(first posted 4/15/2015) Every one of us has had experiences that have seared themselves into our consciousness. Sometimes these remain at the forefront; other times, such as my experience with a Coupe deVille identical to this one, the experience lingers in the sub-conscious, awaiting its time to emerge and smack me across the face.
It was the summer of 1986. For reasons lost to time, my parents left my sister and me with our maternal grandparents, Iris and Albert. Already at their house was my grandfather’s older sister Stella and her husband Ed, who had driven down from St. Louis in their blue 1984 Coupe deVille to attend a family gathering.
For the newer folks, you can meet my grandparents here, my aunt Stella here, and I wrote about a somber road trip with my grandfather here.
Stella and Ed were happily retired. Married later in life, they never had children and I never did see very much commonality between them.
Ed was a kind hearted, big smiling invader of one’s personal space who could be as annoying as chronic jock itch; Grandpa Albert concurred and referred to him by a number of amusing pejoratives. Ed was a daily imbiber of free McDonald’s coffee although he never once bought an ounce of their food. Stuffing his pockets full of napkins on the way out, he frequented the local park, pilfering items from distracted visitors. Once, upon Ed’s triumphant “finding” of a quilt, Grandpa Albert pondered “who would swipe some poor guy’s whoopee blanket?”
Stella was equally kind hearted, her soft-spokeness punctuated with undertones of her mother’s native German. She was also quite unflappable. Once when using an ice pick to break peanut brittle, she managed to run the tip of it through the palm of her hand with it nearly breaking through the skin on the other side. A quiet curse was followed by a douse of kerosene (a sugar-laced cure all in my mother’s family) before she continued. Despite my grandfather being in his 60s at the time, Stella still babied him.
Ed and Stella also had their mutt dog, Sandy. While I appear to be off-tracking, the stage must be set. Ed and Stella treated Sandy like royalty, giving her the same food and portions as themselves, making her quite rotund. Whenever Ed took Sandy for a walk, her pauses and subsequent pawing at the ground was Ed’s signal to enthusiastically hoist her up by the tail and dig in with all those free napkins from McDonald’s.
Which leads me back to Ed and Stella’s blue Coupe deVille.
At that time Grandma and Grandpa owned their 1985 Dodge Aries two-door. With my sister aboard, three in the backseat would have been cruel and unusual punishment so my one year older cousin Brett and I were instructed to ride the sixteen miles to the county park with Ed and Stella in their Coupe deVille. Grandma and Grandpa would follow us there.
For a Midwestern boy such as myself, when at that time seeing a car not made by Ford, Chrysler, or General Motors was about as frequent as a Friday the 13th occurring on a Sunday, riding in a Cadillac was supposed to be the big time. To my limited thirteen-year-old experience, the stature of a Cadillac could be exceeded only by the height of automotive luxury: Rolls-Royce.
I was told I was in for a memorable ride. Truer words have never been spoken.
Getting into the velour-lined deVille was a pain in the butt. Big doors, climbing over the seat belt – the experience was similar to my parents’ ’78 Plymouth Volare. However, once in, the seat was like a sofa stuffed into the back of a chariot. Soft, inviting and offering stretch-out comfort; it was easy to tell its 3’4″ of legroom surpassed nearly everything I had ridden in. For some then unknown reason, Ed and Stella covered the velour seats of their Coupe deVille with towels. That was a downer, but hey–it was a Cadillac!
When Ed started the engine, Stella announced “It’s warm in here; Ed, turn on the air.” The internet is populated with scathing critiques of General Motors; however, I have yet to see the first gripe about GM’s marvelous ability to create a meat locker atmosphere with their air conditioning. The cooling was nearly instantaneous from that Coupe deVille’s air conditioner, much like sticking ones head in a snow drift. Thermodynamics and refrigeration was a science GM had honed to perfection, and it maintains that talent to this day.
