By on July 14, 2011

Okay… you read about the Sturm und Drang involved in getting this 48,000-mile, two-owner Cadillac from Columbus, Ohio to Houston, Texas. Now it’s time to talk about the car itself a bit, and review it just the way we would review any other car here at TTAC.

Problem is… how do you review a car like this? It was the last, and largest, of the full-sized Cadillacs. It represents many of the best, and even more of the worst, qualities associated with American auto manufacturing in the dismal Seventies. Socially, it has significance well beyond what we have room to discuss, or understand, in a short blog post. It’s too important, too relevant, too resonant, too repugnant, too. This feels like too big a task for little old me, even if I have the help of another very interesting Cadillac that you will meet in just a moment.

Let’s start with this: thirteen thousand dollars. That’s what this particular car cost. About five times the price of a basic compact car. Cadillac in 1976 was a microcosm, a synecdoche, of the Sloan Plan. At the bottom was Calais. At the top was Seville (if you were talking marketing), Fleetwood Sixty Special (if you were talking sheer size), or Eldorado (if you still believed in personal luxury). Cadillac sold over 309,000 cars in 1976. It was their best year ever, but the chickens were winging their way home to Michigan for some long-overdue roosting.

You’re looking at a Medici velour interior. That’s the stuff Cadillac put in their factory-built Fleetwood limousines, and that’s what makes a Fleetwood Sixty Special a “Talisman”. Dissect the model name. “Fleetwood” means it’s above the common-and-garden Calais and deVille. It looks similar, but it’s a few inches longer. Why? Just because. Today, we’d carp that the two different wheelbases for production Cadillac RWD sedans represented a production inefficiency. Back then, it was important to distinguish vehicles which otherwise weren’t all that different. And since Cadillac was still doing the seven-seat limos in-house, it seemed reasonable to offer multiple wheelbases.

“Sixty Special” meant that it was a town car. Not a Town Car, mind you, a “town car” as opposed to the Fleetwood Seventy-Five limo. This was an era where “limo” didn’t mean “tacky prom night special”. It meant a car for a man with a driver. There were plenty such men, mostly commuting from places like Rowayton or Sausalito, and plenty such drivers. But this Sixty Special was meant to be owner-driven.

Think of a Talisman as a Sixty Special with Seventy-Five interior appointments. The option list was still long, and it was possible to spend seventeen thousand dollars — more than half again the ten thousand-dollar base of the Fleetwood Brougham — on a completely-equipped Talisman. A new Seville, basically a Chevy Nova with leather, was thirteen grand. (A new Nova without the Seville logo? $3300. Thanks to gslippy and CJinSD for the price note – JB) The pricing had nothing to do with the product, the content, or the value. The pricing was social. It was there to signify Your Place In The World. Vice-presidents stepped into a Calais and joined the world of gentlemen. Respectable country-club fathers drove the Sedan de Ville. Board members were driven in a Seventy-Five, or they drove themselves in a Talisman. Sevilles were for West Coast get-rich-quick types. Eldorados were for women, movie stars, and “bounders”.

Now you understand what the car meant, a little bit anyway. I don’t think you can understand it fully unless you were alive back then and understood how quickly doormen, bank tellers, and other service personnel could tell the difference between this year’s Talisman and last year’s DeVille. It used to mean something. No longer. All we can do is drive the car.

Open the massive door. The handles, and the mirrors, are heavy, chromed, exclusive to Cadillac. The doorsill is stainless-steel and carries the Fisher logo. There are no window frames. Sit down — down — into the Medici velour. The trim, sadly, is mostly junk. It was junk when it was new. The wood is obviously fake. There’s no excuse for that, nor is there any excuse for the flimsy feel of the controls. It was Seventies profiteering at its worst, aimed at owners who bought a new Cadillac every year, or every two years, irrespective of the merits of said Cadillacs. Too much of this car was destined to fall apart from the moment it was built.

And yet the mechanical bones of the beast are solid beyond understanding. The starter sounds like an engine of its own, and it spins the five-hundred-cubic-inch V-8 into life easily. There is no vibration through the wheel, none of the sympathetic communication provided by a BMW 535i. This is a luxury car, in case you’ve forgotten what that means because you never knew in the God-damned first place. Visibility is absurdly good. The windshield is upright, the pillars are narrow. Only the privacy-enhancing sail panels in back keep it from being a perfect vista. No backup camera necessary, and this is a vehicle which stretches to nineteen and a half feet.

I drove this car thirteen hundred miles and never used full throttle. It wasn’t required. Isn’t required. In 1976, Cadillac offered fuel-injection on the 500. We don’t have it here, but we still have 380 lb/ft of torque to go with our lazy 190 horsepower. The mighty Talisman weighs slightly less than a modern Escalade and, truth be told, is somewhat more pleasant to guide down a freeway lane. I saw an average of fourteen miles per gallon in my driving, about what one might expect from a ‘Slade. Where’s the progress?

I wish I could put every TTAC reader behind the wheel of this Fleetwood. In a flash, in a single kinesthetic moment, you would understand what you don’t now. You think a Town Car is a “boat”. Hello no. A modern Town Car has the reflexes of a Lotus Elise in comparison to a ’76 Cadillac. You think a Camry has a “floaty ride”. You’re wrong. The imports, the “compacts”, the Car and Driver editors, they were all fighting to bury THIS CAR. This is a car which can barely match posted cornering limits around offramps. There isn’t the slightest bit of enthusiast appeal to the Fleetwood. It loafs, it sags, it leans, it doesn’t want to turn. When the 1977 Cadillac Fleetwood appeared on its downsized chassis, it was an utter revolution compared to this car. Every “full-sized” car most of you have ever driven is, instead, a full-on reaction to the massive GM and Ford boats. Put this and a 2009 Grand Marquis on a racetrack, and the Marquis would lap it in under ten minutes. The difference between this Fleetwood and a 1977 Fleetwood is greater than the difference between a 1977 Fleetwood and a BMW M5. That’s not hyperbole. It’s fact.

