(first posted 11/4/2013) In 1991 México reopened their border to new cars built in the United States and Canada, which meant that beginning that year, Mexican citizens were once again able to buy the very much-missed luxury cars of such grand makes as Cadillac, Lincoln and Imperial–as well as certain other Big Three models previously not sold here because they were either too new or competitors to models already offered here. Of course, they didn’t exactly come cheap.
During their absence from the market, something of an automotive cold war existed between the Government and the public: The Government had set up a protectionist policy intended to enhance and improve the domestic auto market. The measure was seen by these “patriots” as something good, because it (presumably) would, at long last, encourage production of a 100% Mexican-made car. On the other hand, people with enough money to buy cars north of the border tried feverishly to reverse this situation; in many cases, they eagerly paid high taxes (of up to 200% of the car’s value at the level of a Rolls-Royce, high-end Mercedes or Ferrari) to drive the cars they yearned for. And slowly but steadily started a procession of U.S-bought used cars into México.
To stop this situation, the Government created the Registro Federal de Vehículos (RFV), an office pertaining to the Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público (comparable to the IRS in the U.S.). Its main purpose was to keep an eye on all the cars that were rolling into the country. At entry points 25 kilómeters south of the U.S./Mexican border, this office operated next to the Aduana (Customs) to review the car’s paperwork. If the RFV officials smelled something foul, or thought the driver acted suspiciously, the car was impounded and permanently irretrievable from the pound. It was a highly punished federal crime, and in the ’60s, ’70s, and part of the ’80s the policy was ruthlessly applied, resulting in high fines and even prison for offenders. In some cases, it was only through the very well-known “mordida” (bribe) that you were able to proceed into México with your “auto chueco” (illegal car)–at least until you and it were captured, which could be in any city within the country.
At this point, your car would be impounded again, and forever. It was sold later at a public auction–actually, several years later, during which time it had suffered through a long, weather-beaten agony at the impound yard. These cars were never sold to be driven; on the contrary, their exit was granted subject to the understanding that they would be recycled for use by steel industries and the like. Even so, after the miraculous bribe cast its spell, the officials in charge tended to look the other way. With enough dough, you could get a “driveable” title and not a salvage or reconditioned one.
So the bribe opened the border, and an avalanche of used U.S. and Canadian cars overwhelmed México. The steadily worsening situation finally came to a head in 1990, when the Mexican government tried to mollify the Mexican auto industry, which regarded the influx of these vehicles as a threat grave enough to send the domestic industry into oblivion.
In 1991 finally came a decree reopening the border; as cited above, it put fresh wind into the sails of an already viciously competitive auto market, but only when it came to new cars: No “pre-owned” or used vehicles were to be imported (there was another decree for used cars, which is another story).
The (new-car) decree worked very well for many people in the country, including my mother, who again decided to buy a car with cachet and a prestigious name. After looking at the prices of Cadillacs, Lincolns and Imperials (the first cars allowed in after being purchased from U.S. dealers), she decided that the Cadillac was the car for her, always bearing in mind that a ’55 Coupé deVille was one of the first vehicles she had, and that our family had always been faithful to GM cars of the ’50s and ’60s. (Remember the ’65 Olds?)
In that time, only one of the three Chevrolet dealers in Chihuahua was the authorized importer for Cadillacs (as well as Centurys and Cutlasses), which were sold under the bow-tie emblem in México, until 2005, when the fine marque established its own image with a new franchise. (Lincoln, Imperial, Ford and Chrysler dealerships would do likewise.)
I have no recollection of the 1991 peso-dollar rate (about 3,000 to the dollar – Ed.), but I vividly remember that the price of the Cadillac was the astonishing amount of 154 million pesos! (or $51,333 USD; in the U.S. a contemporary deVille sedan listed at $30,445 – Ed.) It’s hard to remember how high inflation was then! For the record, the Lincoln was a 150-million peso affair, and the Imperial an even lower 147-million.
After seeing the offerings at the showroom, signing the paperwork and waiting almost four weeks for the car to be delivered, it arrived home–but what arrived was completely different than what we expected. It was a Phaeton edition fitted out by some U.S. dealership, so we were told, and there would be no more questions about it. The roof had disappeared under a padded canvas cover that vaguely resembled a convertible top; the moldings, Vs and crests changed from chrome to gold-tone, and there were rear-fender skirts that made it look as old as the ’55 that had been our family’s car for almost two decades.