Getting onto the highway near my grandparent’s house, the Cadillac seemed to acquire speed more than accelerate. It also seemed as if there was severe straining going on in the distant expanse of the engine bay. Grandpa Albert would later tell me he suspected Ed and Stella’s Cadillac to be motivated by a four-cylinder given its feeble acceleration. However, I distinctly remember the 4100 plaques on the fenders, indicating the not-so-mighty 135 horsepower HT 4100 was laboring away in a vain attempt to whisk around this 3,986 pound Cadillac with some degree of authority.
Promptly after getting onto the highway, Ed started giving Brett and me a tour of his Cadillac. To say he was proud of this 121.5″ wheelbase deVille would be an understatement.
“See boys, if you press this button, this extra odometer resets to zero so you know how far you’ve driven…”
“See boys, if you turn this knob, the radio speakers will play only on the right side…”
Not really paying attention, Brett was taking his own tour and lifted up one of the towels. Grabbing my arm, he pointed to his discovery. When we pulled the towels back further, the treasures continued; the blue velour was polka-dotted with stains originating from Sandy’s overtaxed digestive system. It was quite unnerving to realize the interior of this nice Cadillac had been so heavily soiled. More unnerving was the realization this cheap layer of cotton was all that separated me from the remnants of Sandy’s gastric distress.
Our horror became palpable soon after Ed oozed onto I-55. Being the ever enthusiastic tour guide, Ed was thrilled about having a captive audience and was paying absolutely no attention to driving.
“See boys, if you flip this switch you can adjust the temperature, just like in your house…”
“See boys, if you press this button, it will come out red hot so you can light your cigar…”
Like a javelin at the Olympics, we were soon hurtling and floating down the shoulder of the interstate at a brisk 65 mph. I could see the wreath-and-crest hood ornament standing proudly on the hood, confidently leading the way to what I hoped would not be a grisly finale. Three miles of this, combined with the incessant demonstrations of this Coupe deVille’s features and other motorists honking and waving in raw fear, proved to be too much for the ever patient Stella during this 55 mph era.
“Ed, pay attention, dammit! You are scaring the shit out of these boys. Get back on the road.”
With his gums still flapping, Ed did as instructed. When we got to the county park, Grandpa Albert’s curiosity got the better of him before the Coupe deVille and Aries were vacated, as he yelled, “Jason, what the hell was Ed doing? I thought for certain I would be seeing you four getting your asses wrapped around a bridge column.”
It is impossible for me to see any early ’80s vintage Coupe deVille without smirking.
(These photos were taken by Tom Klockau. While it’s highly possible Ed and Stella’s Cadillac could have migrated to the Quad Cities from St. Louis, the backseat looks much too nice.)
Funny you mention the “meat locker” ability of GM AC systems. My friend Mike and I had a running joke about that. My ’96 Saturn SL2. Best system of the rig. The car would damn near freeze up the windows on the inside. The running joke was GM is so cheap, they must have simply grabbed the evaporator out of the Suburban’s parts bin. We called it the meat locker. Great article.
GM has always been the master of HVAC, especially in the ’70s. If they made the whole X-Car as good as their HVAC systems, foreign cars might have simply disappeared in the early ’80s here. And we would have been back to the Big Three as it should be…sigh
I am in complete agreement. Every GM car I have ever spent time in gave me quick heat in winter and a virtual refrigerator in summer.
Chrysler was doing a pretty good job with Airtemp as well. When I first moved to CA in summer 72 to go to graduate school, I stayed with my aunt and uncle who had moved from IN to Ojai, CA in 67. They were still driving their wonderful 65 Chrysler Newport bought new in Fort Wayne. Ojai summer daytime temperatures are routinely 90’s>. The Newport’s Airtemp system could quickly and quietly cool that huge interior even when the car had been parked in the sun. Seemed to work better than the A/C in most American cars of the mid-60’s.
Like the Hydramatic transmission, the Comfortron from 1964 was one of The General’s finest inventions. As with the Hydramatic, Rolls Royce was impressed with the Comfortron fully automatic climate control enough to use the Frigidaire compressor and operating system to build it under licence from GM. As others have stated here about how far The General has lowered its standards and fallen behind the rest of the world, Rolls Royce no longer uses General Motors components in any of their new cars.
being owned by BMW, why would they use any components from GM?
