The annual Back To The Bricks car festival is happening this week in my hometown of Flint, Michigan, and this year will mark only the second time since 2010 that I’ve missed it, not counting 2020. I have no remaining blood relatives in Flint, but I still consider it home, as much as I do my adopted city of Chicago. I have a complicated relationship with the Vehicle City, which helped shape me – one of hope and optimism for its future, with a strong love for the resilient, no-nonsense people of Flint, but also one of frustration, loss, and memories of how rosy everything seemed back in the days when no less than six major General Motors factories were churning out vehicles and components, twenty-four seven.
Even under the tangible film of industrial, Rust Belt grime that seemed to coat everything during my upbringing in the 1980s, life there seemed much easier there when it felt like there was enough money to go around. As Cyndi Lauper once sang, “Money Changes Everything.” Throughout my time in Flint, I had regularly witnessed interactions among different segments of its population that were mostly harmonious (which is still true today), but when the economy would be hit with a major blow in a series of successive setbacks, it was then that tensions would flare, with accompanying stories that would show up in the Flint Journal. I suppose this phenomenon wasn’t so far removed from things I read in the news today about many places, including where I live now.
I hope to go back to Flint maybe even later this year. It just felt like it was okay to take a by on this August’s car festival, as I’m just now starting to be able to enjoy life where I actually live in the great Second City, which has so much to offer and do. Besides being downtown Flint on the red bricks of Saginaw Street and enjoying a walk among all of the classic rides, listening to live music, eating delicious local food favorites, and shopping, another one of my favorite things to do there is to hit the thrift stores. At some point about ten years ago, I had rediscovered that the Salvation Army on North Dort Highway, where I used to shop thirty years ago when I was teenager, was still a great source of many cool, vintage finds.
This one location, seen in the background of the two pictures above, is where I have bought LPs, old clothes in great shape, and even some useful household goods. Some of those shirts, trousers, and jackets from the 1960s and ’70s have fit me so well that I wondered if they had belonged to one particular gentleman who had been of my exact build some forty years prior, whose things were donated to this thrift store following the liquidation of his estate. This train of thought normally puts me in a very existential state of mind, as I don’t have any offspring of my own. I wonder if my own possessions could ever be appreciated, cherished, or even simply used as much by someone else as they are by me, or if they will end up being donated to charity by my nephews and nieces, or merely disposed of by the estate sale company of my choosing.
Material traces of the person I am and had been will hopefully find new life one day in the homes of persons who will be glad to have them. These are some of the same ideas that crossed my mind when I looked at this ’73 Eldorado that was parked a stone’s throw away from this store on one particular shopping trip. This car was for sale for something like $12,500, if I remember correctly. (The sign on the passenger’s side window is illegible, even if magnified many times.) I liked that it was parked next to the Sports Coupe, an archetypal Flint bar that used to cater to the “shop” (factory) workers who earned a paycheck at nearby AC Spark Plug, decades ago. It was a fun juxtaposition to see this Eldorado and the words “sports coupe” in the same frame, as there was really nothing sporty about this large, two-and-a-half ton personal luxury cruiser.
Seventy-three was the third model year for the second generation of the reborn Eldorado personal luxury coupe. While the ’72 was very similar to the ’71 with only minor detail changes to its exterior, the ’73 brought more substantial updates. Up front was a new 5-mph bumper, wraparound composite turn signals and side marker lights, and an eggcrate grille comprised of thirty-six large squares above the bumper. Out back, new, bisected blade-like taillamps were extracted from the bumper and placed above it, as was the license plate holder. The heavy sculpting of the trunk lid was toned down, and round side marker lights on the rear quarter panels made a one-year-only appearance. The rear fenders were also shorn of their decorative, vent-like trim.
The visual net effect of these changes made for a slightly more generic look than before, in my opinion, even if still attractive and upscale. The taillights looked like they could have been interchangeable with certain Chryslers and Imperials of the time, and the square, geometric pattern inside the new grille lacked the elegant simplicity of the vertical lines of the previous two model years. Despite this, sales of the ’73 were a high-water mark at the time, with over 42,100 hardtops and an additional 9,300 convertibles sold that year. The next-best sales total up to that point had been from just the year before, with almost 32,100 hardtops and 8,000 convertibles finding buyers. Among hardtops alone, and with convertibles famously being discontinued after ’76 (for what turned out to be only eight years), the ’73 tally wouldn’t be beat until ’77, with 47,300 coupes finding buyers.
The newly redesigned ’79s would smash all previous records, with 67,400 copies sold. Those crisply downsized E-Body Cadillacs would only increase in popularity, with over 75,000 sold in both 1984 and ’85, the latter being the last model year before the Eldorado’s second big shrink the following year. Compared with the ’85 coupe which weighed about 3,800 pounds, our featured ’73 weighed close to 5,000 pounds. It was powered by a 500 cubic inch V8 with 235 horses, an engine exclusive to the Eldorado that year. A period test from Consumer Guide measured just 8 miles per gallon in fuel consumption during their testing loop, and this was the year of the 1973 oil crisis that commenced that October.
Putting this dismal number and fuel costs into perspective, maybe this was part of the reason this rolling trophy case had remained in such remarkable condition. Perhaps its original owner had kept it off the road not only to preserve it, but also because it had cost so much to drive it even only around Flint. It made me a little sad to see it parked outside with its “for sale” sign, exposed to the elements and in full view of onlookers and passing traffic on this industrial stretch of Dort Highway. I didn’t feel it was in any danger of theft or vandalism, but when a car that looks like it has been garaged for much of its life is suddenly sitting outside, baking in the mid-summer sun, in a parking lot in the East Side of Flint, I have questions.
Was this Eldorado part of an estate sale? Who was the original owner? How much pride and joy had this silver Cadillac brought to the lady or gentleman behind the wheel in its best years? When I’m back in Flint, I like to eat at establishments that have been open for decades that are outside of the economic growth that seems to be expanding, slowly and steadily, from the downtown area where much of the city’s rebirth seems to be concentrated. At such places, there are usually a handful of older people who look like they have seen this area through many changes. I imagine them to be former shop workers, teachers, and business owners. It encourages me to see them continue to get out and enjoy life in what was once a very prosperous, blue collar town. Here’s hoping that this ’73 Eldorado has similarly found new life in the garage of an adoring owner.
Wednesday, August 14, 2019.