Just one week ago this past Tuesday evening, I was walking to a small gathering at the home of two close friends. They are the same couple who had invited me over for a bonfire when their friend with the ’73 boattail Riviera had surprised us with the burble of that 455-powered beauty gliding into their backyard. This was a similar, beautiful, crisp autumn night in my neighborhood of Edgewater. Fall leaves crunched underfoot as I strode purposefully on the ten minute walk to their house, with a bottle of wine to present as a gift.
My work week had already gotten off to a start as rotten as this car’s sheetmetal. Following the elation felt by the entire city the previous week, when the Chicago Cubs had finally won the World Series for the first time in over a century, by 5:01 PM last Tuesday, I had already felt mentally drained and physically tired by a series of challenging scenarios – both inside and outside of work.
My pre-loaded public transit card had mysteriously stopped working, and I had to buy a new one on Monday morning at the station. A pinched nerve had flared up (which still refuses to stop hurting completely). There was a steady stream of needy and unresourceful people flowing in and out, unrelenting e-mails and phone calls, and believe me…anyone who tells you a relationship never requires hard work is straight-up lying to you. However, at this point, here I was – about to break bread with close friends, and on a weekday no less, which is an exception for me.
I don’t feel I need to dumb-down or gloss over the fact that it was an Election Night gathering I was headed to. What I do feel at liberty to say is that early in the evening, it was hard for me, after two crummy days, not to identify with our featured car. I spotted it while walking back home around 8:00 PM Central Time, ending the night early in preparation for the workday ahead.
Much like my foul attitude needed major work that night, the condition of this Cadillac seemed a near-perfect mirror image of my soul right then. My general state of mind was decidedly not in tune with my religious beliefs, just like this Cadillac’s shape stood in direct contrast to this make’s identity as the “Standard Of The World”. You’ll never see a Rolls Royce or Mercedes-Benz looking this clapped out and still being driven. Still, this car’s (very) tired appearance couldn’t entirely mask its regal lines and presence.
These cars are huge, with a total length of 233.7 inches (about nineteen-and-a-half feet long), riding on a 133-inch wheelbase, and weighing over two-and-a-half tons. A 500-cubic inch Cadillac V8 with either (only) 190 or 215 horsepower provided motivation. I can’t imagine double-digit city MPGs, even on a good day. Exactly 24,500 were built, starting at just under $11,000, which is roughly $46,000 / adjusted for 2016 – the starting price of a new, midrange CTS. It was the last of the biggies before the Big Shrink of ’77.
I had first photographed this car about five and a half years ago, just one week before I was to start work with my current employer. What a difference five years makes. This Fleetwood Brougham’s outward condition looked much better, with still-matching body panels, all four of its wire wheel covers accounted for, and with the car still looking generally original. I had taken the above shot while walking in the morning from a local motel to my house after having slept there to try to actually get some rest.
This was during a period when the belligerent teenage son of my downstairs then-neighbor (a kid who I had seen grow up since I’ve lived in my building) insisted on regularly playing “Gran Turismo” or some other driving game on his Sega Playstation into the early morning hours, with his woofer thumping some serious bass through their ceiling / my floor, while his single mom worked her night shift job. I’d go downstairs and knock on the door (which he’d answer only sometimes), and property management did what they could.
The problem was eventually resolved when they moved away shortly thereafter, but on these few days in the spring of 2011, I had stumbled across a car that looked as exhausted as I was. Sleep deprivation is a certain kind of torture I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I also hope the young man and his mom are doing alright. Everyone’s situation is different.
Fast-forwarding from 2011 back to last week, as I walked from my friends’ house, I marveled that this car was still here in the neighborhood, five years later. It was still truckin’ even if so much worse for wear…soldiering on, staking its big, bold claim to its patch of precious, city-curb real estate – resilient, and ready for another day. It seemed to be saying just by being there, “I’m not dead, yet, and I’m not going anywhere.” This week is a new, seven-day set. Like this old Cadillac, I will try to face it with tank-like determination and some dignity…and hopefully, after getting a lot more sleep.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
November 8, 2016, and March 23 & 24, 2011.
Related reading from:
Wow, this post – this car – spurs so many thoughts right now with its condition, the decline over the past 5 (and 40) years, the changing place it held in the (automotive) world, and the position it finds itself in now….on the edge of a resurgence (restoration), or brink of ….?
The parallels one can draw with you spotting this pinnacle (in size and ostentation) of American automotive expression, and the events of November 8, 2016 cannot be ignored. Will this hulk be soldiering on 5 years from now? Is it always darkest before the dawn?