BMW used hydramatic transmissions from GM during the the 90’s
The comfortron system was ahead of its time but is crazy temperamental and nearly impossible for the average person to fix. The dang system had its own supplement the regular service manual!
I would say a 66′ Fleetwood is significantly more modern than the contemporary Rolls of the era and its not even close.
Cadillac makes some pretty cool cars again but they are more geared towards the performance end of the spectrum theses days.
the things I would do for an ATS V…………..
Simply because all BMW’s German sources, ZF, Bosch, et al, now supply something comparable or better than GM or its subsidiaries can offer. At one time, the Hydramatic was also used by Lincoln, Hudson, Kaiser-Frazer, Nash, Ferrari, and Jaguar, to name a few. Even Lincoln and Audi used the Comfortron for a few years as no one else aside from Chrysler had a fully automatic HVAC system available at the time.
The A/C compressor on my government issued Corsica “company car” had more power than the 4 cylinder engine attached to it.
The #HVAC was truly the only redeeming quality of this automotive slug.
GM’s rep for great A/C was a big reason why I allowed myself to be roped into purchasing an 82 J2000. Unfortunately, not knowing a lot about air conditioning, I used it sparingly which caused the seals to dry out and the freon to leak out….leading to a fairly expensive repair when the car was only 3 or 4 years old.
A very enjoyable memoir to read. It’s funny how some moments from our younger years stick so vividly like this in our minds. That’s too bad about the canine fecal-stained velour seats – maybe they should’ve gotten leather, although I imagine it would be difficult to clean out of all those button-tufts, depending on seat style.
As I’ve said before, these are the quintessential Cadillac in my mind, and they’ll never go out of style like any Caddy before or after. The coupes are especially rare nowadays, though the sedans remain among the most commonly-seen ’80s cars still on the road.
The coupe is rare and usually slow. The only vehicle slower than my ’78 Volare is a ’77-’79 Coupe DeVille, as I was driving 45 in a 50 zone and he was slowly moving around 40. Other cars, from Chevrolet Citation to semi-trailers, or ’40s Buick were faster than me.
I went back and re-read your earlier piece about Albert and Clem and Stella’s Pontiac road trip. Seems to be a strong correlation between Stella and undisciplined dogs!
I was wondering at the beginning of this tale what Ed did with those pilfered McDonald’s napkins. The mental images from that trip will no doubt last you a lifetime Jason. Too bad the same cannot be said about the Coupe de Ville’s 4100 engine. If the 2-door bodystyle production had lasted just one more year you could have had one from the factory with the tough, all cast-iron Olds 5.0L V8. I’ve heard that Cadillac dealers routinely replaced failed 4100s with 307s throughout the 80s and into the 90s.
The version of this car to have is the very rare Fleetwood Brougham edition with the more formal roof shape..
This Coupe deVille disappeared sometime soon after for a maroon Sedan deVille. I’ve wondered if the 4100 played a role in its disappearance.
Plus so much easier to clean the back seats in a sedan!
There was a 4100 Coupe DeVille for sale in a dealership in northern Michigan and I was quite surprised to see it.
Somehow, some of those engines managed to survive. There are always a few out there. My guess is the owners didn’t drive them heavily (lots of highway cruising on flat roads) and religiously followed the maintenance schedule. Plus a little luck.
My grandmother was also a pilferer of napkins, from Dunkin’ Donuts, using them as facial tissues. She always kept a stash in her purse and in my grandfather’s and mother’s cars. She never had to buy Kleenex!
Pilfering seems to be a favorite art of Depression era babies. An elderly attorney relative, who certainly doesn’t need to do so, pilfers everything he can. If he goes to a continuing legal education class or school reunion event, he’ll make off with as many free pens, napkins, cups, etc. as he can. He also uses pencils until they’re about 2 inches long. I thought this was unique behavior until I worked for another elderly senior partner in Manhattan of all places who did the SAME THING.