As expected, the car came with all the standard equipment found on 1991 Cadillacs, but certain amenities were not included with cars to be sold in México due to prevailing customs regulations. For example, the keyless entry system, illuminated entry system, Astro-roof with express-open, the garage door opener and the CCDR system were left out because the extra equipment would skyrocket the price under the high import taxes being assessed by the Mexican government. Also, Fleetwoods and Fleetwood Broughams were out of the question for the Mexican market–another Customs “idea.” In any case, the car we got still had many other qualities and options that provided the comfortable and easy ride expected from a Cadillac.
Currently, the car has traveled only a little more than 95,549 kilómeters (60,000 miles). It spends most of the time parked beneath a tin roof covering an open-patio area of the house. Some of its roof stitches are missing, but that doesn’t blemish the overall appearance of the car. The only missing part is the left C-pillar crest–it was blown away in the washing tunnel some years ago, and I haven’t been able to find another one.
Unlike other Cadillacs of its vintage still running around Chihuahua, this Sedan deVille attracts lots of attention from other drivers. Each liter of gas yields 6.4 kilometers p/L in city driving (15 mpg), while on the highway the figure is almost 15 kilometers p/L (34.6 mpg)–even using the Cruise Control, that’s a surprisingly high figure for a car of this size, weight and age. The soft ride and absence of interior noise often make me think I’m driving a Rolls or a Bentley, although I’ve never even seen either one in person!
Again and again I find myself flattered by the questions from passersby, which I sense express their inner yearning to possess one of these wonderful (to me) works of art. Once I checked at the local motor vehicle department and their officials told me that registrations for its three-model-year run (1991-1993) total scarcely 60 units! So, if I were to follow U.S. guidelines for collectible vehicles, it would be a collector’s car, no doubt.
But life can’t go well forever. One thing that made me think seriously about getting rid of the car four years ago was the violent situation in Chihuahua at the time. I was stopped at an intersection, waiting for the green light, when a car approached from the right side. The driver asked how much I wanted for the Cadillac. I said it wasn’t for sale, but he wouldn’t give up. The green light came on and I started on my way, but four or five blocks ahead he stopped next to me once again, asking the same question and getting the same answer. From that moment on he followed me insistently, until I finally hailed a police car and asked for help. To this day, I don’t know what the intentions of that man were, but I didn’t want to take the risk of facing a 9 millimeter gun placed between eyebrow and ear! Later that day, I was told by the authorities to either get rid of the car or put it in storage until things calmed down. I really felt like prey for poachers, and the feeling was awful–but not anymore, since the city is no longer as violent as it was before.
On one day, two years ago, a man was waiting for me outside the office. He said he’d been waiting for two hours to see whose car it was, because he wanted himself and his bride to be driven off to church in it. He convinced me to do this service for him and his future wife, and after thinking over it for several days I did it gladly. He told me that it would be very nice to start their new life aboard a Cadillac, since he was sure his last trip would be in another Cadillac!
Since then, I’ve provided such a service to many other couples, two or three times per month, on every other weekend. This car knows how to earn its gas!
To a previous point: On January 1, 1993, the peso was re-evaluated, after which its value lost three zeros–dropping the possible resale value of the car down to 120,000 pesos from the usual 120-million range. On paper, that’s a huge difference, and why cars in this price range were seen as bad investments in their day–and probably why after their first two years here, sales of these luxury cars tapered off.
Hey nice car! I am not usually a fan of the fake conv. top, but it seems to work in that color combo and with the fender skirts. Classy looking ride.
So gotta ask…why no white walls?
It’s getting tough to find whitewalls nowadays that aren’t ridiculously expensive (Coker, et al). I’ve been trying to find some for my Dart and the pickings are slim. I imagine it might be even more difficult in Mexico.
Ahhh, yes. I’d imagine it’s even more difficult south of the boarder.
