Curbside Classic: 1970 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham: Last Of The True Cadillacs

(first posted 12/03/2012)    In the past couple of weeks we’ve seen several examples of Cadillac’s peak. Starting with its inception in 1902 and continuing more or less through the Sixties, Cadillac produced well-built, well-finished, impressive–and expensive–cars. Inside and out, wherever you looked you saw chromed, die-cast metal, leather, fine fabrics and extensive gadgetry. Since we’ve discussed the redesigned, dumbed-down 1971 Cadillacs ad nauseum (click here for the ’72 Coupe de Ville CC), today let’s take a look at the last real Cadillac: The 1970 model.

The 1970 Cadillacs were mildly restyled versions of the all-new 1969 models. In my opinion, the 1970 Cadillac is that rare case of a facelift improving on the original. The revisions involved nothing drastic, and every refinement–from the new eggcrate grille, to new wheel covers, to new taillights set above a deeper V, to the fender peaks bearing the Art Moderne Cadillac emblem–simply looked great. It didn’t hurt that the 1969 body shell was very well proportioned for a luxury car, and enhanced by a subtle character line that flowed from the top of the front fender through the door handles before melting into the center of the rear-quarter panel. Very elegant, and so very appropriate to a Cadillac.

The Calais and Hardtop Sedan de Ville had an attractive “fast” C-pillar; but in my opinion, the Fleetwoods, with their traditional wide C-pillar, were the best of the bunch. This Brougham looks wonderful in Lucerne Aqua Firemist, but then I’m a sucker for aqua and green cars. Like Lincoln’s Moondust colors, Firemist paints had a high metallic/pearlescent effect compared with the “standard” color choices. Firemist colors were available on all 1970 models for an additional $205.

While some of the interior appointments were not quite of pre-1968 quality, the cabin offered an abundance of well-tailored leather and fine fabrics and, most certainly, plenty of stretch-out room. Which is exactly as it should be, since the Sixty Special and vinyl-topped Brougham were the largest Caddies in the lineup save the Seventy-Five Series Sedan and Limousine. We’re talking about 133 inches of wheelbase, 228.5 inches of overall length and a road-hugging weight of 4,835 pounds (or 4,830 lbs. for the steel-roofed Sixty Special).

At CC, much has been made of  post-1969 Cadillac interiors being cheap, flimsy, crummy, et al. Granted, this isn’t as impressive as, say, a 1960 Cadillac interior, but I really don’t think it looks bad. Keep in mind that 1968 brought much stricter limitations on the amount of chrome and other bright interior trim in American cars. The inevitable result was a somewhat drabber look for instrument panels, steering wheels and door panels. Considering the level of trim and furnishings expected in a luxury car, the new regulations surely hit Cadillac harder than, say, Plymouth. That said, I personally find the ’70 dash attractive. There was one cheap feature on ’70 Cadillacs, though. Regardless of whether the rest of the interior was navy blue, aqua, white or red, the steering wheel was black, just like a Chevy Biscayne.

That aside, there still was a lot that recommended the 1970 Cadillac, not the least of which was its proven powertrain. At its heart was the 472 cu in V8, which featured five main bearings, hydraulic valve lifters, and a Rochester four-barrel Quadrajet Model 4MV carb. Not surprisingly, it provided power, torque and durability that were second to none. Still rated at 375 hp and 525 wonderful lb-ft of torque, it also gave up nothing to the 1968 engine. As the saying went, a Cadillac could pass anything but a gas station. Turbo-Hydramatic was an expected and welcome standard feature.

Just below the $7,284 Sixty Special Brougham was the “plain” Sixty Special, which eschewed the Brougham’s padded vinyl roof. While much the same as the Brougham, it was priced at a slightly lower $6,953. A mere 1,738 Sixty Specials were built for the 1970 model year, versus 16,913 Broughams. Small wonder 1970 was the steel-roofed Fleetwood’s last year; it would be absent from the 1971 roster.

Whether a Sixty Special or Sixty Special Brougham, Fleetwoods offered all of the features of the de Ville series along with automatic level control. As you’d expect, the stitching on Fleetwood seats and door panels was unique, and complemented what the 1970 brochure described as “the rich look of oriental tamo wood on the doors and instrument panel. Sixty Specials offered a choice of seven sumptuous leather interiors, four Dumbarton cloth-and-leather selections, and four upholstered in Divan cloth. And there were colors–lots of colors. Remember when car interiors offered real colors? Personally, I love the look of the navy blue Sierra grain leather shown above.

The Brougham set itself apart from the Sixty Special primarily with its oh-so-current padded vinyl roof, but also featured adjustable rear-compartment reading lights, folding carpeted rear footrests and a two-way power Dual Comfort front seat. Full power control of the seats could be had for an extra $90-$116, depending on the model. Both the Sixty Special and Brougham received thin horizontal chrome belt line molding, bright wheel opening moldings and a wide chrome rocker molding with rear-quarter panel extensions. Fender skirts? But of course.

All in all, Cadillac had a good year in 1970. It produced 238,745 vehicles, a marked improvement over the 223,267 built in 1969. In fact, 1970 production set an all-time division record, despite disappointing  calendar-year sales of 152,859 units, a performance due in large part to the major GM strike that, well, struck during the 1970 model year.

A 1970 Cadillac may have been a bit cheaped-out compared with a 1962 or 1963-64 model, but to my eye it remained every bit a Cadillac. Just look at that lush black-leather seat. Comfy, yes? What’s more, 1970 Caddys were safer, thanks to new 1968 Federal safety regs. Seat belts were provided for every passenger, along with shoulder harnesses for the two outboard front-seat passengers. A dual-circuit brake system (a Cadillac feature prior to 1968); headrests; an energy-absorbing steering column; anti-glare dash top and A-pillar covers (the bane of all you chrome-loving ’60s Cadillac interior lovers); and power front disc brakes with finned rear drums were present and accounted for on every 1970 Caddy.

I actually got to ride in one of these. A grade school friend’s mom had a gold ’70 Brougham with a white top and white leather interior. They actually had a thing for old Cadillacs, since they also had a navy blue ’69 (I think) Seventy-Five sedan. Both cars were a bit worn out, but still did their fine pedigree proud. Anyway, there was a class trip to the Rock Island Arsenal when I was in second or third grade, and Luke’s mom was one of the drivers. Guess who I rode with? It was a cool car that was great to ride in. To this day I have fond memories of that car. She kept on driving it daily for years, even though it steadily got rougher. The last time I recall it running I was in maybe sixth or seventh grade.

Years later, I ran across the very same car (it’s hard to miss that color combination) in the local junkyard. I was sad to see it had succumbed, but I guess it was nice to get to see it one last time. I took the Fleetwood Brougham plaque off the instrument panel as a souvenir of a happy childhood memory. To this day, it sits on my desk at home.

Yes, 1970 was a good year for Cadillac, and in my opinion, a good year for Cadillacs. However, it was all about to change as Cadillac Motor Division, in its relentless pursuit of profit and sales records, drastically decontented the 1971 models. I like them, but I don’t think they can match 1970 and earlier Cadillacs for sheer quality and presence.

(Special thanks to CC Cohort contributor runningonfumes, who spotted and photographed this splendid black ’70 Brougham. Great find!)