Wonderful, haunting shots Joseph, and a great write up as always.
Yep, there will be days like these. And what better fellow traveller than a Fleetwood? Thanks for the glimpse and good luck making everything alright.
Great photos and a write up that says a lot about life, love, and those darn public transit cards. One can almost hear those crunchy leaves under your feet.
I always enjoy your posts.
Thank you, Rlplaut – much appreciated. For the record, my replacement Ventra transit card arrived over the weekend, and thankfully, it worked yesterday. 🙂
When I was a little guy, I used to drool over these. This was back in the day when getting the new car brochures was a big deal to me.
How can anyone NOT love the mid-seventies Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham?
The 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham:
Easy. They’re big, overstuffed pigs with very little in the way of performance.
And, most damning of all, there wasn’t all that much more there than you’d get in a Chevrolet Caprice. The Accountants Strike Back.
At least the knob stayed on the shift lever. 🙂
Exactly why I much prefer the lighter, nimbler, faster and thriftier 1977-79 models of these cars. And there is a noticeable difference driving one of these and a Caprice starting with the fact that most of the Chevy B-body cars came with 130-145 Hp 305 V8’s vs 180-195 HP 425 Cadillac engines which made loads of torque and were indestructible.
Now there’s a movie title…The Accountants Strike Back! Could be a great Star Wars parody…
Dare I say, in THIS context, it actually looks more regal to my eyes than when new. The wear and tear of 40 years hides the slipshod build quality, not having to see it in a sea of Caprices and Grand Villes makes it more unique.
Maybe we can squint enough to view a revisionist history in which Cadillac really was still the Standard of the World in 1976.
If this car were ten years older, I’d ache for the loss of something truly magnificent. But the ’71-’76 era spoke of brand debasement and market share. The luxury of exclusivity had moved on to Mercedes.
At least the following year, they looked more like Cadillacs; GM had given them greater differentiation from their siblings.
I love them! Big, bold and brash Americana.
I hear you, while i love the 76, i really like the 1974 fleetwood brougham with the talisman option. that was pure luxury!!! nothing like the big cadillacs of yore!!!!
An imperfect but magnificent creation; my heart aches at seeing what has become of it.
There are few things as surreal as a luxury car that’s down on its luck. When new, this car likely belonged to a doctor, stockbroker, socialite or other such person, and then started its inevitably long and gradual decline. Fortunately, you’ve got a much better chance of recovery than the Cadillac does.
When I see Cadillacs of this vintage in rough shape, I often think of a family that lived near me about 25 years ago. They were recent immigrants from Russia, and one of their first acts in this country was to buy a car — and they bought a Cadillac like this one. It was in somewhat battered shape, but still managed to maintain its dignity. But regardless of the car’s condition, its family was immensely proud of it, and I often saw the father fussing over the chrome or cleaning the wire hubcaps.
I think Russians are among the biggest fans of overdone traditional chrome encrusted American cars. My Russian car enthusiast friends could buy anything. They enjoyed the driving dynamics of modern European cars, but as soon as they could, they bought vintage Buicks and Lincolns. They regard them as the ultimate expression of their automotive enthusasm. Anything more modern and mainstream is just a utilitarian penaltybox.
An excellent essay on life and old Cadillacs.
A battered old Cadillac has always had (to me) a dignity about it. It has stood up to decades of weather and abuse. It is like someone born to wealth but who ends up poor. Some can’t deal with it and disappear, but others make do or even thrive from an innate toughness they may not have known they had. Old Audis and old Cadillacs are different in the same way.
Thanks, JP. This Cadillac, despite looking as worn as it did, seemed to embody, as you put it, “innate toughness”. It seemed less fragile than like a weathered, old bruiser.
Even though Cadillac was past its prime by 1976, this was still a helluva car, and an American Car from the days when that meant something special. I have some empathy with the feature car; in 1976 four friends and I drove to D.C. for the Centennial in a ’69 Caddy complete with American flags hooked up to the front corners and a portrait of Richard Nixon with devil’s horns decorating the grill. I was young and bold then and making a statement.
Now, suddenly, it’s 2016, and like this car, I am still what I was, but signs of wear and decay are appearing…I’m slow by today’s standards and out of step with the times, but I have duties to perform still, and miles to go before I sleep.