Might I suggest Coopers for you Dart. I’ve had a couple of sets (white-walls and black walls) and they were always a decent tire at a good price. They have a pretty good selection of white walls in various sizes.
I’ll look in that, though I haven’t seen any in my cursory searches. The best ones I’ve come up with are Mastercraft, which are apparently made by Cooper. Not sure on quality though and they are definitely an old tech-tire.
Mastercraft are GREAT tires. I had Good-Year whitewalls on my Cadillac very similar to this 15 years ago (I wouldn’t think they’d be -that- hard to find today?)–blackwalls look awful on a full-sized DeVille!
Good to know that you’ve had positive experiences with them. Re: being hard to find today, you’d be surprised. The tire landscape has changed a lot in 15 years!
I found some Uniroyals at an independent tire shop here. My car needs whitewalls with the stock 15″ wheels and full wheel covers. On blackwalls it looks like its got dinky 12″ wheels and ridiculously tall tires.
This Caddy, doesn’t really need them. the wheels stand on their own.
Mexican tire companies are no longer interested in White walls since 8 or 9 years ago. Very scarce and a bit expensive, if you find a decent set. The car looked superb in the original tires with a 4 centimeters White Wall when new. They lasted about 15 years!
Loving the all digital dash Juan.
Thank you!, Original condition, too.
I noticed that the gauges looked OEM.
Indeed they are. Nothing has been touched! As you well know, the display tells you all what has to be done and that is
Thank you, Mr. Edward. You see, it was an option, the digital or the one with needles and gauges. I would rather prefer this last one, due to the inaccuracy of the gas gauge in this digital dashboard. It has been a problem almost since 5 or 6 years. It shows 14 liters and I have to go right in that moment to put at least another 20 liters, or I would be left stranded. A real bothering issue.
Could be a faulty sending unit.
Very nice piece. You remind those of us in the US how spoiled we are when it comes to cars – If you have the money, you can have the car. In many places, this is not the case. In one sense, the Mexican government may have done your family a bit of a favor in waiting until the problematic 4.1L V8 was gone.
The Mexican perspective is also very interesting. In the US, most people moving from a 1955 Cadillac to a 1991 would have been quite disappointed. However, in a place where choice was so limited, that 91 model must have been pretty nice indeed.
+1. My thoughts exactly. I enjoyed this very informative piece Juan and very much like the color combination of your Cadillac.
Thank you, Junqueboi. It is very elegant, no matter the lack of White side walls.
I don’t think so.
Well, jp, when Cadillacs et al were no longer in México’s showrooms, I think that drivers in that time just nodded and continued with their life as usual. When I was an 8-11 y/o kid, I saw the same cars you had in the sixties, but slowly they disappear from view. The same happened with mother’s 65 Oldsmobile. and 55 Cadillac. They were very old by mid- seventies and by the eighties just a memory of what their former glory. On the other hand, a big market with Impalas, Galaxies and Monacos was thriving and they were sold by the dozens. And yes, it wasn’t any dissapointing issue the move from a 55 to a 91 Sedan deVille, Of course, the cachet was there with the name, but the “presence” was different. The size, especially, made the diferente, of course. Almost the same interior space but there was something to be expected outside. No more stances from pedestrians nor drivers alike.
This is my favorite FWD DeVille body. I would love one of these with the 4.9 V8, the local GMC/Buick dealer got one traded in on a Northstart equipped Lucerne but the Caddy didn’t last long on the used car lot. It had 109,000 miles but it was triple white and in very cherry condition.
No doubt. They also didn’t last longer in the showroom when new! As a matter of fact, six months later in a service trip to the dealer, the salesman told my mother that after she got her Cadillac, they were not able to get any more to sell because the quota was filled up for imported cars and if she wanted to trade it in for the 92 model, she better signed off the application. They sold 7 ’91 Cadillacs, almost one per month, and only to customers who accorded to sign up waiting list. When it was filled, they would get the next year model with all the things involved as to the Price and equipment. Many did. In 2005 finally GM decided to build up an assembly plant for most of its makes in México, among them, Cadillacs, in Ramos Arizpe, Coahuila. However, some models were still imported from the US.
I always liked the DeVilles from the early 90’s much more so than the Lincolns. I hope you decide to keep it for awhile.
