By on July 6, 2011

Where were we? Ah, yes. I was fleeing Nashville in defeat after my mystery car ate its water pump on Mile 417 of a 1,210-mile journey. But what was that mystery car? I couldn’t reveal it at the time, for reasons which will become apparent shortly, but now it can be told: I was driving a 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special “Talisman”. For the bargain price of about $14,000 (think $54K today, about the same as a loaded 335i or middling Audi A6) the most discerning among us could purchase the ultimate in full-sized luxury.

In the week after my return to sunny Powell, Ohio, the Firestone shop in Franklin, Tennessee swapped the water pump, thermostat, a few hoses, and the blown-out valve cover gaskets. All was in readiness for me to fly in Saturday, July 2, and pick up where I’d left off. Drama McHourglass promised she would pick me up at the airport:

I will be there. with bells on!

Honestly, dear readers, I had my doubts, particularly given my arrival time of 8:45am, but as I rolled my SKB Strat case through the big glass doors and out into BNA’s Arrivals area, I saw her ’96 Taurus in the lane ahead. She was radiant in a nearly sheer peasant dress and as I took my seat next to her, she said, “You see? Bells.” She wiggled — no, she shimmered — and I heard the strings of bells draped over her wrists, and I felt the solid ground drop away beneath me, the way it does when you hit the coping and tumble all the way down the halfpipe, or hear the jury read your verdict, or fall desperately in love.

TTAC commenter doctorv8, also known as Dr. Sanjay Mehta, owns a dream garage of automobiles, ranging from an SL65 Black Series to a Lincoln Versailles (oops: I meant a Fox Continental Valentino – JB) with a few Lambos, Ford GTs, and AMG Benzes in-between. When he saw a triple-black ’76 Talisman with only 47,000 original miles for sale near my home, he bought it immediately and we quickly cooked up a scheme for me to drive it all the way to Houston and surprise his brother, TTAC staffer Sajeev Mehta. I’ll be reviewing the car itself separately later on this week, and if you’ve ever cared about Cadillacs, American luxury, or just keeping my click-count up so Ed doesn’t fire me, it will be worth your time to read that review.

Yes, things had looked bad for the big Caddy last week, but it’s almost impossible to kill a 500-cubic-inch-capacity block of iron with a little heat and I had relatively little doubt that the repairs would last me for the eight-hundred-mile drive to Houston. I’d also sworn to Sanjay that I would preserve his investment by taking the most direct freeway route from Nashville to Houston, and it’s possible that I believed that oath when I made it, but once Drama and I had bid farewell I didn’t hesitate before setting a course for Beale Street in Memphis, TN.

The old Vogue yellow-lines fitted to the Talisman weren’t rotted, but they weren’t round either. Nor was the rear air suspension as leak-proof as we’d hoped back in Columbus. Down the freeway, the big Cadillac stuck its nose in the air and displayed a sensitivity to road condition that wouldn’t shame a Porsche 911SC. Speeds above seventy miles per hour were uncomfortably wobbly, and at eighty-five the entire Medici-velour interior resonated with a commuter jet’s worth of turbulent vibration. Best to roll down the road at sixty or sixty-five, stay out of everyone’s way, and run the air conditioner as little as possible in the hundred-degree heat.

I reached Memphis in just three hours and got stuck in downtown traffic on the way to Beale. The Fleetwood had been invisible up north but here it had celebrity status among Southeners both black and white. They came off the sidewalks to point, talk, touch. A pair of unimaginably voluptuous Memphis girls in shiny gold and silver dresses asked me if I was “hustling”.

“No, I’m going to the crossroads in Clarksdale,” I replied. “I got up in the morning, dusted my broom, left a kind-hearted woman, and I have a hellhound on my trail.”

“That don’t sound like no fun, baby,” the tall one replied.

“And yet there are three empty Medici-velour seats in my Cadillac,” I suggested. “I’m a steady rollin’ man.” They laughed and I felt blessed somehow.

I’d taken a Town Car to Memphis last year, but a Panther feels like an insubstantial toy next to the 234-inch majesty of the Fleetwood Talisman. I crawled slow around the center of town, parking just long enough to visit the Gibson shop and take a lonely, sentimental seat in a cafe where I’d shared breakfast with a friend during my last trip. Those nights in April had been something to remember forever, but in the July heat, in the daytime, in the empty shops and searing sun, Beale seemed actively hostile. I felt sick to my stomach. It was time to leave.

