Curbside Classic: 1977 to 1979 Cadillac Coupe DeVille- Hitting The Ceiling

For me, and likely others of my generation, the 1977 to 1979 Cadillac Coupe DeVille (and Sedan DeVille) is Definitive Cadillac.  It is all things Cadillac, good and bad, encapsulated into about 4,300 pounds of sheer unadulterated riding comfort.  A lot can be said about these, and a lot has been said, but talking factoids about a car only goes so far; experience with the subject matter adds texture.

Definitive is a variation of definition, and I can define my tangential experience with one example of this era Cadillac.  Yes, I’ve written a lot about my family but lately I’ve concluded there is equally good or better gold to be panned by those who were around me during my formative years.  It now seems I grew up where I did to allow for exposure to those terrific individuals whose memory could later be shared on the inter-webs.

So let me introduce you to Jim and Tim.

Jim and Tim were fraternal twins.  Twins weren’t as much of a novelty as one might think for that time and place; for my combined kindergarten class of approximately seventy, there were four sets of twins.  The soil was obviously not the only highly fertile thing in thinly populated Alexander County, that southern most county in Illinois.

Jim and Tim were highly intelligent but had the dangerous combination of being off-the-chart boisterous combined with having been change-of-life babies for their parents, two very good people who seemed to yearn for a different stage of life.  Jim and Tim were considerably younger than their other brothers but equally red-headed.  With kindergarten at that time being a half-day, and being in the afternoon section opposite Jim and Tim, I didn’t know them until first grade.

Early on, Jim and Tim were successful in letting everyone know their mother Delilah had a rather new Cadillac, these being the days when Cadillac was seemingly only outgunned by Rolls-Royce in the luxury car world – or at least it seemed that way to a country boy like me.  Of course, everyone knew Delilah’s Cadillac anyway as she, from whom much of the twin’s boisterousness sprang, always shuttled them the eight or so miles to the school.

Rumor had it this shuttling was prompted by an incident when the twins were in kindergarten.  When Mr. Simmons, the semi-retired bus driver whose threshold for baloney was nonexistent, dropped them off one day in front of their rural house, one of them supposedly got in front of the bus, grabbed the front bumper, and yelled “I dare to run over me, god damn you!”.

Five year olds can be so precocious.

There has never been any report of how Mr. Simmons responded, other than not dumping the clutch of that old GMC bus.  Mr. Simmons carried a wooden switch, cut from the finest of tree branches, on the dash of the bus for administering xylem therapy – to great success, I might add, but apparently going unused on that particular day.

I need to digress for a minute.

Mr. Simmons and his switch was an attention getter for kids of all ages.  If the noise level rose too much, he’d use it to slap the bulkhead above him, with wood on sheetmetal making a very piercing sound, saying “You all settle down, now!”.   There was a big splattering of tree sap on that panel as he did this just often enough.  His switches were always fresh and green.

One day, when I was in kindergarten, he discovered his switch had broken when he saw the need to administer some xylem therapy to a spectacularly mouthy five-year old Sara.  Unfazed, Mr. Simmons simply stopped at a county road, got off the bus, dug out his pocket knife, and cut himself a new switch from a tree sapling.  He and Sara then had a confab outside, with the switch allowing Sara an opportunity to reflect upon the error of her ways.

For those of you who may be amazed about such goings on, you can thank me later for this glimpse into 1977.

Also, for what it’s worth, Sara was a highly skilled cigarette smoker by age twelve, able to blow some phenomenal smoke rings.

We are supposed to be talking about a Cadillac, aren’t we?

As elementary school unfolded, Delilah and her Cadillac were frequent sightings at all manner of events.  Delilah was very adept at parking that Cadillac in very conspicuous locations.  It’s unknown how early she arrived to achieve this.

One of the more memorable was a meeting of the various local Cub Scout dens (clubs? groups? packs?) in nearby Tamms one evening.  My father had taken me, an event that would usually require him to partake of a large bourbon and water, minus the water, when we got back home.