I think that it will be good for other 20 years more in the family.
Great story, thank you Juan! I liked learning some Mexican history, though it sounds frustrating and expensive (and occasionally scary) to have lived through. Good to hear you and your newlywed passengers are able to enjoy the car again.
Hey, Imp, There were tough times to overcome as well as weird situations to pass through, but we have to go on and not get frozen and hidden at home or elsewhere. There is no point to live in dispair just because a bunch of s.o.b want to break the law and social etiquette. They can’t pass over the rest of the good citizens who are decent and honest and make their way to live in the most proper way. We were so pissed for 4 years of anguish and violence, that now we are reconstructing our society. That is why, I believe, the loving couple make the right decision and got married, and I and the Cadillac were some silent witnesses of their happines.
Great story, and I really am enjoying the increasing international content on CC. Interesting to hear how others perceive American cars (as well as those from their native land).
+1 (again). I particularly enjoy the Mexican/South American perspectives.
Well, Ed, since car production differs somehow outside the United States, that is perhaps the reason why we foreigners offer our view of what the local market offered in the time. And it is fun to see differences, although small, of what we are accustomed to see everyday.
Thanks for the story Juan. I too love to hear these stories from the Mexican perspective.
I have friends from Mexico who now live here in the US. One of the funnier experiences that I had was taking one of them to a car show here. We saw a 1970’s VW Beetle there in the show, and she couldn’t understand why anyone would want to see that. I had to explain how these cars that are cheap and plentiful in Mexico (at least as of 10 years ago) are pretty rare and collectible here in the Northeast US.
Carlo, perspective changes the moment you cross the borderline! Those cars were a common sight in México from mid sixties to the last one, which rolled off the plant in July 30th, 2003. In México they were used for any purpose you can imagine. They were ubiquitous. Good cars and inexpensive to mantain. In 2000 we were in a trip from Torino, Italy, all the way down to Barcelona, Spain. I was marveled by the huge amount of old European iron I saw along the road, that the “autocar” (bus) driver asked me the reason of my amazement. But whenever I saw a VW Beetle (Sedan in México) I turned the other way, I was not very interested nor fond of this vehicle, I already saw many of them in my country!
It’s nice to see that the old Caddy is still serving you faithfully after all these years.
Has anyone noticed that this version of the DeVille seems to have quite a following here at CC?
Thank you, Richard.Most people in México still regard Cadillacs as “The Standard of the World”, and that can’t be more true, since I know a bunch of acquaintances and friends who talk about it. They say “have you seen a Cadillac such and such and such… somewhere in such and such…” a thing that not quite happens with Town Cars and Imperials of the same vintage. Here in Chihuahua we see a lot of used Lincolns of that era, but not many Cadillacs. That also makes me feel proud of my possesion, especially because my car was bought directly from a dealer and not from a used car lot in some city in the United States. That issue makes people to think they lack of certain kind of appeal, for have being used automobiles, and perhaps, never “pre-owned”.
Juan, I wish you the best in your Deville. Your story makes me yearn for my 93 Deville spring edition. White with the blue carriage roof and leather interior, it was a beautiful car. (Had its share of problems, though.) Yours looks like it has the gold package, too.
Foolishly, I traded it on a whim in 2005, with 70K miles, for a 2002 Deville.
Dave, never is too late to rewind the tape and start it again. Certainly, a very low mileage Cadillac must have been a lure to someone looking for a fine car, although it was used. I would have think it over twice before decide to trade it in. If in 2002 the Cadillac was in my hands, surely I’d have done the same. Thanks God it still was my mother’s possesion. May be there is no point of comparision between both models, but the old one now, looks as if it still was an automobile, not a spacecraft.
Dad had a 1990 Spring Edition Coupe – Triple Sapphire Blue – was his final wish before passing in 1993. He LOVED that car!! It was loaded, too – even had the rare heated windshield – I have yet to see another deVille with one. It had the gold package which he made the dealership change to silver – have to admit it looked classier with the silver emblems on it. He always bragged about the highway gas mileage being in the upper 20’s. Pretty damn good considering the size and weight of that car. Plus it was roomy and rode great. If GM embellished on that car today maybe making it a little more modern they would probably sell a ton of them. It was totally reliable and overall a great car. Mom kept it until 1998 with 70k on it – traded it for a BMW 528. Wish we still had it!! (If there is one negative thing about that car – it had the UGLIEST steering wheel I have ever seen!!)