Although the Fleetwood hadn’t been parked a whole hour, it was scorching inside and my SKB case, which I had believe would be safe in the trunk, was too hot to touch. The parking-lot attendant, a black man in his sixties, wandered over. “You leave your guitar in there?”

“Yeah. Bad idea.”

“I never brought my trumpet to Beale Street if I wasn’t gonna play. You gonna open that case and look, or just stand there?”

“Neither. I’m going to trust fate and head down the road.” As I filled up at the gas station south of town, I saw a Camry full-throttle across six lanes of moving traffic in a manner strongly reminiscent of the advanced stages in “Frogger”. It pulled up behind me. A big guy in a black-and-white street-camo outfit jumped out.

“TALISMAN!” he shouted. “That’s a Talisman! The fools on these streets don’t know what’s rolling by! I had to see!” His knowledge of the car was comprehensive; he knew what options it had and what it didn’t have. There was an element of nervousness beneath his polite veneer; he was clearly a little unsettled that some bearded hippie was driving the car. I reassured him that Sanjay was a true believer who owned a Mark IV, a Seventies Continental, and other proper hardware. Once he realized that I was just taking it to its real owner, he seemed to relax.

A few turns and I was on Highway 61, heading to Clarksdale. My plan was to see the Delta Blues Museum and then find the legendary “crossroads” of 61 and 49. The Talisman struggled under the load of the air conditioner so I rolled down the windows, turned off the radio, and simply existed in the Mississippi heat. I imagined that I was Muddy Waters, driving his Cadillac south back to Stovall’s Plantation. Lines of salt formed in my T-shirt as the sweat dried. At a crowded, nondescript intersection in Clarksdale, there was a stutter from the engine and I looked around for a place to pull off if the stutter continued. To the right, I had a Church’s chicken… to the left, two enormous guitars were mounted on a metal pole. This was it. This was the crossroads. And they served chicken.

Feeling more than a little self-conscious, I took my G&L out of the trunk, slipped it over my shoulder, and waited for Old Scratch to appear. A large black man walked up, as in the legend, but instead of holding a guitar of his own, he had a box of chicken. His face had a look of genuine concern, the kind typically saved for small children and big idiots.

“Are you… okay?” he asked.

“Oh, I’m fine. Totally fine. Just waiting for the devil,” I reassured him.

“Won’t have to wait long,” was his laconic response. It occurred to me that, although the machinations of Satan are mysterious, the operating hours of the Delta Blues Museum are known to all and I had just thirty minutes of those hours left, so I packed up and drove down the broken-down back streets of Clarksdale in a solid hurry.

I can’t recommend the Delta Blues Museum enough; in a world full of disappointments this wonderful facility is not one of them. And yet there’s something sad about it; this large, expensive, gorgeous building celebrating “the blues” is surrounded by the same miserable conditions which produced those blues a hundred years ago. Clarksdale is in bad shape and the outskirt towns through which I traveled afterwards are even worse. There are empty fire stations, boarded-up main streets, and children in old clothing sitting listlessly on collapsing porches. I thought about what Albert King sang,

Been down so long,
That down don’t bother me
.

I don’t think I really know much about the blues. Maybe I don’t know anything at all about it. Of course, King also sang,

They call me the hunter,
That’s my name.
A pretty woman like you
Is my only game
.

Two different traditions, and I know that only one of them has room for the Talisman, or for me. It was six in the afternoon and I had five hundred and eighty-seven miles of two-lane roads between me and Houston. They passed with the sure, unreal nature of dreams, and even after I was asleep in my hotel room nine hours later, I still felt the long-wavelength rock of the Talisman’s soft springs and believed I was on the long road to nowhere in particular.

The next morning, Sanjay and I drove separately to his brother’s house. The plan was for Sanjay to drag Sajeev outside on some flimsy pretext, perhaps to inspect the supercharger that they’d installed on Sanjay’s Navigator. As they stood talking, I slowly turned the corner onto their street.

“Is that… a ’76 Fleetwood?” Sajeev said, pointing in my direction. And then, in the uncertain voice that people use when they aren’t sure there’s any sanity in their universe at the moment, “Wait… is that Jack Baruth driving it?” Mission accomplished. What did Lightnin’ Hopkins say?