I think they’re programmed that way, coming into a world where if you saw something free and it was actually functional, you better grab it because everyone else would too and no one had any money.
Rationing during WWII had a long-term impact on folks as well. As a kid in the 50’s I recall certain relatives taking home sugar packets from lunch counters and restaurants even though an unlimited amount of sugar was available and they certainly could afford to pay for as much as they needed.
And it’s lasting effect, at least in the case of my own grandparents, was that they had a pretty big nest egg sitting around by the time they reached retirement due to saving such a large portion of their salaries every year from often working multiple jobs at once.
I feel like beginning in the 1980s is when people’s attitudes towards money and saving began to shift towards saving less and spending more. I recently read an article that 50% of Americans couldn’t come up with $2,000 in cash without pawning possessions. The study was conducted in 2011, when the recession was worse, but you get the picture.
Brendan, I think you’re right.
I would argue the 70s rather than the 80s however, when financing picked up on cars. And then the gradual reduction of restrictions on mortgages/down payments as a % of purchase price. But running up debt was becoming more and more widespread by the 80s. Television telling us how our lives should be in terms of where we lived, what we wore, and what we drove probably helped that along, too, in a way it would not have even 20 years before.
That’s applivable to ALL Israelis. I think it’s common to anyone who lived through uncertain times; in Israel you grow up with a sense of temporariness – fully blown war can happen any second etc. Another aspect of the syndrom is stocking up with huge quantites of food – you should see my mother’s refrigerator. No need for this now that my father is gone and my sister living downstairs. Same with my sister in law’s father. Both lived through the austerity 50s and it shows.
IMHO, this is the last of the good Cadillacs. Once GM (Cadillac included) started front-wheel driving everything, things just went downhill. Cadillac still made good looking cars up until the more recent models, but quality just went down the toilet.
I think they’re the last of the Cadillacs that “look like Cadillacs”, but the hardware underlying the 1982-85 models–the HT4100 V8 and early 200R4 TH transmission, is not known for its durability (with individual exceptions, of course). I do find interior quality, even though the fake wood on these has become real in recent years, to be much higher than today.
Later models were first too bulbous for my taste, then later on (while understandable in the context of the market) too clearly designed to compete with German cars.
Of the newest designs, I’m most encouraged by the Lincoln Continental concept which appears to at least lean towards emphasizing comfort and serenity over sports sedan performance, though I really wish they would give it some more overhang in front and back, and, obviously, put a V8 in.
I will never again see one of these without thinking of your colorful relatives, especially Ed as he points out exotic luxury features like a lighter. And I will never understand people who spend a fortune on a car yet think nothing of putting an incontinent dog in the back seat. Plastic, people, plastic!
These post-1979 coupes were beautiful. Cadillac nailed the styling on these. It’s a shame that all of them after 1981 involve such a nasty engine tradeoff.
Speaking of spending a fortune, you should see the tombstone Ed and Stella bought for Sandy after she kicked the bucket.
This generation of full-sized Cadillac is the epitome of Cadillac in my mind. And while the Coupe deVille is sullied for me, I would still love to possess one of these at some point in time, coupe or sedan. They aren’t stupidly large like 10 years earlier and can be driven daily – if you replace the 4100 with something more durable.
I’m not sure which would be worse in one of these – the 4100 or the V6 that was briefly available.