Tom, too sad that your father enjoyed the car for so short time, but he was absolutely right as to the gold emblems. To me, they look tacky, to say the least, whereas we saw a car at the dealer with all silvery frills were on it. My mother never expected to get a car completely different to what she saw in the showroom, not even with the fender skirts. But in that moment she was taken off guard and didn’t say anything against it, although she was not very happy with the final product. And the MPG figure in my car is very acceptable in the highway. However, the fuel consumption in city driving is too low. Has anyone in CC ever think in the possibility that Cadillac would have produced a retro model, say, a ’40 or 48 and how would it look like? That, maybe, could have been a selling point, I believe. Terrible steering wheel. I move it up and down to see the gauges.
Hey Juan, it was really sad that Dad had such a short time with that car but he really loved it. I honestly think your car looks fine with the gold package – the blue for some reason looked strange and thats why Dad had it changed to silver. I love the fender skirts and carriage top on yours – it looks like a Fleetwood!! The city mileage is only rated at 16 mpg so getting 15 mpg in the city isn’t all that bad. They really do well on the highway – I know he had taken a trip up and down the east coast and recorded 29 mpg. Fantastic for a car that size and with such great power! Those cars, to me, were the last of the classic Cadillac look and feel. They are very durable cars and extremely comfortable too. I hope you enjoy yours for many, many years to come!
Thank you Tom, sure I will! And yes, it looks like a Fleetwood, although I’ve only seen them in photos. Those fender skirts really look as an old fashion school issue, and make it apart from the rest of all them all. And I believe that the color, too, has something to do with al the glances the car gets from passersby and drivers as well.
Juan, Gracias for taking the time to share this. I too have a vintage Caddy…mine is the 1995 de Ville in a stone white (diamond white??) and looks very similar to yours except not lower metal trim on the lower door panels and no fender skirts, though the back wheel wells are squared off to simulate the look. I got this from my Dad after he had driven it for 8 years….I managed to get it to its 18th year without a scratch, untill twice at Walmart it was scratched..a crease in the passenger door, and worse..a woman backed inot it with her tall SUV or truck and dented te nose of the front hood. The biggest disaster was last year whe na student thoguht he’d be helpful and cleaned off the snow at the school with a carbon shovel…and scratched it up on hte roof and hood (he was trying to help out his teacher….oh boy…) So now the old gall will get a good paint job this spring. Other than a water pump and a timing chain she’s been a great car. I get 15 in town (I live 4 miles from the high school) but does a great 28 on the highway.The driver seat leather is suffering as Dad was large and the left side is worn down. Other than that she looks wonderful! When washed up and shining I have people talking to me all the time…funny how they are like magnets! I too will keep mine indefinitely…I have a Jeep Cherokee for driving on the beach, etc, but, after driving the Jeep for a while it just makes me smile to settle into the Cadillac! So smoooooooth! By the way, my grandparents had their brand-spanky new Cadillac stolen in Chihuahua in 1969,,,loooong dark-green with green brocade upholstery. They had paid to have it parked in a locked lot only to find it gone 5 days later. The police just shrugged and said it had been painted and was long gone to resale. They never quite got over that! Here is aa picture of mine behind my motorcycle (this makes me realize I need to get some pictures of my baby!!!) Thanks again!
Thank you very much for your story on your family Cadillac. These models were very common with the older wealthy folks I knew when I was growing up and I absolutely loved them…especially the stitching on the dash and the automatic features (climate control, seats, windows, etc.). I read this story with my Mexican-American friend last night and he and I had to look up when the peso changed to the new peso, and we were both suprised that it happened so recently. He couldn’t believe the price of the car as $154,000,000 until we researched when the changeover happened.
Can you explain when the import of American cars was stopped or restricted? I didn’t understand that part from your article. Also what car makes constituted the Mexican domestic auto market?
Thanks again for the great story!
My friend Juan died on March 13, 2019. He was a very good man!