Now let me show you the revolution which followed the 1977 revolution. Dr. Sanjay Mehta, the Talisman’s owner, also has a Cadillac limo… from 1984. (Edit: Mad Hungarian and Austin Greene pointed out that it is probably a 1985 or 1986 model. Mea culpa – JB) It’s far more spacious inside, both front and back. Carries seven people better than the Talisman carries five. Let’s take a look.

Only eight years separate these two cars. In eight years, Cadillac changed its world. The Fleetwood dropped from 5400 pounds to 3400. An aluminum V-8 half as large as the ’76 engine provided virtually identical motivation, in numbers if not feel. Amazingly, the cars became larger inside, more spacious, easier to operate, easier to park, just plain better in most respects. Like an Apatosaurus poked in the hindquarters, GM was slow to react to the legitimate criticism of its big car but powerful in the magnitude of its response. Seventy-six to eighty-four. From dinosaur to mammal in the same time it takes Honda to build two different kinds of substantially similar Civics. And the mammal is just so much better at nearly everything.

Everything, that is, that has nothing to do with the core values of Cadillac. The smaller car, even when it isn’t a “limo”, has odd, dwarfish proportions. The vastly more efficient passenger compartment looks like the proverbial ten pounds in the five-pound bag. The public had barely accepted the 1977 de Ville as a necessary reaction to desperate times. but the FWD ‘Lac was comical, not dignified. It looked like a joke, like a child’s drawing of a car. Cadillacs didn’t need to be excellent, but they needed to be prestigious, and this was anything but prestigious. Sales fell dramatically as GM scrambled behind the scenes to “upsize” the car again, to put a little hood and trunk on it, to stop it from looking like a clown car that still, by the way, cost much more than twice what a normal family sedan did. They never returned to the massive, impressive look of 1976. They couldn’t even make it back to 1977. The current DTS looks like what it is: a sad attempt to expand the “Antares” not-quite-Aurora-but-had-to-be-second-generation-Aurora-due-to-budget-cuts G-body into something vaguely Cadillac-esque. Next to a ’76, it looks like a sick joke at its own expense. The wood inside may have become real, but the car itself has become false, forgettable.

So. The Fleetwood goes, but it barely stops, it doesn’t turn. It rides well enough, but the Grand Caravan I drove last week is better-isolated from impacts, even if a modern CTS isn’t quite as good as either. It isn’t a “good car” in any sense of the word, and in the years after its introduction, these old mid-Seventies Caddies slumped, rusted, and disintegrated their way from the suburbs to the ghettos to the roadsides and junkyards, delivering perhaps the final coffin nails to the brand’s embalming.

Why, then, do I love it so much? Why do I love its styling, its sheer sweep of sheetmetal, its unapologetic stretch past the borders of parking spots, common decency, and personal accountability? Why would I buy one myself, in a heartbeat, if I had a place to put it? Think of the men who played music on the deck of the Titanic as it sank. They knew their world was ending, they knew they would not live through the night, but while one was alive, one would conduct one’s self with decorum and a touch of style. It’s too much to ask of this Talisman that it be a talisman. There’s nothing magical about it. Rather, there’s something majestic. A sad majesty, the band on the Titanic, the lion in winter, the great general in defeat, holding on to his sword for one last moment. Once upon a time, Americans built these cars. Not good cars. Not great cars. Only sad, and majestic, and, in the final analysis, wonderful.

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115 Comments on “Review: 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special Talisman...”

  • avatar

    The guy that made my ABC store trips when I was 16 drove a black ’76 DeVille 4 door hardtop with a 500 V8. Even when it was only 10 years old, it seemed improbably big and a reminder that Cadillac used to mean something. He regaled with stories of seeing off what passed for sports cars at the time, although I don’t know if they were true or not. I expected it to be a piece of junk, based on the white 1985 DeVille my family rented to drive home from the airport when we returned from 6 months in Europe. That car had 37 miles when we picked it up and split stitching on its tacky red tufted velour seats. The interior of the ’76 seemed to be of much higher quality than that of the ’84. It was an impressive beast, and it seemed like an uncompromised whatever the heck it was. Another neighbor had a pristine white Coupe DeVille from ’69 or ’70 though, and that car oozed quality compared to the ’76. Interiors in Cadillacs from the late ’60s were pretty special, particularly the leather ones. Cadillac has yet to feel the need to go back to making seats as tasteful or luxurious as the ones they made 45 years ago.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s hard not to think about these Cadillacs without considering how much the USA was changing from its post-WWII status of singular economic power to a competitor with others on the world stage. After the War, only the US could supply cars to Americans and those elsewhere who could afford them. We were the envy of the world in the 1950’s and 1960’s as we easily considered owning two cars, with a new one every three years or so. And the variety of styles and colors was mind-boggling, even if the mechanicals underneath were largely unchanged from the 1940’s.

      Our cars, like many of our other products, had few competitors and sales success came (too) easily. It was a golden age where good jobs were available for all, and even high school grads were assured of a good life if they simply offered a good day’s work. By the 1970’s, the Cadillac line was the epitome of this kind of American success: Easy, isolated floaters for the western highway. Meanwhile, the rest of the world rebuilt and the next generation of Boomers looked beyond their parents’ notion of luxury.

      What they found were the Germans and Japanese with driving dynamics and quality of assembly, respectively, neither of which were important to Americans before. I think that the Cadillacs of the 1950’s through 1970’s were the perfect car for the American nabobs of the “greatest generation” and proof of what happens when a national economy at its most democratic attempts to build aristocratic machines.

      I still hold on to those American post-war sensibilities as I fondly recall looking forward as a kid to the new Detroit iron every September. Today, at 58 years, I drive a black 2011 CTS-V coupe (stick shift) in an effort to retain a sense of both the old and new luxury of Cadillac. (My license plate: CPE DE V). It mostly works, but we’re also in a different time. Cadillac must now carve out a niche in today and tomorrow’s crowded and international luxury car ranks. They are about five to ten years away, if GM has that much time.

      • 0 avatar

        Growing up in the 1950’s Cadillac truly was Standard of the World. This article reminds me of that fact and the fact that while now the Germans and Japanese went on to provide luxury car products the US moved on to build vehicles that went to the Moon and then the Shuttle program. Priorities change.