In 1976, 12 year old me and a friend stepped out of a mall after watching a movie. Waiting for our ride, we were standing in a hot sun next to a triple maroon ’76 Cadillac Fleetwood that had the first spot next to the passenger drop off. My friend’s parents drove Olds Nintey-Eights, cars not lacking in presence, but we still had to just stare at this beautiful beast. And we noticed not a few other people giving it looks as well.
For reasons hard to figure, the local Cadillac dealer kept a black line drawing of the ’76 Fleetwood image in its yellow-page ad for several years after the 1977 downsizing. Perhaps just neglect, or perhaps someone in administration just didn’t want to give it up.
Definitely an American Car.
Thank you for both the wonderful photos and good write up .
In the early 1960’s 1950’s ‘ Dagmar ‘ Cadillacs littered the Boston and surrounding areas like old rusty roaches .
Nearly impossible to kill they were still majestic and stately as they glided down the awful potholed streets .
I choose not to own/drive big American Land Yachts but I certainly do understand and appreciate them .
The fact that many of these 70’s thru 90’s full sized Cadillac’s are still roaming the streets is telling. Dismissing the odd diesel or the HT 4100 mess of 1982-85 these were sturdy well built sleds that can stand the test of time with a little care. My 1990 gray Brougham De’Elegance is still going strong with it’s current owner that uses it for a daily driver a few towns away and it now has over 200K miles on the original 307 and 200R-4 transmission.
Wonderful prose providing context.
Unfortunately, my experience with my old GM full-size had parallels to this Cadillac. I bought my ’72 Pontiac Grandville from an estate, and in 1987 it showed what would normally be an easy 5 or so years of use here in rust country. By the time I was done with it in 1993, the next 6 years of use had deteriorated it considerably – nowhere near the extent of this poor old Caddy, thanks to a garage and my constant attention, but still a very tired and very used car.
That was the typical trajectory of all my ’70s GM cars. Once the rust, trim, paint, interior plastics deterioration and upholstery problems set in, things would go downhill fast.
The old Caddie looks to be in it’s hospice state at this point in time.
Time and road salt has taken it’s toll on this elderly beast. It probably was well cared for the first 30 years or so of it’s life, but time and Chicago winters are a unforgiving mistress.
Nothing like an big old battered Cadillac to inspire thoughts on life, politics and other subjects. A fine morning read; thank you.
A similar (but not quite as battered) old Caddy inspired my very first Curbside Classic. I had no clear idea about where this was going, so I just went with my memories and associated thoughts: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/curbside-classics-american/curbside-classic-1972-cadillac-coupe-deville-a-beginning-as-well-as-the-beginning-of-the-end/
Thanks, Paul. When I put pen to paper to write this, I think I did remember your essay on Cadillacs and social class. Many of my pieces start out like how you described – and are sometimes the most fun to write.
I also felt it was important to acknowledge that 11/8/16 came and went, without actually discussing it, as it has sort of felt like the “elephant in the room” (which is almost what I subtitled this piece).
I can’t think of that expression without thinking of the BBC series Outnumbered. (Granted, the Brockmans’ Zafira B is about as far from this Caddy as you can get and still be a GM car…)
Gotta love those rear aftermarket bumper guards, on a car with 5mph factory bumpers. The pocket protector of the automotive accessory world.
My family owned the 1973 version of this car, in Firemist Brown metallic. It was horrid in every way, but what I remember most is how difficult it was to remove the fender skirts (missing on the featured car, thus improving its profile) when I had to wash it; and how I thought the color was a good choice because it helped hide the rust eating its way down the body side moldings. Oh yes, and the 472 cu in engine that developed a whopping 165 horsepower. What a waste of money.
Actually that power rating is kilowatts, not horsepower. I took one of these for a test drive (it was used) and thought it way too big. What is particularly bad is the fake wood trim that Cadillac used in the 70’s until I don’t know when, probably the 90’s.
Kilowatts…HA ! You’re right, that fake wood was about as convincing as Steve Allen’s toupee. And don’t get me started on the opera lamps.
I’ve got one thing to say, to the car and to the author:
I’m with you, Buddy! Work, home, election, relationship, money, time, sleep….you name it, I’m with ya.
If it helps, my good friend and former roommate of 5 years and I are of the steadfast opinion that May and November are the flat spots on the wheel that is the annual calendar. For some reason we both tend to experience sadness, crisis, drama, random need for blackout drunkenness, etc, etc., etc. during these two evil months. It’ll pass (He says with shaky optimism).
“Random need for blackout drunkenness…”
I love it. I’ll agree on October/November, but February/March as a unit is my equinoctial nadir.
