(first posted 8/6/2012) The Fleetwood Brougham. The top-of-the-line Cadillac. Luxurious in space, in gadgets, and in power. The best “owner-driven” Cadillac money could buy. While Cadillac wasn’t necessarily the top pick for rolling status symbols by 1975 – Mercedes and BMW were making serious inroads by mid-decade – it was still the go-to vehicle for traditional American luxury – padded vinyl top, opera lamps, and all.
All Cadillacs save the Eldorado used the body shell introduced for the 1971 model year, updated with the expected annual front and rear end styling changes. As has been related here many times (click here for the ’72 Cadillac CC), the ’71s were not quite as exclusive or luxurious as their immediate predecessors, thanks to Cadillac Motor Division’s pursuit of ever-higher production goals.
It worked, but we could spend all day discussing whether that was a good or bad thing in the long run. Cadillac set a record in 1973, producing 304,839 cars – including, for good measure, the five-millionth Cadillac built. I bet lots of Cadillac executives were high-fiving each other that year.
The 1974 models received a bit more than a nose job. In order to comply with new bumper regulations, Cadillac added a “park bench” 5-mph front bumper along with a much more substantial rear bumper. The subtly redone sheet metal now featured blockier surfacing.
Taillights were no longer set into the rear bumper, but instead were built into GM’s ever-frail filler panels between the bumper and the trunk lid. Production-wise, things were not as cheery as they were in 1973, as Gas Crisis I arrived at about the same time as the ’74 Caddys. Model year production dropped substantially, by about 60,000. What was a luxury car maker to do?
Restyle, of course. Given the typical three-year design timeframe for new models, the downsized ’77s were probably in the works – and nowhere near ready – by the time the ’75 Cadillacs were introduced to dealer principals on September 19, 1974. Cadillac had little choice but to continue their current offerings until Phase I of the Cadillac downsizing – the import-fighting 1976 Seville – debuted in April of 1975.
Despite all the West Coast swells getting into Mercedes 280s and BMW Bavarias, there were still plenty of folks who equated Cadillac with the pinnacle of success. Those traditional buyers were Cadillac’s bread and butter. Even at this time, perhaps Cadillac execs thought that their full-size line would continue to be their biggest seller, and that the Seville was merely a “one-stater” made necessary by those unpredictable Californians’ car-buying habits. Eventually, that perception would be corrected but that’s beyond the scope of this article.
So, just what was new? The usual. Up front, the Fleetwood, de Ville and Calais got a revised eggcrate grille. The biggest talking point was most likely new quad rectangular headlamps. After having been displayed on Detroit show cars for years, square headlamps were finally legal for use on passenger cars. All 1975 Cadillacs, the Buick Riviera and Electra, and the Olds Ninety Eight and Toronado got them. It was a really big deal, perhaps as big a deal as quad round headlights were in 1958.
The ’75 Fleetwood Brougham dropped the Sixty Special moniker, a nameplate that would not return until the late ’80s. Originally, the Sixty Special nameplate signified the nicest “owner-driven” Fleetwood, while the Fleetwood Brougham added a padded vinyl roof. When the steel-topped version bowed out after 1970, the remaining vinyl-roofed version became the Fleetwood Sixty Special Brougham. It was a bit much, even for Cadillac, so perhaps the name change was for the best.
Other new features included revised wheel covers, taillights, and upholstery trim. I really like the 1975-76 Cadillacs. Sure, they’re gigantic, yet they have a fluidity of movement. You can tell this car was styled and not designed by a committee. I can imagine Paul rolling his eyes, so I’ll stop now.
A new interior option for the Brougham, shown on today’s CC, was shirred Monticello velour. Looks like your Great-Aunt Ethel’s parlor, doesn’t it? Bolsters? Lumbar support? What are those? Most Cadillac buyers probably couldn’t have cared less. Be that as it may, this was top American-style luxury, circa 1975. I had the pleasure of sitting in this car and I can tell you it was most cushy. A very nice place to be.
Here’s what you got over a Sedan de Ville. That three extra inches all went into the rear compartment. Such room! And I love the fold-out, carpeted foot rests. Even basketball players would not be lacking room back here.
As ’70s-tastic as the Monticello velour is, I would have sprung for the Sierra grain leather myself. Maybe it’s the advertising that’s swaying me…
At introduction, the Fleetwood Brougham set you back $10,414 ($44,419 adjusted). But inflation, which was routine in the mid-’70s, twice bumped up the price during the model year – first to $10,424, and later to $10,843. Back then, sticker shock was a fact of life of new-car shopping, but most Cadillac owners probably weren’t too worried about it. You got a lot of luxury and power, but one thing you didn’t get was instrumentation beyond a speedometer, fuel gauge and clock.
One thing that wasn’t lacking was “simulated wood veneer.” This car even has a CB radio. It also looks to have the built-in 8-track player and built-in litter basket (a standard feature). And just look at that chrome Brougham badge. You know you’ve arrived!
Today’s Curbside Classic is a mint-condition car with 38,000 miles on it. It is interesting to read the original window sticker (click for a bigger picture), which is still with the owner’s manual. This car is loaded with options, like Cerise Firemist paint ($139) and an AM/FM Stereo Radio/Tape Player ($89). And what’s this? Opera lamps cost extra? Apparently they did. It is also interesting that a passenger-side remote mirror still cost extra, even on a Fleetwood Brougham.
I always keep a camera in the car because you never know what you’re going to find. I went up to my folks’ cabin in Northern Illinois and was wandering around Freeport when I came upon this most excellent Caddy at the local GM dealership. Of course I had to stop!
This is a beauty. The former owner of this dealership was the first owner of this Fleetwood, and when he recently passed away, the dealership started liquidating his collection of 30+ vintage Cadillacs.
Gary, a salesman at the dealership, greeted me and was more than happy to open up the car when I explained about Curbside Classic. The sales manager, Chuck, was able to give me some of the car’s history, which was a big help. It’s nice to be able to put a car’s personal history in context, which is not always possible when finding cars “in the field.”
This car looks just great, and I hope it finds a new owner who will love it and keep it as it is – a time capsule to a time when 500-cu in V8s, velour upholstery and 234-inch-long Fleetwoods could be found at your local Cadillac dealer. Just two years later, the Fleetwood Brougham would be downsized and share the same overall dimensions as the deVilles – no more unique wheelbase. And those carpeted rear footrests would disappear in 1978.
The 1971-76 Cadillac was the last true, unapologetically gigantic Cadillac, and the Fleetwood Brougham was the best of them all. Yes, Cadillacs have changed a whole lot in the last 30-odd years, but when I recently saw a black-on-black XTS in the metal at the dealer in Moline, I have to tell you, my first thought was “2012 Fleetwood.”