        I would love to see an article on the very classic Cadillac Sixty Special and Seventy Five Formal Sedan from 1956.

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    Requiem for a heavyweight.

    I always liked the grille on these last of the bohemoths.

  • avatar

    There is something wonderful about those old floaty Caddys. Tdhey were majestic. I had a ’58 Coupe DeVille, which was comparatively small at about 18.5 feet in length. But I know what you mean about really big cars.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    I have read every word twice Jack. All I can say is “AMEN”. Anything else would ruin the pure absolute gleaming truth of your sentiment.

    • 0 avatar

      Dan, sorry if it appears I’m deliberately following you, but I liked your remarks about Cadillacs today and the other day – you’re dead on and I agreed with you. You nailed it.

      This article and Jack’s prose? All I can add is: Wow, simply “WOW”.

      ‘Nuff said.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Never have a problem with anyone commenting on my comment. I only have to add that when my soon to be wife saw the “comparison” picture (having told her beforehand that there were only 10 years between those two cars) her first reaction was… “Who f*%&ed that up?” She was commenting on the sheer imposing prestige of the 76 vs the “that’s not Cadillac enough to be a Cadillac” of the 86.

  • avatar

    In 1971 I worked in a tire store in Pasadena and one of my many menial tasks was ferrying used cars back and forth to dealers when we put tires on them. Most were boring Pintos or other even-more-forgettable sucker bait, but once I got a big Lincoln Continental. The feeling of rolling up the windows, turning up the stereo, and cruising down Colorado Boulevard just cut off from the noise, heat, and pavement was powerful enough that I still remember it. I didn’t want a car like that but at least understood why someone would. Thanks for this nice article, that reminds me of that few minutes many years ago.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    The epic tale of its delivery was good, but this is excellent. As far as I can remember, I have never driven or even ridden in a Cadillac of this era, but I fully understand what makes this car not good, but great. I will make proper arrangements with the brothers Mehta to take a ride when my schedule permits, so that at least one more TTAC follower will have the experience. I’m happy to see this particular example in the hands of such appreciative caretakers.

    Nicely written piece, Jack. Thank you.

    • 0 avatar

      I haven’t driven anything from the 70s (too young), but I’ve driven an 85 SeVille, huge hood and smashed trunk (well you know what I mean), and I couldn’t find the road nor could I figure out what was going to happen when I turned the steering wheel. I think I could have had it a quarter of the way to the left lock or a quarter of the way to the right lock and it would still track straight. All of this meant that I only ever drove it once. This was my brother’s car about 5 years ago and that’s the only reason I would have had the opportunity to drive it.

  • avatar

    Seville – basically a Nova with leather

    Huh it was more than that – it was >at least< a more attractively styled caddy avec de plus spot welds, twilight sentinel & trumpet horns. Blue-rinse manageable in the parking lot.

    Throw in the owner-driven Camargue of the day [costing many Fleetwood] boasted the first production split level climate control. What a harness to refurbish today. Embarrassingly that roller rusts, sash despite the not planned obsolescence.

  • avatar

    Great review of something that can’t really be explained. I don’t think any product will ever again capture the American (probably the world’s) fascination like Cadillac did “back in the day”. When class in America was a diamond pinky ring on a callused hand, Cadillac reigned supreme. Most men behind the wheel of a Cadillac didn’t need to “feel the asphalt”, they’d laid it and knew every crack in the street. Through hard work they crawled out of those streets and and earned the right to glide over them.

  • avatar

    That is a superb piece of writing, Jack. Having owned a 1974 and a 1976 Fleetwood at different times I agree one hundred percent.

    FYI, that FWD limo is a 1985-87 model, not an ’84. The FWD abominations powered (sort of) by the HT4100 engine were introduced in ’85. The HT4100 lacked the torque of the 500 and routinely self destructed around 75K miles.

    And if you think the handling of a Fleetwood Brougham is less than precise, try a Lincoln of the same vintage.

    • 0 avatar
      Austin Greene

      Judging from the short tail lights, it’s an ’85 or ’86.

      Longer, more elegant tail lights were used in ’87 the last year of the 75 limousine.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Thank you, gentlemen… I have been on the move, writing in airports, for some time now and I was afraid I’d make a mistake like this. I will correct and credit you.

  • avatar

    This is a great series, Jack. I do some writing myself, and make a bit of money doing it as a decent second job — and I wish I could write like this.

    My grandpa owned 34 Cadillacs in his day, from roughly 1962 through 1992. He literally purchased an Eldorado one morning, then traded it for a Fleetwood that afternoon. One of my most prized possessions is the “XXXIV” grille medallion Caddy sent him when he paid cash for his last one, a 1992 Sedan deVille.

    It was light rose in color, with a taupe vinyl roof and darker brown two-tone. Beautiful car, though not quite the equal of the pampered dark blue 1988 deVille he was trading in. That car, despite its more diminutive proportions, looked “rich” to this high school junior. It also felt hewn from a solid block of steel even at 60,000 miles.

    Grandpa took me to the dealership after school, in the ’88, to show me his next car, one of four deVilles on the showroom floor. He asked which one I thought he’d picked out; I chose correctly. Grandpa then motioned over to the salesman — a family friend, Sam Marasco. “Sam, my grandson is now going to go over that car, and point out each and every flaw. And you’re going to fix them.”

    I did, and they did. I found 11 issues in all. Stuffing that poked out from the lower edge of the padded roof. Loose turn signal repeaters atop the fenders. A rough edge on one of the ventilation control buttons. Each spoke to GM’s characteristic problems in the 90s and well beyond… but to the dealer’s credit each discrepancy was fixed, and Grandpa took delivery of a gorgeous car — though one still inferior to the ’88 in my mind.

    I consider that day in 1992 a quieter, more naive time… when “Cadillac” still meant something, if only in name. It was a time before I cared very much at all whether GM lived or died, or what the UAW drones who assembled his Cadillac were paid to sloppily install the padded top.