Hilarious! MTN, thanks for the words of support, and stuff is fine. I was thinking, and I’m not actually sure what those times of the year would be for me, as I generally enjoy fall once I get over summer being long gone.
I become more depressed than usual from about October until April, and I figured out it is Seasonal Affective Disorder. I need bright sunlight a lot longer than 4 pm.
“You’ll never see a Rolls Royce or Mercedes-Benz looking this clapped out and still being driven.”
This, of course, may actually be a commentary on the ultimate ruggedness of the Cadillac and the fussiness of the imports!
Man, I know the feeling of seeing a classic Cadillac in beat up condition. Only for me, it was a White 67 Eldorado.
I figured out why people don’t like these 71-76 GM full-sizers. It was a thought that I pondered while at work, and while it would be easy and valid to say Build quality, Cheapness, and other stuff. I think I found out another reason. These cars just don’t look good. Now, obviously, styling is subjective, but for people who aren’t fans of these cars (Me included), I think the reason these B, C, and D bodies leave a bitter taste in our mouths is because there’s no grace. That’s not an indictment of they’re size, it’s just that they never wore the size well.
To put it into perspective, look at the difference between a 67 Eldorado and a 78 Eldorado. Now, I don’t hate the 75-78 Eldorado, but when you compare it to the 67 predecessor, you can see the difference. The 67 looks sharp, clean, almost like it was chiseled from stone, or drawn with an exacto-knife. Now compare it to the 78, it looks like it was lumped together by someone piling clay on top of each other and not bothering to smooth it out. The 67 is big, but graceful, the 78 looks chunky and haggard.
Same difference between the Lincoln Marks III, IV, and V. The Mark III was big, but it too seemed graceful (Well, as graceful as you can get with a spare tire hump and a Faux Roller grille), the Mark IV looks pudgy, like that fat kid that always gets picked last in sports, and when the Mark V came along, even though it was longer and bigger, it looked more unified, it got rid of the love handles and the excess fat, and as a result, seemed more cohesive.
I know this seems so far fetched, and not everyone feels the same way I do certainly, but that’s why I think that people who can forgive the maladies and faults regarding construction still can’t bring themselves to like these cars. Simply put, a Mid to Late 60s Fleetwood looks Rubinesque, big yes, but striking in it’s own way. The 76 Fleetwood looks Bloated, just too much excess and almost depressing to look at.
Well, enough of my crazy conspiracies, great photos as always. And, hey, everyone has those moments of emotional drainage. It’ll all pass over eventually, after all, tomorrow is another day.
Agree with above entry. 70 was way better car.
The car that Dennis’s evocative portrait brought to mind is actually more like Paul’s first cc…it was a 1950 Coupe de Ville that came into the possession of my car connection at the Five Mile Lake Garage. It had been a light green car inside and out, but had been repainted bright red in a shade only a little less orangey than 1965 Mustang Poppy Red. The original finish was showing through a good many paint chips, and of course the green interior was unaltered. In typical western Washington fashion there was no body rust on the car, but it clearly had seen much better days, yet when we ran an errand to Puyallup and back in it, it still felt and drove like one would expect of a Cadillac.
Thanks, everyone, for taking the time to read this, for the kind words, and also (and this is important) for playing nicely in the sandbox.
It did occur to me that this Fleetwood Brougham had a certain “Grey Gardens” quality to it – a certain busted opulence. And yet, when I looked at this Cadillac and assessed my own situation, seeing its hulking shape still appearing to sit proudly at the curb strangely brought out the “fight” and not the self-pity in me.
Stuff is definitely better this week. Thanks again for the words of support.
You are welcome and I am amazed how quickly the Caddy has rusted out.
This has more dignity than a battered old 1982 Cimmaron any day.
I don’t have a lot of room to throw stones, but seeing that Cadillac, my ‘ol heaps ain’t looking too bad.
Cadillac: The car that scoffs and waves its middle finger at situations and conditions that would put other cars in the automotive graveyard. Exhibit A is right here.
Great work, Mr. Dennis!
I always enjoy your write-ups and photography.
Keep on keepin’ on!
I love my Fleetwood. It’s a shame to see one in such a state. Although in 1972, they were anything but anemic. The 472 was still reasonably brisk.
Fantastic essay on life getting you down, and great low-light photography of a car in the same state. Even when the subject is somber, your articles never disappoint.
This car isn’t a mere Brougham, it’s a Brougham d’Elegance.