When we arrived at the meeting, there was a familiar Cadillac parked by the front door.  While time has erased the nature of that meeting, all I remember is there being a preponderance of balloons bouncing around.  When it was time to go, Delilah was yelling at Jim and Tim to get in the Cadillac.  Jim and Tim were not interested in doing so as seven year old boys generally aren’t fond of sitting down, be it in a Cadillac or not.  But a routine had been established….Jim and Tim knew Delilah didn’t really mean business until she finished her cigarette.

And Delilah was paying more attention to her cigarette than to her twins running all over creation.

With the cigarette out, Jim and Tim had finished their mission and dutifully climbed into the Cadillac.  Delilah hit the starter, bringing those 425 cubic inches of buttery smooth V8 to life, and popped the Cadillac into reverse.  This was suddenly followed by a “POW! POW! POW! POW!”.

Delilah, whose voice could cut through a lead wall when she was so inclined, could be heard from great distance, over the idling Cadillac and the roar of laughter from those around.  Jim and Tim had successfully placed a smattering of balloons behind the wheels of the Cadillac so their mother would drive over them.  Everyone but Delilah was amused, with one of the Vietnam veteran dads joking about how he suddenly felt like he was twenty again due to the loud commotion.

Sometime around then, although I suspect a year or so earlier, Jim did something that, in retrospect, would be metaphorical for the later trajectory of Cadillac itself.  It happened in the boy’s restroom.

The general boy talk of whose father could whip whose father’s ass was the prime topic.  I had learned to shut down such things after once being presented with the dad ass-whooping challenge.  My response was “maybe he could, but my father is smarter and likely makes more money, so who do you think is better in the long run?”

My unappreciated observations began quite early.

Sorry, I digress, but the stage must be set.

Anyway, one of the challenges to erupt that day was who could piss well enough to hit the seven foot tall ceiling in the boy’s room.  Only Jim was willing to give it a try.  He was smart enough to keep talking it up and raising the interest of everyone in there during that three minute reprieve from classroom work.  After a short bit, Jim did as promised.

Walking to the middle of the room, he dropped his pants to his ankles, arched his back violently, and let go.  His face was soon as red as his hair, making his whole head the same unique shade of crimson, with everyone watching in unabashed awe.  Slowly, slowly, slowly that stream kept climbing, climbing, climbing ever nearer its grand target.  Then with one violent and final push we all heard the same satisfying “pfffllltt”, that remarkable sound of drywall being hydrated, accompanied by a loud drip onto an already wet tile floor.

Jim had hit the ceiling, capturing the envy of about twelve other boys, an event that made Mrs. Brenneke, the only teacher within earshot, very suspicious.  She bounded into the boy’s room to shuffle us all out (another late 1970s thing) and she thankfully was too intent in her mission to discover the soaked drywall on the ceiling or the wet floor.

Jim’s watershed act is not unlike Cadillac itself.  Since that memorable day long ago, Cadillac has undertaken numerous endeavors to recreate their magic.  The Allante.  The Catera.  The XLR.  Art and Science. The V-Series.  Moving their headquarters to New York.  The alpha-numeric naming system.  Chasing the Germans like a dog chases the UPS truck.  Yet, try as they might, all of Cadillac’s efforts, both good and bad, have been only marginally more life changing than Jim’s golden stunt.  It seems like no matter what Cadillac has tried, they keep hitting a barrier of some variety despite some of the amazing products they have had.

These DeVilles are proof Cadillac had profound momentum during the 1970s, momentum which carried them through the first half of the 1980s.  Like an emptying bladder, all the gusto ultimately turned into a dribble.  To me, and likely others, these are the last hallmark Cadillacs.  Nothing since has quite captured the aura and, I dare say, panache of these DeVilles.  Perhaps the Escalade has captured some of the aura but they often appear to be a caricature of Cadillac’s glory days.

Where Cadillac is currently with that dribble is hard to know.  We can only hope that inevitable last splash isn’t the last splash for Cadillac.  They deserve better.

Cadillac pictures by PN