neighbor across the street had a beautiful gunmetal grey 450SEL in his front driveway that I lusted after. It’s visible in the top photo), even Jaguar XJ-S’ and XJ6’s. There was also a 1969 Ford LTD that was in my neighborhood for a while that piqued my interest, but that would’ve been shot down as well. All were shot down. Over time, when my interests and what I imagined grew, we started getting ideas. My parents were willing to indulge my interests so long as they weren’t crazy, but my dad however had one caveat: my first car had to be American made, since there was some family history to respect.
From the time he got shipped home from Vietnam until 2004, my grandfather had worked for the General to put food on the table. When you’re a blue collar worker from Toledo, Ohio, who never got any greater opportunities due to being drafted, and your job was what kept the lights on, it leaves a profound impact on your kids. My Dad took that attitude to heart; his cars were all American made. From his 1977 AMC Gremlin that was his first ride to his two Cavaliers, he had a big streak of domestic in his car buying choices. Growing up in Minnesota and having her dad’s friend owning a Ford dealer, my mom also drove a lot of American stuff.
From a Thunderbird, to an Escort, to a Fiesta, to a Jeep Wrangler, my parents were domestic people. It wasn’t until my Mom’s brand new Mini Cooper Countryman S that we finally broke that streak, but my dad wanted my car to be American made. That was fine by me; my tastes for the most part where domestic.
After I graduated high school, I got a job and was set to go to culinary school. I was still looking for a car, set up driving classes, and I was all set and felt like my life couldn’t get any better. Than all of a sudden all of that was taken away from me. My mom had been diagnosed with stage 4 Melanoma back in 2008; for the longest time she fought it and did everything to keep cancer free. Even when it came back, she fought every time. But, eventually it came back in the worst way and on September 14th, 2014, I dealt with the worst day of my life. I was let go of my job just two weeks after I had applied. An hour after I got home, my mother slipped away. I had essentially reached rock bottom. I went up to my room, and despite being an atheist, told god that he should’ve taken me instead as I wouldn’t have amounted to anything. Somedays, I still feel like he made the wrong choice.
All of my friends had gone away as well, so any local support I had was relegated to Facebook messages, and it fell to my dad to take care of me and my sister. I was not a fan of my dad—still am not—he was often away out at sea for the Navy for half the year. The half that he was home, let’s just say that my memories of him are not pleasant; he left a lot of scars that I don’t think will heal in any capacity. So, when you reach rock bottom, when all that’s going on is pain, you find some release for that. For me, that was immersing myself in searching for the car that I wanted.
I eventually narrowed it down to two: a Lincoln Mark VII LSC and the final generation Cadillac Eldorado. My dad was willing to indulge both for my first car, and we looked. Then, we came across it on Autotrader: a triple-black Eldorado, fully loaded, 78,000 miles on the odometer. The price? $5,500. It was too good to be true. We eventually met with the man who was selling it and took it for a test drive. I experienced the ride from the back seat, and as I sat in the driver’s seat, it felt right. We bought it, the title was ours, and my first car was bought.
Now, anyone who’s been here for a while and has been around longer than I’ve been alive knows an unspoken rule of car buying, “Never buy an old luxury car.” I tried to do as much research as I could, but that Cadillac had some problems we never knew about. The first problem we noticed was that the HVAC system was broken, which considering that it was approaching winter, wasn’t exactly a good thing. We got it fixed, but eventually, there was another big problem that both my dad and I never could’ve seen coming. One of the reasons I was leery about the Mark VII was that I knew about the foibles and problems of the rear air suspension, so I went with something that I thought was going to be not as problematic. Oh, how wrong I was. Not only was this car equipped with the air suspension, it was shot to pieces from age, resulting in a rough and truck-like ride that was not at all Cadillac smooth. We had to get it fixed.
I wanted to get a cheap air suspension set up that would mimic the original suspension, but my dad wanted coilovers instead, and ordered some over the phone, thanks to the ‘suggestion’ of the salesperson, without my consent. To say I was pissed, was an understatement, I felt like I was robbed of an important decision for something I had put so much pride and love in. We installed the setup, and it turned out fine, but that resentment was not something I was happy about.
Other problems appeared. For a brief period of time, the inner door material on the passenger’s side started to fall out for some inexplicable reason. I drove the car through a car wash with the radio antenna up and bent it to such a degree that it won’t fully retract downward into the car, a problem I still have to address even though the antenna picks up a signal. I also ended up getting in to an accident where, in a panic and worried state over thoughts of leaving my wallet at the store, I backed into the rear door of my neighbor’s orange Mercedes 240D, leaving a huge dent in the door and a tell-tale of orange paint near my rear. And, after I took these pictures, I misjudged my parking angle in a parking lot, and accidently bumped into someone, leaving a thing of white paint in the front bumper of my car while the other car traded some of my black paint as well. I also had to replace the tires on my car, as they were six years old at that point and had developed huge cracks on the sidewalls. Talk about a mess.