Please come on back,
For youve got something of mine,
Im sure I like this black Cadillac in the morning,
My black Cadillac in the morning.

* * *

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45 Comments on “Trackday Diaries: Talisman, and fried chicken, at the crossroads....”


  • avatar
    Zackman

    Now THAT’S the Jack we’ve been missing!
    Great story/adventure/musing/whatever, but the real star is that ultimate Colonnade! That Caddy will be restored, I hope – it is deserving, for sure.

    I’ve been thinking about the criticism Cadillac has come under on TTAC and by extension, how so many storied names have lost their soul, as it were. I think I have one reason – Body-On-Frame manufacturing. It seems to me that the BOF and even partial-frame unibodies had something about them that endeared them to enthusiasts. Perhaps it’s the trim, the workmanship and/or the mechanicals, I can’t quite put my finger on it.

    Maybe someone else will answer that for me.

    This article has made my week. Thank you, Jack!

    • 0 avatar
      rentonben

      For me, BOF cars are ‘honest’ – you can fully take them apart and put them back together. Kind of like older homes where everything is held together by nails and not glued down into a solid hunk of artificial McMansion.

  • avatar
    SupaMan

    Great story Jack!

    I can just see the look on Sajeev’s face when you rounded the corner…priceless.

    I love to take road trips like that to nowhere in particular. Love it!

  • avatar
    geozinger

    What a car. I vaguely remember the Talisman, but Caddys really aren’t my cars. My father’s first car was a 1953 Caddy (used, in 1956), still an audacious car for a man who was an immigrant from Germany for the times.

    I remember the hysteria in the mid 70’s about this kind of car going away for good, but that was mostly focused on the convertibles. Little did we realize it would be the last time we’d see a 230″ regular production car. Now the only things that are that large are the so-called “limousines” that ferry hundreds of thousands of high school kids to proms…

    While not my cup of tea, I can certainly appreciate a car like this one. I’d like to drive one of these again, just so I can remember what it’s like to pilot a land yacht. I say that with a certain irreverance. But the reality is, I will fold myself up into my current eco-compact after piloting said yacht and wish for the capability to pilot one every day…

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      geozinger: It’s hard to believe that the roads and highways were full of these as daily drivers 40 years ago! Now there are twice as many cars on the road, but they only take up the same amount of space.

      I was never a Cadillac man, but my dad was, but he could only afford Impalas – used. Still, full-size cars were the norm. The Talisman was the biggest and baddest of them all!

      • 0 avatar

        I was in New Jersey on Sunday for my nephew Sam’s wedding. Monday morning as we were heading west, as we pulled up to a light there was a ’75 Eldorado, sort of powder blue. Magnificent car. I rolled the window down and said so to the driver, who grinned and thanked me.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    That is a thing of beauty. If I ever win the lottery I know I’d end up with a similar Cadillac, 1977 Lincoln Continental, and a 1975 Chrysler Imperial. Yeah the V8s are smog strangled, but cruise slow and enjoy the torque…

    Sajeev, you are one lucky mo’ fo’. And I say that with a smile. Can’t wait for more Baruth and can’t wait for the review.

    • 0 avatar
      MikeAR

      I’d have a 1970 2 door Plymouth Fury with a modern 5.7l Hemi in it if I won the lottery.

    • 0 avatar
      beefmalone

      They’re not Chrysler Imperials. They’re Imperial LeBarons (or Crowns). Nitpicky perhaps, but I have 8 so it’s a peeve. Love my ’76 & ’77 New Yorker Broughms though I wish they had the rear disc brakes of the ’74-5 Imperials. My ’73 Imperial has rear wheel ABS which still works when it has a mind too. The 440s in these cars still had lots of torque even with the emissions crap.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Magnificent tale.

    Sitting in the shanty marveling at the descriptions and sentiments appearing upon the monitor and wending their way into the Disgruntled Old Coot’s brainlet.

    Unable to suppress memories of long ago but with the differences of traversing the rural South back when trucks and truckers were prominent in popular culture and interactions with Southern folks were often at least partially or more influenced by the Young Coot being a trucker despite being a “damn Yankee.”

    That massive hunk of Detroit iron in many ways is not that much smaller than a “big rig” and, to many folks, even more influential than the semi was and is.