    But still today, I know how much Grandpa valued driving a Cadillac. Despite my utter contempt for GM today, a very real, nostalgic part of me wishes Caddy could return to that level of prestige. The realist knows that will never, ever, ever happen again.

    • 0 avatar

      What a great story, Rob! Cadillac quality getting schooled by some kid in high school. Speaks volumes…

    • 0 avatar

      A friend of mine has a 75 Fleetwood that his grandfather owned, I would consider this review fairly accurate. Rode like it was floating, to this day I am hard pressed to have ridden in a better riding car; but with the trim, fit-and-finish and handling, dead on.

      When the ‘energy crisis’ (i.e. President Carter’s administration) took hold, the time of American exceptionalism and excess started to go to the wayside. Gas shortages, hyper-inflation, etc. put an end, eventually, to Detroit building mechanically sound, high displacement, high torque, HUGE vehicles that got sub-15mpg.

      Having been born in the mid 1980’s, I remember seeing these very cars rotting away, and, in most cases once again accurately, relegated to trailer parks and ghettos, and the occasional car show if someone could find one in good enough shape. Sad really. It was like seeing the generation that built this country as we know it (the ‘baby-boomers’) fade away before my eyes.

      Cadillac, as with GM as a whole, is a sentimental relic of this country’s former industrial glory. As an owner of a 2008 Malibu (P.S. GM’s LAST chance with me), and the issues I have had with it, I can see why GM needed a taxpayer bailout. At least back when this was built, if you could afford to buy one new, you could also afford to replace it within 1-2 years before things starting to break, and with class and style to boot.

      • 0 avatar

        “generation that built this country as we know it (the ‘baby-boomers’)”
        You probably meant the Great generation that won WW2. Babyboomer’s were hippies, drug addicts and micro computer enthusiasts. They gave us great music of 60s-70s though. Favorite bobyboomermobiles were VW Bugs, Toyota Camrys and Ford Explorers – most boring and forgettable cars ever.

  • avatar
    Acc azda atch

    Jack Baruth:

    Thank you so MUCH for this article.
    This is the stuff I love to read about.

    This is much better than the VAN article, but STILL doesn’t hold a candle to your bit about the S5 in the Green paint.. reminiscent of the 911s from the 70s.


    More please sir?!

  • avatar

    Everything you said about the Caddy also applies to my two 76 New Yorker Broughams . “They” will have to pry my cold dead fingers off the steering wheel before “they” take it away from me.

  • avatar

    Nice read.

    But don’t go hating on the 1st-gen Seville. I already had to deal with that from Niedermeyer the Elder.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I don’t hate the car in any way, shape or form. In many real ways, it was the ancestor of the CTS. It just didn’t deliver the Cadillac experience of the Seventies. Some people would call that a positive!

      • 0 avatar

        Nice to hear. I’m still just bummed about Paul giving it “Deadly Sin” status.

        Still, calling it a $13K Chevy Nova with leather sounded like a fairly derisive statement.

        The Seville was a nontraditional, overpriced, slightly cynical import fighter and it certainly was not Cadilliac’s finest creation. But, it wasn’t the Cimarron or ’86 Riviera either.

      • 0 avatar
        Acc azda atch

        I have to respectfully disagree.

        The CTS was GM’s attempt in making the quintessential BMW 3 series fighter. Whether or not.. they actually did it, depends on monthly sales for the past 2-3yrs.

        Now they are making the CTS bigger.. to make way for the ATS down below with the XTS to be the king of the shit heap at the very top.

        All of these cars.. exist in a modern era when luxury doesn’t mean the same thing. Maybe I’m a lot younger than most of the audience.. but i don’t see the point for pushing luxo = nav unit and leather. I could get that in the current / same sized Accord, (if what’s I could tolerate from a (bloated) car / (design lost) name / (getting stale) brand that I used to love to have some serious fun in).

        I don’t see a point for many of the luxury advertising knowing there is DEEP psychology about what actually is luxury and the ever quest for every car maker who wants a piece of that perceived luxury market and the ever desire to make it
        “affordable”.. which has to be the BIGGEST CROCK OF SHIT.

        Then ya got Hyundai and Kia pushing luxury.. for cheap. / affordable… what does that say about.. luxury?

        Luxury is what “you” perceive it to be. Everyone has leather seats, heated and or cooled, the same generic (white, black, shiny primer, dark blue) sophisticated paint, interior treatments, tv’s in headrests, nav units, MMI interfaces, in car bluetooth, awd (sourced from haldex, with all season tires) yadda yadda yadda.

        From someone who will never see a car of this “caliber”, the Caddy Talisman had a point. Now to say the CTS has a share of that.. is to say the Hyundai Genesis is worth all of the 40-50g they ask.. cause its got the same equipment as the E / 5 series.. only cheaper.

        Just not the same.

  • avatar

    Hey, that’s my brother’s house err junkyard.

  • avatar

    That was quite brilliant, Jack. Well done, once again.

    Some of our more senior readers will remember the (free) Fleetwood 75 Limo pictured here:

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll never forget that story. I was really glad to see it make an appearance here.

      It doesn’t look like it sees much use though.

      • 0 avatar

        It doesn’t. I drove it all of 20 yards before the timing went all fubar. Me thinks its the dizzy’s gear, supposedly its a common problem.

        Hate to admit it, but I like the ’86 F75 far more than the ’76 Talisman. Wait, no I don’t…I couldn’t care less what people may say!

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        How hard would a swap to the 4.9V8 that was the decendant of the 4100V8 be? You’ve got to have some friends from LeMons who could help you with that Mehta. Not a perfect solution perhaps but clearly better than the 4100 and it’s laundry list of issues. My Grandmother’s second husband had the DeVille version and he loved it when it was working but when the 4100 was misbehaving… let’s just say he wasn’t a man who cussed much, but that Caddy was the exception.

      • 0 avatar

        A 4.9L swap is always on the brain, and it would be very easy to do…but ya never know…LS4 Impalas are getting cheaper by the month.

  • avatar

    The Seville was a Nova with leather? It was also a four-door Trans Am.