I have always found that generation of Cadillac impossible to like and comprehend when you compare it to a 1966 Fleetwood, which really proved Cadillac was “Standard of the World” at the time. I made a comment on another forum in 2009 about Cadillac’s struggle to reinvent itself:
In Cadillac’s case (and Pontiac, too), its IMAGE and most important, BRAND DILUTION. I consider the last REAL “Standard of the World” Cadillac is the 1966 Fleetwood. It was an honest-to-god Rolls Royce contender. The wood inside was genuine, and there was lots of it! The leather was on the entire seat, not just where you placed your butt. The only thing less exclusive is that there were more of them than there were Rolls Royces. In the interest of volume, instead of keeping it the ‘Standard of the World’, the real wood trim dimished to nearly nothing by 1970, and starting in mid-1971, it was replaced by acres of plastic made to look like wood, and continued until the late 90’s which didn’t help separate it from its lesser bretheren. And I believe some of it is still fake on the new models. Cadillac foolishly abandoned the high end market just because of its expected low volume nature. No wonder sales of Mercedes Benz S-series and BMW 7-series went UP every year,and in the interest of volume, Cadillac didn’t care to notice or do anything about it. And by going ‘corporate’ with the J-car made into a Cadillac, it only ruined the Cadillac image to the point where they are still struggling to recover. Of course, the (mis)fortunes of the parent company haven’t helped, either. At the other end of the scale Cadillac was also trying to get away with was building a full-size car in the 90’s that handled as well as a 1938 Ford in the corners. Someone forgot to tell management that generation was almost all dead. Pontiac was known as the ‘performance’ and ‘excitement’ division. That only got diluted to badge-engineered Chevrolets without any added performance extras to differentiate it.
I like the styling of the 80s Fleetwoods better than the 66 Fleetwood, but as far as actual luxury appointments I’d agree with you.
If someone FORCED me to accept a full-size RWD Cadillac, it would be a 1991-1995 model, with much better front & rear bumper integration, slightly improved paint quality and overall fit & finish over the previous generation. However, it was still FAR from the luxury ambience of a BMW 7- series of S-class Mercedes. By1991, the Japanese entered the luxury states field and Cadillac needed to move far more upscale. Those 5-mph bumpers from 1975 totally ruined the appearance, but in fairness, all cars sold in the US suffered from that. Check out this ’66 Fleetwood: http://www.leftcoastclassics.com/1966-cadillac-fleetwood/
My 2014 CTS does not have fake wood trim, as there is no wood trim at all, real or otherwise. However, the wood trim on ATS and CTS models is real I think, when there is wood trim instead of carbon fiber trim.
I do have to agree with you that Cadillac was probably at its best in the mid 60’s although, compared to where they were in the 1930’s, they had slipped a lot after World War Two.
The ELR has real wood. Should for $75,000!
My ’08 CTS has real wood. I believe all current Cadillac models now offer real wood when wood is selected, now that the new Escalade has arrived.
I’ll second the glowing endorsement of the 1966 Fleetwood Brougham and 60 Special, what wonderful interiors in great all-around cars! Walnut, fine leather and brocade, hassocks, fold-down tables, long 133″ wheelbase, tailored, elegant styling, in a chassis capable of fast touring all day with its lucky passenger enjoying luxurious transport. Many love their import luxury cars of recent years, fine surely, just don’t have the overall elegance, at least to these jaded eyes.
That ^%$&$# English Springer my wife purchased against my opposition kept me from buying a nicely appointed car!
This was the right car for the right man! Buttons galore, who cares about driving!
Long time lurker, first time commenter. I wish all the little judgments would not seep into write ups about cars like this. A man who chose a car like this, probably started poor in the depression, fought for his country in WWII, worked with his back more than his mind, put his kids through college, long before he splurged a little on a car he always dreamed about. Or maybe he was a younger man, having worked his way through school, now fights his way up the corporate ladder, an hour a day in such a lush cocoon helps put him in the right frame of mind. Nothing that requires such sneering. People who chose 528e’s also had dogs that had accidents in the back seat and wondered why the manufacturer was holding back on the hot engine. CAFE and emissions. Paul showed us the other day that not all the 528 survivors are not exactly showroom any more. Relish the choices, it makes for a more interesting world.
Thank you for taking the time to comment. A huge part of why I have continued writing here is seeing the comments from people and learning their experiences and gaining from their knowledge. I have found the comments to often be equally educational to the content of any article.
However, I am lost as to what judgement and sneering you are referring to. I spent an entire paragraph bragging on the a/c system and the 4100 statements were hardly news. As much as anything, this was a tribute to Stella – who died two years ago at age 93 – and Ed who had died several years prior. Both were people who did what they wanted and didn’t really care about what others thought. Case in point is carrying their very beloved dog with them in their Cadillac.
