(first posted 10/3/2014) The 1970s was a decade of some of the biggest shakeups in the automobile industry. Two energy crises, increased federal safety standards, and a flood of imports dramatically changed the automotive landscape over the course a few years. By decade’s end, cars were smaller, bumpers were larger, and convertibles had all but disappeared. From a stylistic standpoint, vinyl roofs, wire wheels, opera windows, and interiors that resembled your grandparents’ living room had all become mainstream, as the Great Brougham Epoch was in full swing.
Even more disrupting, after years of association with big, American luxo-barges, the term “luxury car” now had two distinct identities: the aforementioned large American highway cruisers from Cadillac and Lincoln, as well as the tauter, more driver-focused imports from brands like Mercedes-Benz.
Most of those changes were well under way by the time this 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham came along. With the first wave of downsized Cadillacs being readied for the following year, 1976 was the last year one could purchase one of these truly gargantuan Cadillac sedans.
At nineteen and a half feet long, the Fleetwood Brougham was the largest non-limousine Cadillac for purchase. It was also just barely longer than its closest competitors, the Lincoln Continental and Chrysler New Yorker Brougham (née Imperial), making it the longest regular production, non-limousine sedan in America. With three extra inches of wheelbase over a DeVille, the otherwise identical Fleetwood Brougham was comparable to the extended wheelbase “L” models of modern European luxury cars.
While a few of its buyers may have actually purchased the Fleetwood Brougham for the extra rear-seat legroom, the majority probably just went for it to one-up their DeVille-driving friends. “Oh, you drive a DeVille? Good for you bud. I drive a Fleetwood Brougham. The BIG Cadillac”.
Even with the 1973 Oil Crisis and coinciding economic recession still in recent memory, Cadillac production was up to 309,139 vehicles. In fact, 1976 was their best sales year to date. One of the benefits of being a luxury brand was that costlier (albeit, subsiding) fuel prices didn’t pose much of an obstacle to those who could afford these 8.2-liter V8-powered Cadillacs in the first place, even with fuel mileage averaging in the low-teens on a good day.
A few extra sales of these cars were probably generated by those wanting to scoop up the last “traditional sized” Cadillacs, as word of next year’s downsizing had begun spreading around. Although the ’77s would be better cars in all aspects, the general public had no way of knowing this.
After all, Cadillac would be the first luxury make to take the plunge, with downsized models across the board. And after years of driving home the message that size mattered in a luxury car, no one would’ve have blamed consumers for being a little apprehensive about smaller Cadillacs. While nearly half of all Cadillac sales came from the mid-level DeVille series, sales of the top-shelf Fleetwood Brougham still reached a respectable 24,500 units.
This particular ’76 Fleetwood Brougham is another car from the wide selection displayed at the Misselwood Concours d’Elegance. Its exterior is finished in “Firethorn Metallic” with matching vinyl roof. Its matching “Antique Dark Firethorn” interior looked a bit retina-searing in the hot July sun. I personally would’ve opted for some greater contrast, such as white leather with dark firethorn dash and carpeting. All that red here is just a little too hot and heavy for me.
Between the Calais, DeVille, and Fleetwood, ’76 buyers were offered no less than nine cloth, velour, vinyl, and leather upholstery choices. This car features the optional Sierra Grain leather seats. The bucket-like seat backs of the 60/40 Dual Comfort bench may seem out of place in a car of this girth, but they give the interior a more open, airier feel than the full-width seat backs of Lincoln and Chrysler.
By 1976, Cadillac’s “Space Age” instrument panel was beginning to look a little long in the tooth. Although one of the cleanest and uncluttered dashes on the market, it didn’t exude the same kind of opulence as the Lincoln Continental’s. Material quality was also a far cry from Cadillacs of a decade before. At least the excess of oh-so-fake wood trim on the doors made up for the sparse appearance of the dash. You have to give it to Cadillac for finding even more places to apply fake wood with the woodtone “frames” around the upper portion of the doors. It even adorned the rim and center cap of the steering wheel.
The Fleetwood Brougham’s three extra inches of wheelbase went all to the rear-seat passengers. The infant who rides around in the back of this car must appreciate every bit of that space. Although the windows were plenty huge, the C-pillars came forward just enough to provide rear seat passengers with the appropriate amount of privacy from commoners outside.
Out around back, a football field sized decklid and razor blade fins said pure Cadillac. Many things were about to change for Cadillac. These vestigial tail fins however, with their inset taillights would remain in similar form on the largest Cadillacs until the 2000 DeVille.
These colossal Cadillacs earned their place, but their sun was setting. The cars that succeeded them were infinitely better Cadillacs. More importantly, their idyllic proportions and timeless styling would see production continue for sixteen long years, becoming one of the most iconic Cadillacs of all time.