    I like to think of it as a gathering of the best parts GM had. The good-handling, tuneable Nova/Camaro platform combined with Oldsmobile power and Cadillac appointments. And Trans Am handling pieces bolted right in if you were so inclined. Car and Driver even did one as a project car.

    But you’re right on the money when you say the Fleetwood might not have been a great car, but it was a great Cadillac.

    Consider, though, that Cadillac was conflicted at the time. Their demographic was getting older and not being replaced by a younger generation, who looked at Mercedes as the aspirational car. How do you do a car that appeals to them while maintaining the core brand values? Obviously not the way they tried.

    The original Seville was a good step in that direction but Caddy shot themselves in the foot with the bustle-back Eldorado-based pig that replaced it.

    At the time, though, front drive in a big car was considered prestigious, thanks to that very same Eldorado and Toronado as well. So transitioning the DeVille to front drive was a natural.

    Cheesy styling didn’t help, either. Compare a ’65 Caddy to that ’85, for example. Much more tasteful design. The ’70’s were gaudy, but GM and Caddy held on to the fake wire wheels a little too long.

    • 0 avatar

      Did Car and Driver build a project Seville, or did they just do a story on a guy’s rather insane 200 mph, twin-turbo, propane fueled, ground effects tunnel equipped, 2 seat and 4 door Seville? I particularly liked the way it had a driver controlled flip down rear license plate hiding a jumbo-jet landing light for blinding pursuers.

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        I believe you are referring to “John Ward’s bad-ass Cadillac,” which was fueled on propane to bypass CARB’s insanely restrictive vehicle modification regulations, then cranked up with a pair of power adders and fitted with a cage so beefy, it turned the 4-seater into a 2-seater.

        Those who wish to seek a glimpse of the vehicle can do so in the Randy Newman “I Love LA” music video. Those who knew what it was understood the joke at the time: a Ferrari pulling to the side to let a headlights-flashing Cadillac pass was proper etiquette, considering the BB512s of the day could barely get to within 40 mph of the big Caddy’s well documented top end.

      • 0 avatar
        Stainsey Stainselstein

        “1FASTMF” was his license plate on that car.

      • 0 avatar

        It says something about that car that three of us remember it 28 years after it was featured in the magazine.

      • 0 avatar

        The “Bad-Ass” Seville was later. They actually did a “Seville GT” in the August 1977 issue. I can’t find the archive of it anywhere online, but it involved basically retrofitting Trans Am suspension bits to the similar Seville platform, plus some engine mods as well.

        According to Wikipedia, GM considered using the Opel Diplomat platform for the Seville as well, but decided to go with the X/F-body to keep costs down. On the most expensive car in the range save for the Sixty Special and the limos, mind you.

        The Diplomat was a very interesting car, particularly in second-gen form. It had a de Dion rear end and small-block Chevy 327 V8 power. In typical GM fashion of mixing US styling cues for different markets, the Diplomat had a nose taken directly from a 1965 Riviera. Fair enough, the previous-gen coupe was a scaled-down ’63 Pontiac Grand Prix with a ’63 Impala nose grafted on to the front.

  • avatar

    Wonderful essay, and so true. My dad had one of those monster Cadillacs. It was a very cool vehicle. You could put 4 sets of golf clubs in the trunk and still have plenty of room.

  • avatar

    Well written Jack. You gave me a new appreciation for an era of Cadillac (’71-’76) I had heretofore long loathed.

  • avatar

    WOW! That was an excellent review. The content and the style was incredible.

    Two points hit home, the gas mileage and quality. I drove my 1970 Chrysler 300 with a 440 from Long Island to Carlisle PA last summer (2010) and it returned 16MPG over the 450 miles round trip. This past June I drove my wife’s 2006 Ford Expedition on the same trip and I got 17MPG over the 450 mile round trip. The Chrysler and the Ford weigh about 5000 pounds a piece I did a steady 75 on both trips, I don’t see the progress in fuel economy. My Chrysler has an Edelbrock carb, and electronic ignition everything else is stock. It really makes you think.
    On the Cadillac quality I still remember getting a nasty cut on my leg as a kid from sliding over the worn out leather on my neighbors 71 Coupe DeVille in the early 80s. These cars just did not hold up after about 10 years. They used to be all over the place with rust under the trim and those rust streaks coming from under the vinyl top.
    When these beasts were left out on the streets they just fell apart, but the drive-train was another story all together, simply excellent. That Big Block Caddy mill was excellent.

    Despite their faults they had a presence that has not been replicated.

  • avatar

    What a great review of such a huge car!

    I know where of you speak as I once had the base 1968 Chrysler Newport back in HS in the very early 80’s. It was big and floaty of the cars of that ilk were back in the day and while it was not as long as the Imperial of the period of of the Cadillacs of the day, it was STILL a HUGE car.

    Had the base 383 with 2 barrel carb which was probably a good thing for a kid who was still in high school with barely any money to buy gas some days.

    It needed a lot of TLC to bring it back to prime shape, but it ran and that was good enough for me at the time.

    And you are right about these huge land yachts. They represented both the best and the worst of the cars of that day until 2 oil crises later forced a major revision of how we saw the automobile in this country.

  • avatar

    FWIW, that $13k from 1976 is worth $51,600 today. Think of the Cadillac you get for that price now!

    • 0 avatar

      Was a Nova really only $2,090 in 1976? Howstuffworks gives 1976 Nova base MSRP as $3,248. That is much closer to what I’d expect based on prices of cars from the period that I know. Even at $3,248 there may have been additional charges for luxuries like 2 speed wipers and carpet.

      • 0 avatar

        The last time you could buy a Nova for less than 2K was in 1968, I believe – something like $1955.00 for a 2 dr, 4 cyl, torquedrive tranny. A four-door model was $50.00 more. At least that was my experience with my parents at a Chevy dealer when they tried to buy a new car and wound up with a used, very pretty 1966 Impala.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        You gentlemen are correct. The *Vega* was the price I was discussing. Will correct again and credit you.

        When/if you read my “Trackday Diaries” from the last two days you may understand why I’m making these mistakes. :)

  • avatar

    Excellent review!