Jason, I just read your story of your 7 hour journey in the F-series with your Grandpa Albert, and then this one with Grandpa Ed. I marvel at your ability to draw a warm but unvarnished humanity out of your subjects. I like the shape of this deVille, but your narrative is so much more engaging.
Thank you for the kind words.
Great story, Jason. These coupes, and the sedans, were lookers. The proportions were perfect and are sorely missed at Cadillac and the other American luxury brands today.
And again, that light blue, it just adds another level to any old American car.
Great story Jason. Please don’t overthink any criticisms you might receive… And give us more stories. I’d much rather have context than compression ratios. Just write for us.
As for this era of Cadillac, I found them a huge disappointment. The thing I could never get past was the cheap, Cheap, CHEAP! way that Caddy chose to integrate the 5-mph bumpers on these years. The car has long straight impressive fenders – classic Caddy lines, and then we suddenly get to those cheap (did I say cheap?) three-inch wide rubbery and wavy plastic gap covers between the end of the rear fender and the bumper. They looked bad new and the sun, in the South anyway, ate them in a few years leaving a yawning hole. You can see what I’m talking about in the last picture in the story above. They’re missing in the photo car.
They were expensive to replace since the bumper had to be dropped, and the parts painted body color, so most people didn’t. Who expected a Cadillac to have body parts falling off after a few years? What was most annoying wbout them to me was that these were not a stop-gap (heh) measure taken when the bumper requirements were a surprise, but a deliberate part of a new design. GM’s top-of-the-line cars using such a obviously accountant-driven solution shouted out a warning that these were not the Cadillac’s of yesteryear.
Probably they never tested the car in southern states, as the bumper filler is rather durable in Michigan for far less sun exposure.
The sun definitely was the enemy as many of these cars still around SoCal are missing the filler. This CC regularly parked on my street (seems to be the same color as the one in the photos with the article) received replacements within the last year or two.
Loved the RWD Coupe DeVille’s I was so sad when the DeVille name was dropped. When did that name start? 40’s? 50’s? What IS the oldest CONSECUTIVE American model on the road? Corvette? I’ve never forgiven Chrysler for dropping “New Yorker” nor Lincoln for dropping “Continental” Great story, thanks!
After Chrysler devalued the New Yorker name by assigning it to a four-cylinder car, it was just as well that the name was dropped….
Whenever I see the large RWD deVilles/Fleetwoods with the HT 4100 engine, I immediately think of one of my close friend’s grandparents. They owned one of these, a 1984 Sedan deVille in Briar Brown Firemist, after having a 1977 Coupe deVille with the 425 V-8, and all I can remember is them saying how underpowered the 1984 was. It went through two engine rebuilds in 100k miles! It was like brand new, as they took meticulous care of their cars, but it was one thing after another as far as problems were concerned. To say Cadillac should never have put such an abomination of an engine in a car so large is an understatement!
So to sum up the whole scenario, they loved the 1977, but hated the 1984.
When the EPA fuel consumption ratings for the 8-6-4 engine did not meet Cadillac’s expectations, I think the 4100 engine was rushed into production and the engineering was hurried, testing was probably next to nothing, so the final result should not have been completely unexpected. They would have been much better off using the 350 V8 from the Seville, with throttle body fuel injection.
I think these made it into the RWD for 3 reasons:
1. These models were supposed to be gone by 1983. When the FWD models weren’t yet ready by that time, GM just made the best of it. They could have put the Olds 307 or Chevy 305 V8 into the car, but Cadillac still had the rep of having its own engines, new designs, etc.
2. Cadillac could meet 1982-85 CAFE standards with this engine
3. The 368 had been discredited overnight by the 1981 model’s iffy 8-6-4 system. Nobody was going to trust it even if they added overdrive, so rather than develop a whole new engine for the big cars, which were going away anyway, they had the 4.1 on hand. Probably Cadillac thought they could spin it as another technological advance (which in some ways it was, DFI and this car could probably pull over 25 mpg highway if driven sedately) and then release the FWD cars which would have the same engine but seem more powerful/faster upon release because they were 500 pounds lighter! Holy Sleight of Hand, Batman! It wouldn’t have been the worst idea if the engine didn’t suck mechanically.