    With near-reverence I eagerly await more “chapters” of the ongoing story of a HUGE hunk of “Detroitness” rolling down those blistering hot Southern roads.

    It is a shame, though, that so much time has passed that “my” fallen traffic light pole in Houston has assuredly been returned to its fully upright position.

    “Huh?”

    Read about that here if ye wish:

    http://www.rokemneedlearts.com/carsindepth/wordpressblog/?p=1348

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      You would identify with the Stephen Still & Manassas’ song “Do You Remember The Americans?”.

      Sums up how the nation and things changed after Vietnam.

    • 0 avatar
      cfclark

      >>That massive hunk of Detroit iron in many ways is not that much smaller than a “big rig” and, to many folks, even more influential than the semi was and is.

      With near-reverence I eagerly await more “chapters” of the ongoing story of a HUGE hunk of “Detroitness” rolling down those blistering hot Southern roads.<<

      This whole story reminded me of something, and then I realized, it was Jack Burden and Willie Stark and the Governor's Cadillac. I'm sure Baruth knows his Robert Penn Warren. ;)

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    Beautiful car. Sajeev’s fortunate to have such a thoughtful brother as well as a friend willing to go an extra mile or two (and worthwhile ones by the sound of it) to get it there.

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    Master wordsmith Baron Baruth strikes again!

    Great story, man. Just great. I would expect no less!

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    great storytelling, I remember driving a mid 70’s Eldorado rag top from No Jersey to Atlantic City on an errand, almost 40 yrs ago, too bad it was during the winter. I have never, had a driving experience quite like that, that car drove like it owned the NJ Parkway

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Momma drove a ’76 Fleetwood, but it wasn’t a Talisman. As a car-obsessed 12-year-old, I studied that Owners’ Manual until I memorized what our “base” Fleetwood was lacking. One of them was the rear air ride.

    But I did have, which was totally bad-ass pimpin’, my own rear-seat, fold-down, plush-carpeted foot rest. Yessir, I was ridin’ in style!

    You see, poppa worked for Big Company, as the VP of sales. Every two years, he would cycle through a fleet of stripped-out Biscaynes and Bel Airs for the sales reps. Mysteriously, Hertz Leasing would also give poppa his own “Bel Air” for personal use, as a thank you for the business. Except poppa’s Bel Air always somehow got “mis-ordered” and showed up looking a whole lot like a Fleetwood.

    Ah, to be 12 again and pimpin’

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    There is an auto-storage place in the South, the kind where you can bag the car and fill it with inert gas, that has two very similar Caddies. Low mileage, owned by a wealthy executive now deceased.

    The manager there has a list of people who want to be contacted if either go on the market. If I was more clear where it is, the manager would shoot me and you’d probably try to get on the list.

    I could shoot myself for mentioning this but this is a good place to find exotics on the cheap. When the owner falls behind in the annual rent, it portends a softening in the desire to keep it.

    I believe I’m number 7 on the list for either Caddy.

  • avatar
    david42

    I’m excited beyond words to read the review. A 1976 Fleetwood–and a Talisman, no less. It’s more American than the 4th of July.

    Many years ago, I was shopping for a toy to distract me from a miserable job. I test drove one (not a Talisman), and was horrified–it made a U-Haul truck seem like a Porsche. But still, my wife had to pry me out of it. (Maybe this isn’t a fair reflection on the model–it was a dying $3k near-classic car.)

    I have literally daydreamed about the perfect 1976 Fleetwood. The same shape, the same specs (500 CI or bust!), but made by Lexus. If such a car existed, I would take it over any other luxury car: not even a Rolls Royce Phantom VI, a ZiL 40147, a Mercedes 600…. the only thing that could come close would be a 1957 Eldorado Brougham.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    As a lucky lad who learned how to parallel park in a ’95 Caprice Classic Wagon (‘only’ 217″ long), I appreciate this piece about another car that’s as big as America…only bigger!

    Did you sample the fried chicken?

  • avatar
    jimbowski

    Sorry to be off-topic, but does Dr. Mehta still have that Z06 (or was it a ZR1?) that was featured on TTAC in either late 2008 or 2009? As I remember from the story, GM was offering historical rebates on all their cars, pre-bailout I believe. There were a couple stories posted up about it since it was bought brand new off the lot. I seem to remember it was black, also. Anybody remember that?

