When Tatra87 pointed out that there hasn’t been a proper long form post on the last of the BOF RWD Cadillac sedan, it was timed perfectly since we just got our 1994 Fleetwood Brougham back from the shop after the engine developed a rod knock in January.
I am going to do my best to pay homage to these (almost) King of The Road land yachts of yesteryear, because despite shortcomings, these vehicles still turn heads and represent the last in their evolutionary chain (at least as far as General Motors goes – the Town Car/Grand Marquis/Crown Victoria still had some of that DNA until 2011).
By the late 80’s, the D Body Cadillac Brougham was getting a bit dated looking, inside and out, especially compared to the new 1990 Lincoln Town Car. The 1990 refresh addressed some of the issues, but the interior and body were still basically the 1980 DeVille/Fleetwood with a digital dash, better sound systems, Electronic Climate Control, body cladding, composite headlamps, and the optional L05 5.7 TBI solving the power problem (real or perceived) of the 307 Olds.
But the planners at Cadillac saw the writing on the sales wall and looked to revive the D body with a completely new body, interior, and mechanical features to better compete with what FoMoCo managed to whip up. Designer Chuck Jordan worked his magic within the framework of the related B Body restyles of the 1991 Chevrolet Caprice & new 1991 Buick Roadmaster – with somewhat mixed results.
Further up the corporate ladder, there was distain for these vehicles – from “The Cadillac Story, The Postwar Years” p167:
“For years, Cadillac officials had been earnestly hoping that the old rear-wheel drive Brougham would simply go away. The distaste that Cadillac – and significantly, GM executives – held for the rear-drive models in these years should not be understated. Chairman Roger Smith and Bob Stempel, who had been elevated to the presidency in 1987, positively loathed rear drive technology….Stempel admitted that the then-new 1992 Buick Roadmaster and Chevy Caprice rear drive lines had been put into production ‘over my dead body’. The paying customers, however, refused to be dissuaded…the rear drive Brougham still accounted for nearly one in five full size Cadillac sales.”
The new D body retained the 121 inch wheelbase, but the body was lengthened to 225 inches and the widened 4 inches to 78. The steeply raked windshield, triple door seals, and aircraft style doors helped reduce the drag coefficient and wind noise – two big complaints with the old design. But it led to a deep dashboard similar to the “Dustbuter” minivans, along with some not so nice comparisons to the exterior looking like a bloated whale or a upside down bathtub. All speed traction control combined with anti-lock brakes to help keep the SS Fleetwood going down the right path – but Cadillac insisted on keeping rear drum brakes even with the new car weighing more than the old Brougham.
No wire wheel covers were available from the factory, with two cast aluminum wheel styles available depending on if it was the base model or the Brougham.
Inside the new Fleetwood, Cadillac strived to bring it up to date – within reason. Tufted seats were out, the chrome was toned down, and the dashboard was cleaned up a bit giving it a more Lexus look than the outgoing Brougham or FWD Sixty Special. The use of flake plastic wood was kept up on the dash and door panels, and everyone still had their own ashtray like in the Cadillacs of yore. Split frame seats along with front articulating headrests, driver/passenger triple lumbar, two position drivers memory, and gathered cloth/leather look on the Brougham option package made for an even more comfortable turnpike cruiser.
The new armrest was wider with dual cupholders and room for a small tissue box along with CD’s and cassettes. Back seat passengers were treated to more room, rear cupholders in the armrest, and Brougham trimmed cars came with rear lighted vanity mirrors. Radios were upgraded with the introduction of tweeters in the front doors, with the amp & tuner module moved into the trunk next to the relocated power antenna for reduced electrical noise and simplified cable routing.
Only the L05 TBI 350 Chevy V8 and non-electronically controlled 4L60 carried over from the 92 Brougham, with the L03 305 Chevy V8 dropped. With 185 net HP and 300 lbs/ft of torque, nobody cared that it wasn’t a Cadillac exclusive engine under the hood – especially given the recent issues with the HT4100 and V8-6-4. Three different rear end ratios were available – the base Fleetwood got 2.56:1, Brougham package 3.08:1, and the trailer towing package 3.73:1. Suspension carried over as well with coils at all four corners, shocks up front, electronic level control air shocks in the rear along with front and rear stabilizer bars to keep it from completely rocking and rolling on turns.
Sales figures for the new Fleetwood Brougham rose to 31,773 units compared to 13,761 from the previous year – but still nowhere near the 110,000 Town Cars or 125,000 deVilles that found new homes that year.
You may be asking yourself why GM was putting effort into the B/D Body – this sales promo film for the Buick Roadmaster partially explains GM thinking people buying the Ford Panther cars were all potential customers that weren’t ready to embrace the C body offerings from Olds/Buick/Cadillac. The debate is an ongoing one, but the sales numbers speak for themselves – only the Caprice cracked production numbers of 100k/yr, and the Roadmasters high water mark was 70k in 1992. Compare that to 163k for the Mercury Grand Marquis in 1992 or 101k Ford Crown Victorias that found homes.