Unfortunately, the plan didn’t work since the rollout of the FWD cars were held off too long and were the least good looking of the new Cs, and the engine itself was such a dud.
In hindsight the better plan would have been to add overdrive to the 368-TH400 for 1980 or 1981, perfect the 8-6-4 system in the lab for release by ’84, and fully develop the 4100-4500 engines for release after that with the smaller models (if need be). But I suspect they felt they had to rush this due to predicted high gas prices and that 30 mpg highway Caddies would be basically “required” by 1985.
Cadillac never added an automatic overdrive behind the 368 because the THM200-4R was too small for it. (some will insist it was too small for the Olds 307) THM700-R4 would have worked fine of course but it was running so far behind, that when it was finally introduced on the Corvette for 1982, it wasn’t until December 12, 1981.
The V8-6-4 didn’t need any more lab work and it probably would have worked fine if it had been introduced as an option. There was nothing wrong with it mechanically or even electronically you just needed to know how to set it up correctly. In stark contrast to a four barrel Rochester carb that will still run when it’s half broken the V8-6-4 needed to be precisely tuned. Had it been introduced as an option as opposed to being dumped on 200,000 customers who barely understood what they were getting; it may or may not have caught on, but it would have given the service departments the time they needed to learn to fix the system properly.
A friend of mine had an 84 Coupe DeVille until he passed away a few months ago; smooth, roomy, and slow as molasses. Between the 3.42:1 final drive and the wide ratio transmission it jumped like a rocked when you took your foot off the gas, but no power at all above 50. He talked about putting a 472 in it but I warned him that would require replacing the entire drive line as even the rear end was designed for the much weaker 249.
I remember people complaining about being able to feel the engine as it “shifted” from eight cylinders to six, and then to four. There were also complaints that the engine was constantly “shifting,” even while cruising on the highway (because of hills).
One person I know dumped her brand-new 1981 Fleetwood and replaced it with a Mercedes within a year because of this.
Always love your family stories. Thanks.
Great story, didn’t see that one coming.
My sister used to compain “But our family is soooo weird” and my mother would counter with “EVERY family is weird”
4100 engine cars could come off the transporter, 10 miles on it, and the camshaft had flat lobes from coolant leaking past the intake manifold to head gaskets. The coolant would settle in the bottom of the oil pan and that pure degreaser would be the first thing the oil pump sucked in. The cam to lifter surface is the most highly loaded in the engine, so it failed first.
They just pulled the intake, front of the engine, and slid a new cam and lifters in. Drained the oil/coolant, new oil and filter in and sell it.
The transmission was the other weak point; I used to go to Cadillac dealers back then, there would be a couple of cars with the tranny out every time I was in. It was a joke how bad GM was back then…
I once drove my friend and his sick dog to the vet in my ’91 Corolla. The dog had the back seat to itself, and spent the entirety of the trip spewing from both ends. The back seat ended up covered in vomit and excrement, and I didn’t have any towels…. My friend paid for the clean-up, but they weren’t too happy at the car wash.
Thanks for sharing, great story. The old man had a business associate George who had a brown sedan version of one of these with the 4100 V8. He was very old school and loved the gadgets the car had, but bemoaned the lack of power compared to the late 70’s version he had prior. I rode with him and the old man a few times and recall the car being very quiet and cushy. It was on one of these rides where I witnessed first hand where the pejorative term “honky” came from. George seemed to enjoy scaring the bejesus out of little black kids walking along the road with the Cadillac’s very loud horn. I would imagine that Saint Peter gave him a good ass chewing for that and his poor tipping in restaurants when he showed up at the pearly gates a few years ago.
One of the indications things were going wrong for Cadillac was the length of time this styling was built: 1980-1989,. No way would Cadillac ever have built the same-styled car year after year in its heyday, two years, maybe three at the most for any theme then on to a refreshed style.