    I have had a number of large American cars including several Cadillacs, but the one I have the most road miles on was a 1969 Miller-Meteor ambulance on a Fleetwood 75 commercial chassis. That car, er, well everybody called it the hearse (must have been the curtains in the back windows, it even had the original red and white paint job), was the nicest-riding car (and truthfully not bad to drive either until you had to find a spot to park) that I have owned.

    My dad also had a 1977 Lincoln town car that we acquired from the original owner with only 40K miles on the clock. That was not nearly as fun to drive as my ambulance, but it was a pillowy ride behind the 460, watching the horizontal “milk thermometer” speedo smoothly inch to the right. On a straight section of highway, you simply had NO IDEA how fast you were going in that car whatsoever, it was so completely isolated from the road in every way.

    My Cadillac ambulance was on a 156″ wheelbase, and 21 feet long overall. I sold it as soon as I moved to the big city because it was too hard to find parking for (and I had no garage to work on it in either and it was getting to be 25 years old so major repairs were on the horizon). My dad later offered me the Lincoln, and at 20 feet long, it would not fit into the garage that I now have (barely 20 feet deep wall to door) so I turned it down. I miss it, but really had no practical use for it and I couldn’t stand to see it rot away in my driveway underneath the trees.

    I truly love big American Iron, but it helps to be in a more rural environment with wide streets, plenty of empty roads and large parking lots/spaces! With all that said, my latest vehicle purchase is a 1990 F-350 4×4 quad cab long box with a 460. Without a doubt, the roughest-riding vehicle that I have ever had! But just as long as my ambulance . . . and with a fuel-injected big block to boot. Yes, I am crazy (but darnit, the kids’ child seats just DON’T FIT in the back of the extended cab with any usable legroom left, I measured it a whole lot of times to be sure).

  • avatar

    Really enjoyable artice. Brings back memories, after high school in the mid-80’s I had a pretty serious used luxobarge addiction that I spent all my ‘waiting tables’ money on. A triple-black ’72 Coupe de Ville was followed by a nicer olive green ’71 Sedan de Ville, then a Gold ’76 Town Car and finally, a fairly mint ’76 Sedan de Ville, Copper metallic with a white top and tan striped velour interior.

    God, I’d love to have that car back if I had a place to put it. Starting it was so smooth, virtually NO noise, absolutely no vibration or ANY sensation at all that 500 cubic inches were whirring to life underhood….it was almost freaky. It was the smoothest, quietest and most cloud-like car I’d ever driven. My (former) Lincoln had it beat in interior quality and luxury, but was an absolute pig on the road…the Cadillac was the better drive.

    It was truly big pimpin’ back in the day, all my friends drove little econo-shytboxes at the time and loved to ride in the SDV. Soon enough, I moved to the city, sanity prevailed and I downsized to smaller rides…but next to my current Miata, I’ve loved nothing as much as that Caddy.

    Hope lots of these barges get saved for posterity…a testament to a long-over era.

  • avatar

    Makes those Chrysler Trenton folks pine for the days when smokes and drinks were on the menu at their factories.

  • avatar

    The other Fleetwood in the pictures appears to be an 80’s FWD version, smaller than the (still RWD) 1977 spoken about in the article.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    I saw an average of fourteen miles per gallon in my driving, about what one might expect from a ‘Slade. Where’s the progress?

    The Fleetwood dropped from 5400 pounds to 3400.

    And I read a couple of days ago that the new New Beetle weighs 2900 pounds, or just a scant 500 pounds less than the ’80s Cadillac limo.

    So, uh, as Mr. Baruth stated, “where’s the progress?”

  • avatar

    Vermont plates on the limo? Wow, you really did take the long way down to Texas!

  • avatar

    “From dinosaur to mammal in the same time it takes Honda to build two different kinds of substantially similar Civics.”

    Ouch! Jack, I wish I had your ability to deliver such deft criticisms.

    It seems to me that the Escalade is the spiritual descendant of this car.

  • avatar

    My Dad had a 1966 Buick Electra 225. I set up sticks and twine in a parking space configuration and learned how to parallel park in that aircraft carrier! Now that was a car that could haul the Brady Bunch!

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    As is increasingly the case with your work: very nice!
    If I may, I think I can put this vehicle in its proper context and elaborate on what it represents.

    Your car is the apotheosis of the cars that Cadillac had been building, at least since the end of World War II, minus the lamentable quality shortcuts such as petro-wood and cheap chrome bits in the interior. In those days, Cadillac defined luxury in a way that no European car — built, no doubt, in a cobbled-together factory that had been bombed repeatedly during the war — possibly could. (And I have ridden in and seen 1950s-era Mercedes-Benzes . . . in the 1950s.) Luxury according to Cadillac was all about “effortlessness,” size, quiet and ostentation. (Recall that the universal standard for automotive luxury at the time — Rolls-Royce — never specified the power output of their engines, but simply said the power was “adequate.”)

    My own personal encounter with this was my great uncle, a vice-president of the Pennsylvania Railway (back when that meant something: he had his own personal railroad car)who owned a 1957 Fleetwood. For reasons I don’t recall, my mother ended up driving it a bit (with me safely in the back seat). She was totally intimidated by the car, having been accustomed to the stripper ’57 Chevy my dad had just bought on his Navy lieutenant’s salary. To me, a 9-year old, there was a world of difference between the Chevy and the Cadillac, too . . . and I was too young to know anything about prestige.

    So, my theory is the people at Cadillac just kept building the car that I rode in, making it bigger and “more” of what it had been until it reached a reductio ad absurdam in the car you drove (with the rot of cynical cost-cutting creeping in like a teredo worm tunneling into the wood hull of classic yacht).

    The appeal of your car today is that it speaks in the vocabulary of a language no longer in use, and one can be nostalgic for that language and the civilization that used it, in the same way that one can be nostalgic for the civilization that used Latin, or classical Greek.

  • avatar

    A brilliant article, Jack. The last paragraph crystalizes everything I feel about these cars. Thanks for putting it into such perfect words.