  • avatar
    ChesterChi

    Jack, great article ! But the photo gallery at the end seems to be busted. At least it’s not working for me with the Chrome browser. The link for any of the thumbnail pictures seems to go back to the main article.

    • 0 avatar

      Seconded.

      Guys, GET IT TOGETHER WITH THE IMAGE GALLERIES!!!
      GOD, this kind-of crap has been happening for more than a Year, now!

      Lightbox, Flickr, SOMETHING!!!

      • 0 avatar
        H Man

        Thirded. It’s a total mess right now. There was a popup screen with a black background and easy (and functioning) nav buttons that worked great a while back here, at least for me.

      • 0 avatar

        Something happened with WordPress that changed the way the galleries work.

      • 0 avatar
        ciddyguy

        I totally agree, the galleries suck big time as they would on rare occasions work, then the rest of the time, they appear to load but the usual gallery app then unloads leaving one with the plain photo and then have to back arrow to view the next one, a nuisance.

        Fix it already, so WordPress changed the way the galleries work, find a work around rather than just leaving it be.

        Geez…

  • avatar
    doug-g

    I’m looking forward to the review but, I can tell you that this particular Cadillac spent more time on Ebay than an elderly Kansas spinster looking for deals on ceramic roosters. The “Cadillac” script on the C-pillar rather than “Talisman” gave it away. There were some other issues I noted with the car but, they elude me at the moment.

    • 0 avatar

      The car’s got issues, I noticed the top after I got over the initial shock of Jack Baruth landing on my driveway…but at the end of the day it’s still a triple black Talisman with a nearly perfect interior.

  • avatar
    ajla

    So you’ll have to sell the Fleetwood 75 or MGM coupe to make garage space for the Talisman, right?

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    Wow, what a car!!! This is what Cadillac needs to have again to prove they are serious about being a world beater.

    I have a couple of these as diecast models. I got them when I was very young, and I still have them and wouldn’t take anything for them…

    • 0 avatar

      Please email me the manufacturer or said diecasts…hopefully I can find one on eBay.

      • 0 avatar
        tklockau

        Hi Sajeev, I believe supremebrougham is referring to the ’75 Fleetwood Brougham by Tomica of Japan. I had one as a kid too, and got a couple of mint ones on ebay several years ago. They made a Fleetwood ambulance too. Very detailed for 1/64 scale, they even have “Fleetwood” script on the front fenders!

      • 0 avatar
        supremebrougham

        I did, and hope you got it, along with the pics I sent of my little car. And tklockau is correct, it was made by Tomica.

    • 0 avatar
      ciddyguy

      I think I had one once, a metallic coral colored one and I believe they even came in a metallic blue and didn’t the brand name go by the name of Pocket Cars with what looked like a print of a jeans pocket on the back card?

      I also had the blue with red interior ’76 Honda Accord as well.

  • avatar
    H Man

    Heck with the barge, I want to see the G&L!

    (Kidding, sweet ride. But yeah, the guitar…)

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      The question is, which G&L?

      I’m lucky enough to have a custom-ordered ASAT Classic (Tele) with the now-discontinued red-swirl-metallic-black paint (done by hand!), maple body banding, pearloid pickguard and antique finish natural maple neck. It gets compliments whenever I take it out. It sounds pretty damned good too.

      • 0 avatar
        H Man

        They do make some awfully good looking finishes. I have three L-2000 basses and love them. (Except the frequency sweep of the treble knob, but that’s a post for talkbass.)

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      G&L wise, I have:

      * a USA Deluxe S-500, natural flame maple top, black pickguard. That’s my traveling guitar and the one I had here.

      * a USA ASAT Classic, blonde with gun oil neck.

      * an ASAT Super, #1 of 74.

  • avatar

    or just keeping my click-count up so Ed doesn’t fire me

    Jack made a funny.

  • avatar

    Never been to the crossroads near Clarksdale but I’ve seen the other end of 61, up in the north country, that inspired some guy named Bob to write a song about it.

    Well Mack the Finger said to Louie the King
    I got forty red, white and blue shoestrings
    And a thousand telephones that do not ring
    Do you know where I can get rid of these things
    And Louie the King said let me think for a minute son
    And he said yes I think it can be easily done
    Just take everything down to Highway 61

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Jack,

    A brilliant piece of writing if I ever landed upon it, now to go read the actual caddy review.


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