I’ve never been what anyone could consider a connoisseur of fine wines, even before I gave up alcohol toward the beginning of last year. I still have extremely limited knowledge in the area of enology, with the only notable rules of thumb that have remained with me being that the type or color of wine served with the meal should match that of the meat, i.e. red wine with red meat, white wine with fish, etc. That’s even probably wrong, but that’s how little I care these days. I would much rather have had a dry martini or Manhattan to sip on with a meal than a glass of wine, but if wine was what was being served, I was usually one hundred percent okay with it. Listen. I was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. I wouldn’t even know where to begin to pretend to have a fancy wine palate, even if I can appreciate nice things just like everybody else.
One other wine fact that had seemed to stick with me was that rosé was generally the most inexpensive and lowbrow variety of wines available. I mean absolutely no disrespect to you if rosé is your favorite or go-to. Lots of people like rosé. I’ve had some before, and it tasted just fine to me. It was crisp and fruity, and if it wasn’t too sweet, it also didn’t leave me with a headache and/or in need of chewing gum afterward. According to one story from the Los Angeles Times from a few years ago, and as echoed in other information available online, rosé takes little time, effort, or cost to produce relative to other wines. Fermentation is brief, so there’s a lot less time between the vineyard to the shelf in the adult beverage aisle at the local Target.
When I came across this 1990 Fleetwood coupe just over four years ago, rosé is exactly what came to mind when I looked at its color scheme. “Antelope Firemist” is the official color for the top half of its two-tone paint job, with “Warm Silver” accents below. I can appreciate a good turn of phrase and clever name, and I admire the poetry that went into naming this pinkish, champagne-like hue. But, no. For its once-prestigious Fleetwood name, this beautifully maintained Cadillac coupe looks like the automotive equivalent of a glass of rosé poured from a box made of the finest laminated cardboard that came from the shelf of the Jewel-Osco supermarket that stands one block away from where I photographed it.
Both car and wine seem like they would be appreciated by a mature lady named Maxine with a beaded cigarette purse in which she always stores a fresh box of Capri menthol lights. The scent of her White Diamonds perfume over the baked-in aroma of secondhand smoke and air deodorizer inside the car is its own evocative blend, enchanting in its own way. It is a familiar scent of my Rust Belt childhood, reminding me of any family restaurant or checkout line at a Meijer store in Genesee County, Michigan. Maxine’s fuzzy, pastel-colored angora sweaters and vivid Avon cosmetics have a certain, Midwestern sense of class and style, recognizable among a certain demographic. She’s a lady and she does her part to look and dress like one as best as she knows how.
An early Lexus LS 400. Downtown, The Loop, Chicago, Illinois. Monday, November 5, 2012.
And so our 1990 Fleetwood coupe, which originally had cost $32,400 from the factory (over twice as much in 2021, at around $67,800, adjusted), comes across in very much the same way as Maxine. Even when it was new, it was sporting the adornments of years past in the form of fender skirts, a padded vinyl landau roof, and a two-tone paint treatment. It has already been written about here at Curbside about how the Lexus LS400 was a game-changer in the luxury car market when it first arrived at the beginning of ’89 for the 1990 model year. Its base price of $36,000 ($75,400 / adjusted) was only about 9% more than the $32,980 starting price of the Fleetwood four-door. The 3,800-pound, rear-wheel-drive Lexus also featured a 250-horsepower 4.0L V8 engine. The front-drive, 3,500-lb. Cadillac’s larger 4.5L V8 put out only 180 horses.
We’re not talking about performance here, though. We’re talking about aesthetics, style, and perceived class. This ’90 Fleetwood comes across like the rosé of luxury cars, seeming somewhat inexpensive to produce as it looks almost exactly like the lesser Coupe DeVille, which in fact I had originally thought it was until closer examination of my pictures at home. Maybe the Lexus would be a fine Bordeaux, a red wine which is known for being full-bodied, tannic, and powerful. Before researching at the dimensions of both vehicles, I assumed that the Lexus had a wider, longer stance. I was wrong. Both cars measure exactly 71.7 inches wide without mirrors, and the LS400 is actually six inches shorter than this two-door Cadillac from bumper to bumper. Both cars also share the exact same wheelbase length of 110.8 inches. These numerical facts are hard to believe, as the Lexus simply looks more substantial.
Here’s another fun fact about this ’90 Fleetwood coupe: with sales of only 2,438, it was the only regular-production individual model and configuration of Cadillac that year to actually be outsold by the Allanté roadster, which found 3,101 buyers. Here’s where my rosé comparison falls completely apart. Rosé still seems to be widely popular as a beverage for brunch or even in the afternoon. I may not drink anymore, nor am I dining out even as occasionally as I used to before the pandemic, but I’m not living under a rock. For the 1990 calendar year, Lexus sold about 42,800 LS400s against about 25,300 combined sales of Cadillac’s Fleetwood and Sixty Special. Sometimes more is actually more, and people are ready to pay for extra quality in the very best when they see it. (For the record, sales of the lesser Cadillac DeVille totaled just over 149,000 that same year.)
I chose the Lexus as a comparison vehicle for no other reason than it seemed to be the new luxury car benchmark of its day, much as Cadillac had been for decades arguably up to some point in the late 1960s or the early ’70s. I also want to be clear that I like this Fleetwood. I was taught from a young age to take care of my things, like my toys, clothes, and records, and to take pride of ownership in them. That someone had maintained this erstwhile Cadillac flagship (excepting the Allanté) this well demonstrates a level of caring about something, anything, which seems to be rarer these days. This apparent quality has real value in my eyes. Even during my college years when I might not have been able to afford anything but a box of Franzia rosé to entertain a group of friends, you had better believe I was going to serve it in my very nicest hodgepodge of mismatched stemware I had amassed from Sunshine Thrift Store. Whatever you do and however you roll, always do it with a touch of class. Make Maxine proud.
Wrigleyville, Chicago, Illinois.
Sunday, October 8, 2017.
The rosé wine glass picture, Fleetwood postcard illustration, and print ad were as sourced from the internet.