  • avatar
    NOLA Kid

    Excellent article and really hit home for me (and prompted me to write my first ever post). When I was growing up, my grandmother’s neighbor (I’ll call her Mrs. C) was a new car dealer, and their crown jewel franchise was Cadillac. It was the classic American success story. Mrs. C’s husband had started with a Pontiac franchise in the 1930s, added Buick after WWII and then landed Cadillac in the mid 1950s. Mrs. C worked with her husband, and took over the dealerships along with her sons when Mr. C died in the 1960s. They truly rode the GM wave to prosperity, and like me, the Cadillacs were their favorites.

    Every year Mrs. C got a new red Fleetwood loaded to the gills with options. I loved those cars! I’d always go check them out, and Mrs. C would let me wash them and generally dream about them. Fall was my favorite time, since that was when the new ones would come in. I vividly remember her 1976 Fleetwood, much like your feature car, except of course it was red, and had leather (no Talisman option). It was majestic and very comfortable, and I thought it was great. Funnily enough, my grandmother, who’d known each and every Fleetwood Mrs. C had enjoyed since the 1950s, was less enthusiastic about the car, saying it seemed “chintzy” compared to the old ones.

    However, as you point out in your article, the real revelation was the 1977 model. That car was such a breakthrough at the time, and I was mightily impressed with it, as was Mrs. C. She and I talked about it for hours, and although I couldn’t yet drive, she’d tell me how responsive it was compared to her old Cadillacs. Her dealership sold tons of them (as they did with the redesigned Buick and Pontiac full sizers). It may not have been as imposing as the ’76, but that car at that time felt like such a great blend of American attributes in a more reasonable and manageable package.

    Sad to say, all good things come to end and I had a front row seat for the decline. The red Fleetwoods kept coming, but the wheels really came off in 1980. Mrs. C hated the new Seville, as it was decidedly less “international” and therefore wouldn’t appeal to her existing Seville owners and prospects (she was right). Ever the salesperson, she tried to spin the downsized 1980 V8 as “more efficient and nearly as powerful.” But she really lost it with the V8-6-4. It was a service nightmare and did major damage to Cadillac’s reputation. When the Cimarron hit, her only comment was “if you want a J-car with leather…”

    By this time, I’d gotten my driver’s license, and finally got to drive one of her Fleetwoods. It was the Fall of 1981, and the car was an ’82 with the new HT4100. Wow, talk about failing to meet expectations! The thing could barely get out of it’s own way, and was wildly slower than my parents V8 equipped Buicks of the same era. I remember Mrs. C in the front passenger seat giving me a smile as I said how smooth it was, but she new and I knew that this was not what a Cadillac could or should be.

    Most telling of all was Mrs. C’s last car before she passed away. The new downsized C bodies were available, but no new Fleetwood of that vintage ever graced her driveway. Her final drive was a 1985 Buick LeSabre Collector’s Edition. In red.

    Her sons subsequently took over the business completely, and by the end of the 1980s had sold all the GM franchises. They caught the train from Japan, and managed to get a Toyota franchise and later Lexus–the new Buick of our times. But nothing can replace what those Cadillacs were or what they stood for.

    Thanks again for a great article.

  • avatar

    Fabulous piece. It is so refreshing to hear from someone who understands that a Panther is not a big car.
    I put some miles on one of these back in the late 70s. My memory is that on low mileage examples with some carbon buildup, the starters would get overwhelmed when those 500 cubic inches were re-started when warmed up. The interior materials (other than the seats) were cheap crap. The vinyl armrests and door trim panels would routinely crack when pressed in cold weather. The bodies were not tight either. I would take a contemporary Lincoln any day. Back then, Lincolns were understated luxury while Cadillacs were better for showboating. Mechanically, the cars were pretty stout, though.
    It was around the time I had access to the 76 that I owned a 63 Fleetwood 60 Special. No comparison in quality-the 63 was ahead by nautical miles. But I have to acknowledge a certain pleasure from the sheer size of this car, if nothing else.

  • avatar

    Great article that really captures the essence of these cars.

    A fair number of the 1974-76 Fleetwoods have survived. For many years, there were at least 3-4 mint examples for sale at the big Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) meet in Hershey. Lately, they seem to have disappeared, and they aren’t showing up in the actual car show portion of the meet.

  • avatar
    Stainsey Stainselstein

    Growing up, my dad had a bunch of these…75, 78 and 85 De Villes and 90 Seville until he finally gave up all hope that GM would produce something decent.

    The 75 to this day, is still his favorite. Last year I test drove a 76 FWB (Fleetwood Brougham) for sale locally. What stuck out the most was:

    1. How low to the ground these cars were (up until the 77 redesign when the GM big bodies were plopped onto the previous gen A-body platform with raised roofs);

    2. How unbelievably thin the Bakelight steering wheel rims are (fingertip driving);

    3. The longest hood-ever. Back in the day, that was like having the longest d***;

    4. The big hood ornament, which is somewhat analogous to a gunsight. When driving, it’s a distraction because your eyes become transfixed.

    5. The deep, low rumble – no – quake emanating from the massive 500 big block (note: Cad engine designers gave it the ability to expand to 600 ci! Sadly, it only decreased in size to 425 and than, infamously, to 368 (V8-6-4 anyone?);

    6. chintzy interior appointments. But you have to consider this: $13 grand ($50k+/- today) was a lot for a car back then. I know that today, that kind of money will get you an HD pickup, but here’s the key difference: in 1976 there was no such thing as a 4, 5, 7 year car loan. The longest terms available back then were in the 24-36 month range, so cars costing more just weren’t popular. Many Cad owners were cash buyers.

    7. What my dad remembers most is how the front of the car would gently lift up on hard acceleration, as if it were a fine watercraft. Hence the term “land yachts”.

    Would love to get my hands on one of these, and drop in a rebuilt 500 (ok, 501, whatever) packing some serious HP upgrades. This engine and the THM 400 combination are bulletproof and reliable, so would be an easy and completely doable upgrade.