As for my life, it had its peaks in valleys. I quit culinary school last March, two semesters in, worried about if being a chef was the career path of what I wanted to pursue. I saw a therapist for a while to deal with my depression, who ended up leaving her offices because of family issues, leaving me with no one to talk to. I found out I was nearsighted, requiring me to get prescription glasses for driving and other activities. I struggled to find a job, and I struggled to get my license as my permit expired in September. I failed my first test before that, leading to an infamous moment where my dad told me “I deserved to fail” for not practicing as much as he would have liked).
Now that I’ve written my autobiography in stone, time to actually talk about my car at hand. What I really like about this car is its design. While enthusiasts give plenty of praise to how revolutionary the ’92 Seville looked, I was always a fan of the Eldorado a bit more. I like how distinctly like a Cadillac it looks, even with its 90s aero roots and euro-style influence. There’s no mistaken it for something else. I also like that it evokes the beautiful 67 Eldorado in some areas, particularly in the massive D pillar in the rear. Granted that cuts into visibility a lot creating some bad blind spots, but you get used to it over time. I also found out later that 1998 was the last year the Eldorado had chrome trim around the sides, with Cadillac ditching it for body colored panels for the final years. I personally am a fan of the chrome trim, as it works with the beautiful side profile very well, and gives it a little pop to the design,. It’s just odd for me to think of a Cadillac without chrome in some way. I hand-wash it at least once every two weeks, and even try and get the wheels as clean as possible.
The rear view is where the car is vastly different from the Seville, the obvious being the two big rear lights that evoke the old school taillights of Cadillac’s of yore. It works well even with the body that it’s attached to. My car is very weird in that it has a spoiler on it, and not an aftermarket one either; apparently it was a very rare dealer installed option that could be had with the ETC. My car is one of only two I’ve seen that has this rare option available, so I feel really special about it. I’m a fan of the spoiler as well, as it adds an extra dimension to the rear end that makes it visually interesting, and when you have a unique option for a car you drive, sometimes you have to feel proud of what you have. It may be odd to imagine a Cadillac with a spoiler, but as weird as it may be, it works for me, and it works well.
The interior is rather typical 90s GM quality, it’s plasticky, it’s hard, some buttons feel like they belong on toys that I grew up with as a kid, and it feels like a joke for a brand that was touted as “The standard of the world.” But despite its faults, it serves its job for the most part, all the buttons are easy to reach and easy to press, all the gauges are easy to read, and the fact that it’s held up as well as it has is a testament that sometimes, cheap tough plastic does have some advantages. What I like about the interior is the simple and easy to reach steering wheel buttons, there are only four buttons and they control only four things, changing the radio stations/CD tracks, adjusting the radio volume, controlling the fan speed, and controlling the temperature. They all respond well, they don’t require you to break your concentration, and they’re solid to the touch.
I’m very anal about the interior; I try and keep it as clean as I can, I don’t eat in my car, I don’t drink anything in my car, and no one is allowed to eat or drink in my car either. The leather seats are supportive and comfortable, which considering I have no padding in my posterior is a welcome relief, and the interior is conducive to my frame. Speaking as a 6’3″ 20 year-old with skinny long chicken legs, the car certainly fits me comfortably, even if the sunroof cuts into the headroom a bit. The only complaint and regret I have is that it’s all black, which in the southern California climate is a bit of a hassle. I don’t wear shorts in the summer, but that doesn’t mean my car is any more comfortable when it gets to that time. You can fry an egg on my dashboard when it gets up to 100 and up outside, but considering my car has that legendary GM A/C that makes the car so cold you can hang giant slabs of beef in it, I certainly don’t suffer for long.
The most infamous aspect, and the proverbial elephant in the room that tarnishes these cars like a pungent smell, is the powerplant involved. Specifically, the 4.6 DOHC Northstar V8, the latest in a long line of rotten eggs that Cadillac had involving its engines, an infamous legacy that was preceded by the V8-6-4 and the truly abysmal HT4100. This engine is notorious for headgasket failures, burning oil like it was a Molotov cocktail, and just having a lot of teething issues in its early life. My example is low mileage enough that it hasn’t needed any major repairs or issues, but it’s always in the back of the mind and makes me worried. However, the engine, taken out of its infamous problematic context, actually does have some strong points. My example is a later revision of the original L37 motor that, starting in 1996, has 300 HP, and that’s more than enough grunt to propel this nearly 2 ton behemoth forward. It accelerates pretty fast; you put your foot down, and it will move with tons of authority. It’s also buttery smooth and surprisingly quiet when it needs to be, making the whole car very pleasant, I wouldn’t say it’s a total sensory deprivation tank, but it does do a good job of keep the outside out and the inside in.