I think having the same styling for 10 model years was a plus. Get it right the first time I say and then you don’t have to update it for a long time. Good for resale value and you can spend the money in other, more important areas like powertrain.
It didn’t exactly work out that way for Cadillac but you get the point. The Imports showed the way on that and the Big 3 followed. One of the big problems with the domestic industry was having to come up with a great new design every year or two. Not to mention having to do that for so many brands. Of course there were going a few turkeys in the mix.
Well, it was only 1980-89 on one model, the Fleetwood Brougham/Brougham, which was an unexpected holdover in ’85 that they kept giving a moratorium.
The DeVille was redesigned for ’85, ’87, and ’89.
Not to deny that there were problems. There were. But Mercedes had the same designs for years as did Jaguar. It wasn’t the design that was the problem.
The DeVille was restyled for the 1989 model year, but was basically the same design as the 1985. The 1994 DeVille did get a new design upgrade with new styling. The 1985 FWD styling was awkward and while greatly improved for 1989, I think that Cadillac’s FWD styling was never as good as the RWDs from the 60’s. The 1992 FWD Seville was quite good, but the 1998 redesign did not improve the styling.
Jason, great writeup! Please, ignore the naysayers and keep it up!
Ed, Stella and even Sandy are like a composite of individuals I have met over the years.
Friends of my parents had a green ’59 Caddy that I have fond, if hazy, memories of riding in.
What a great story of both the car and your family. Things like this are one of the best parts of this site and really justify the “every car has a story” tag line. Keep ’em coming!
Great story , well written .
I too love these old Caddys .
I’m off to read your Traveling With Grandpa story now……
Well, you certainly have some characters in your family and ancestry.
Nice story, well told. Thanks
My first car was a dark blue 1984 Sedan deVille, with the same interior color as the Coupe pictured above. My pap gave me the car when he got his hands on a 1996 Deville with the 4.6 Northstar, as he HATED the HT4100. The 84 was a replacement for the 83 Olds 98 Regency that rusted away in the PA winters – but he really wanted a 90 Brougham with the TBI 350 Chevy. He did love one thing about the car – all the various chimes that would go off when you would start it up. When I took possession of it, he would call me up and ask to hear the chimes.
My 84 had it’s share of issues – the transmission had to be rebuilt by 80k, but much to my amazement, the HT4100 fired up every time I turned the key. It had an electrical system that gave me zero issues, the radio worked great, and the AC was so cold that it would fog the windows up if I left it on 60/Auto for any great length of time.
I could haul around all my high school buddies with room to spare, and aside from the transmission, it never left me stranded. When pap passed away, I inherited the 96 Deville, and passed the 84 to his sister who drove it till she passed on…and from then it went to my cousin who drove it till the engine finally seized up after 25 years of service.
You had to measure 0-60 with an hourglass, but once on the highway it would cruise at 70 all day long. I still miss that car – I hope to get a 90 Brougham someday, but I loved the old analog gauges and soft white glow of the dash at night. Not to mention the built in CB radio the 84 had.
Thanks for sharing your story, and bringing back memories!
The Deville’s hood ornament was the Crest alone until when?
The ad car doesn’t have the Wreath, which had been on Fleetwood models exclusively through the 70’s at least, but this blue one does (could be a replacement).
The vinyl roof sure looks like a replacement. I can’t remember ever seeing one of this vintage with a full vinyl roof, which would be an improvement. Some had no vinyl, which exposed a dorky crease below the sail panel.
Nice to read a story about one of these relics. My son had an ’82 Coupe DeVille. I’d ride with him in it when he had his driver’s permit, and drove it several times myself. It had a hard time on some slight hills on Rt. 2 in Glastonbury Ct. The engine was smooth and quiet, but made the car seem quite underpowered. I don’t know what exactly went in the engine, maybe the head gaskets? He sold the car to someone that flatbedded it. For some reason they left the hood here. That was maybe 15 years or so ago. To this day the hood is still here. I’ll remind my son occasionally that it’s still here. Don’t know if there’s a market for it.