For the 1994 Fleetwood Brougham, the General decided to put a little pep in the orthopedic shoes with a detuned version the Corvette LT1 under the hood – 260 hp and 335 lb/ft of torque was matched to a new electronically controlled 4L60E. Fuel economy improved from 16 MPG city to 17 MPG with highway estimates staying at 25 – rear axle ratios were changed as well with base models retaining the 2.56:1 axle , Broughams getting 2.93:1, and 3.42:1 for the trailer towing package. Chromed aluminum wheels were now an available option for those who thought the foot of chrome running along the bottom wasn’t enough. Fleetwood was available in 12 exterior colors including the new Light Gray, Light/Medium/Dark Adriatic Blue and Majestic Amethyst. An improved HD6 air conditioning compressor (for use of R-134a refrigerant) accompanied the LT1 under the hood for cool Cadillac comfort.
Inside, the “tissue box” steering wheel was replaced by the new four spoke Cadillac design used across the entire line, but all other interior features and looks carried over from the previous year. A dealer installed 6 disc CD changer was now available for those who wanted the finest in digital audio – but still only thru 6 speakers (really 4 speakers and two front tweeters) with no Bose or ActiveAudio system available. Also included was a turn signal activated “flash-to-pass” feature that allowed the driver to signal the driver in front of intent to pass via bright headlamps whether the headlamps were on or not.
A DEFOG feature added to the Climate Control system, directing 65 percent of the air to the windshield for clearing and 35 percent to the floor heat ducts.
1995 saw the Fleetwood improved under the hood with a new quieter starter that all Cadillacs received, a revised camshaft design that in conjunction with new sound and vibration reducing composite rocker arm covers decreased engine mechanical noise and valve noise on the outside of the car.
The 4L60-E now featured a 298mm torque converter clutch assembly that had a higher torque capacity, which enhanced the unit’s durability.
Previously optional equipment that was made standard included remote keyless entry, central door unlocking and automatic door locks and electrochromic inside rearview mirror with new map lights.
Other new standard features included larger, foldaway, patch-mounted outside rearview mirrors; quiet door latch system; ignition key anti-lockout feature; revised instrument panel top pad; “SIR Airbag” embossed label for passenger side; and two new exterior color choices: Fawn Gray and Calypso Green.
The Brougham sedan added a programmable garage door opener and a revised electronic lumbar system that replaced the three separate lumbar controls with one. A toggle switch in the glovebox allowed the traction control to be switched off and on without restarting the engine.
Also on the Brougham, the optional V4R security package was upgraded to include the theft deterrent system and auto lock/unlock fuel filler door.
As in previous years, the Fleetwood could also be ordered as the V4U Coachbuilder Limousine Package, B9Q Funeral Coach Package, or RIP Heavy-Duty Sedan Package with heavy-duty components required for continuous commercial service.
1996 was the last year for the big RWD sedans, as the Arlington Texas plant was being converted to Tahoe/Suburban duty – but the Fleetwood went out with a revised cupholder/armrest design, new optional Dual Mode built in cellphone, revised radios with the amp/tuner in the dash rather than the trunk, OBDII compatibility, and electro-motor cruise control instead of vacuum controlled. The LT1 also switched over to DexCool coolant, for better or worse. Those who still wanted RWD Caddy limos and hearses could order the V4U Coachbuilder Limousine Package, B9Q Funeral Coach Package, or RIP Heavy-Duty Sedan Package with heavy-duty components required for continuous commercial service. 1996 is the rarest of the Fleetwoods, with only 15,101 examples produced for the swan song year.
These Fleetwoods and their lesser corporate cousins never did put a dent in the FoMoCo sales as intended – and that is a testament to how much better the Park Ave & DeVille were in almost every way as passenger cars. For livery use, body on frame is preferred, but that was a market Lincoln had pretty well sewn up by the 90’s. Lincoln catered to the coachbuilders in a way Cadillac didn’t, and it showed. But these vehicles were not without their own shortcomings – cheap plastics, flakey electronics and switchgear, OptiSpark, and styling that only looked great in certain angles/colors. The driving dynamics, such as they were, did not compete at all with anything Japanese or European – 4 wheel discs or independent suspension would have been a way to been seen as seriously trying to update the large luxury sedan.
But I come here to praise this car, not to bury it. For highway travel, there is almost no other car better suited to the task. You settle into the seats, set the cruise control, and just make miles while the big V8 lazily turns somewhere underneath the massive hood. Valet parking the car gets you admiration from even the Gen Z set – my wife and I always take either this or our 88 Brougham out on date nights, and you do feel special piloting the barge around.
The 1994 FWB that now graces our driveway with a new Jasper engine came about because a 1995 Sedan Deville bought sight unseen from Queens turned out to have a top that was dyed with shoe polish…and nobody outside of a place on Long Island would repair it. I found this example on Craigslist in Cleveland – my wife loved the white on white look of the car, and it test drove fine aside from a noisy ac compressor.
Unfortunately, after I paid him the car refused to start. Letting it cool off for an hour allowed it to restart, and the guy gave me back $500. He told me the car was well maintained and couldn’t understand what was wrong. That was the tip of the iceberg – we managed to get the car almost all the way home before the coolant pump gave way and took the OptiSpark with it. My mechanic found algae on the coolant temp sensor trying to diagnose a drivability issue – we spent about $2k on repairs before the engine developed a rod knock.
While $11k total is a tough lesson to learn about nor fully checking out a car before buying, at least we now have a fully sorted Fleetwood Brougham with new brakes, tires, and an engine that will last for a long time.
The big Brougham (Fleetwood or not) Epoch may have hit an evolutionary dead end, but it did leave its mark. And if prices of nice examples are any indication, my wife and I will be getting looks and waves from drivers for years to come.