Speaking of keeping the outside out, the suspension is really good on this car, even if it isn’t stock. It does offer a rather smooth ride and quiet ride, doing its best to soak up the bumps and potholes around the San Diego area. Admittedly, it’s not as soft or smooth as larger and older cars that I had my eyes on, but it is very good at making the car a great interstate cruiser and perfect daily driver. The handling is actually somewhat good, for a big heavy car; it doesn’t exhibit catastrophic understeer and while the power steering is rather soft, it does a good job of going where you point it and staying on the road. The only exception is taking a hard turn, as the obvious Personal Luxury Coupe roots of the car come into full play; it understeers hard and leans.
It also brakes very long and very slowly, and panic stopping causes the front end to dive like it was a mechanical bull wanting to throw you into the bar. But, those are flaws I can overlook because the car’s ride was all that mattered. Growing up with my mom’s Countryman, its harsh sports suspension was one of my most hated aspects, coupled with the unsupportive bucket seats that made my butt go numb in about half an hour and made interstate or long commutes miserable to experience. After that experience, I decided to focus on comfort; there’s no point in handling if you can’t take advantage of it in day to day traffic, and I’ve experienced so much uncomfortableness in my life that sometimes you need something that can offer you some comfort and peace, and my car provides that for me.
As for miscellaneous stuff, the backseats are actually very comfortable and offer some form of leg room, even if buying a car like this for the backseats is sort of like buying a garden hose for the potted fern in your living room. The use of premium fuel and admittedly less than stellar MPG means the car gets about $50 fuel-ups at the gas station, and it’s hard to park in the cramped areas of San Diego. Parking spots are seemingly still are designed for Metros despite the popularity of SUVs and Crossovers in the area.
The final area to talk about is the trunk, maybe not as cavernous as you would think, but it does fit a lot of stuff in it. I’ve managed to easily fit in a big rifle case for my occasional trips to the gun range. The big thing that I like about it, is the 12 disk CD changer, a popular dealer installed option that went away once iPods came about. I really like this concept of a black box that can fit all your mixed CDs; it gives it a lot of variety in music listening without having to resort to the radio, which considering that my passenger side speaker is not up to snuff, is pretty nice.
My family and friends have been very positive toward my car; they think that it’s a very nicely styled and cool car that I should be proud of. I’ve gotten positive reactions from total strangers as well as my coworkers, whenever I tell people I have a Cadillac. Surely, not everyone is as positive, but I find that negative comments are kept to themselves; Cadillac still has some prestige in the name. The phrase “I own a Cadillac” is usually met with praise and sayings of “Nice car/Cool car” rather than snorts of derision or eye rolls. For a beater like mine, it sure does gain some notice to people, in only a positive way.
As for myself, I’ve gotten a job, I’ve been learning to be happier, and life is okay for the most part. I’ve been thinking of applying for auto repair classes, not necessarily at colleges or schools, but just for a potential fallback; it would also help with not spending an arm and a leg if my Cadillac goes wrong. As for what car I’ll get next, that’s for the future to decide, I’ve often thought about saving my cash and getting a big 70s domestic barge as a fun car, but as for what may replace my daily driver, I’m not sure. I may not get another Northstar Cadillac, because, like the Mopar Lottery, it’s not a game you get lucky playing twice, but I’ll be sure to get another big V8 powered car. Impractical? Absolutely. But it’s what I like, it’s what I’m drawn to, and I don’t play it safe. I’m a bit of an oddball, and being an oddball means you don’t go for the practical choice, you go for the choice that feels right.
You would think that a 20 year old kid like myself would not get the chance to have the car they want, let alone get a car so odd and diametrically strange as the final line in Cadillac’s famous two door nameplate. But I’m not like other kids my age, I’ve done and experienced a lot compared to others, I hold different opinions, I hold different worldviews, and I like odd cars. I’m proud of this beast – the description I said at the start could almost parallel myself in some ways – but this car has left an indelible impact. Even if the engine goes boom, even if it gets wrecked, even if I sell it down the road, I will never forget this magnificent work of art.
It was bought at the absolute low point of my life, a place that I struggled to get out of and continue to struggle to get out of, and it was something that I could wake up to everyday and take joy in. It was something I was happy to have, it was something I was proud of, it was just that one thing that made my life that much brighter, and I’m grateful every day for it. They say you only get one chance to make a first impression; for this Cadillac, I’m glad that impression it left was a good one. It’s flawed, it’s a relic, it depreciated steeply for a reason, but I’ll always remember the good memories and proud moments of my big, black, Cadillac.