  • avatar

    Nicely done. I had a “71 Eldo Convertible, and it enjoyed many of the qualities you speak of. My dad, who was a lifelong “Ford” man (back when brand loyalties ran deep) hit the nail on the head when said “Oh, the majesty of it!”

  • avatar

    Beautifully written. Everybody who works for Cadillac marketing or product development needs to read this piece.

    The modern Escalade EXT does still have many of these same qualities. They will be gone when they go to the Lambda chassis for the next generation. I hope the rumors of a real Cadillac flagship are true, and that they build it long, low, wide, and RWD.

  • avatar

    Great review, Jack! Your painting of this car into its time was so nicely done, and great writing. Nice work!

  • avatar

    Whoever will be responsible for the design of the 2015 Cadillac flagship needs to read this, or at least take a ride in a ’76 Sixty Special. Because that’s what it is – special. Well, the trim isn’t, but never mind.

    Even the massive Sixteen concept still looks like a CTS that’s merely been stretched with a Photoshop tool. Even if it’s almost as big, the lines hide the size in photos. A Cadillac should never hide its size.

    The Sixteen is a good start, but it need more presence. More regalness. Right now, the Escalade is the closest thing to a classic Cadillac…and that simply ain’t right.

    Make it right, Welburn. Bring the majesty back…but not sad majesty. Proud majesty. With real wood!

    • 0 avatar

      Have you ever seen the Sixteen in person? It sits on 30 inch wheels and it has back-to-back V8’s under the hood… There is no way to hide its size, the car is massive – that’s the first thing you notice.
      Perhaps it just looks smaller in pictures. Just like aerial photos of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel: the structure is so large that you have to get pretty far away from it to get the whole thing in a shot, which makes it look smaller in photos.

  • avatar
    N Number

    Jack’s writing regarding this car will go down as a TTAC benchmark.

  • avatar

    This is really a superb article. In 1991 (my salad days) I drove a gold ’72 Coupe de Ville that belonged to the grandmother of a friend. It was shocking how badly that car handled, like driving a cannon. This article conveys why people bought them anyway. It must be said also, it was a glorious looking car. Too bad the generation after me will never drive such a car.

    I must say however that not all Detroit dinosaurs were poor handlers. My high school car was a gigantic ’73 Impala that was surprisingly nimble. My parents’ ’77 LTD, by contrast, was much floatier. My point being that “70s huge” does not necessarily equal “boat”.

  • avatar

    This is the most poetic car review I have ever read. It perfectly captures the last hurrah of the “Standard of the World”, riding on its name from irreverence down to irrelevance.

  • avatar

    I haven’t seen anyone ask, so…is that the infamous V McB pictured there?

    Nice work, Jack. And I’m talking about the article. I love some old landbarges, and your review was a wonderful reading experience.

  • avatar

    Thanks to my classic car-love gene, I really like these 70’s Cadillacs. I have several collector friends who have Talismans. Surely, this is one of the largest 4 passenger cars ever. However, having ridden in them, I don’t really find them all that comfortable. The problem is the seats. They are too soft. Feels like they are stuffed with goose down or something. I get kind of fidgety when seats are this unsupportive.

  • avatar

    My retired-to-Florida grandfather, like everyone else who retired to Florida, had a not-quite-as-majestic green 1981 Deville (Sedan Deville, I think. It was a while ago) that he bought used, because although he could afford a Caddy, he was still cheap. I remember going down to Fort Myers and riding around in the thing, him driving and wearing his overalls, whether for ironic effect or because you couldn’t take the rural Tennessee upbringing out of him, or both (he was bright and funny enough to have wanted to appear ironic). It wasn’t a ’76, but it still had some of that majesty as a C-Body Caddy. Then a few years later, when I was in college, he drove up to Nashville in his newer FWD Deville, and upon seeing it, I thought, “what is this disappointing piece of crap?” He looked like he’d taken a step down, even though the dealer had probably talked him into it as the latest and greatest. One was a Caddy, the other was a car for people who felt it was important to say they drove a Caddy. Not the same thing.

  • avatar

    You covered this car well.
    Obviously, Cadillac became ashamed of itself throughout the 1980s. It is hard to be attracted to a car that is so unsure of itself as that 1980s Cadillac. The old Cadillac stands there like a stud and the little newer Cadillac looks like a gelding pulling an Italian wedding cart. While the exterior of the ’76 Fleetwood was balls-out bold, it’s interior was Walmart bordello. The newer Fleetwood exterior is Walmart bordello throughout.

    There was a generational shift between these models in buyers. It seems that the guys who bought the ’76 Fleetwood had by the mid 80s got too old to get it up. The Boomers certainly couldn’t have found those 80s Cadillacs attractive.

    The old Cadillac has gut appeal and the newer one has cerebral appeal. So, by 2011, we still see the gut appeal of the 1976 Fleetwood, but have forgotten the cerebral appeal of the 1980-whenever. Brainy cars just lose their appeal?

    Cadillac today is much better. It is back to building a distinctive vehicle different from the rest.

    • 0 avatar

      You can thank the GM platform sharing of the 1980s for the horrid look of the 1984 FWD Cadillac.

      The GM platform sharing got so bad that Lincoln had a commercial that mocked the similar looks of Cadillac, Buick, Oldsmobile, Chevy, Pontiac by showing a valet who couldn’t figure out which GM car was which for multiple owners yet the valet then had no problem with gathering up the distinctive squared up Lincoln and delivering the car to its owner…

      The back story is that supposedly some high up GM marketing big wig actually asked one of the Lincoln marketing big wigs to stop showing that commercial since it was so demeaning to the GM model line up of that time.

      • 0 avatar
        Acc azda atch


        Id love if you could find the advertisement..

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Yes it did exist but will likely be hard to find because in those days Detroit was still a true “old boys” network and they would stop showing ads like that if each other requested. That ad always makes me think of one of the Fletch movies in which Chevy Chase says to another character… “So how do you like your Oldsmobuick?”

        Son of a gun, I found it!

  • avatar

    The era of the last true limousines- the rear passenger seat was behind the rear door and could not be viewed when the door was opened versus the stretched and opera light equipped but standard 4 door cars of the 1980s through current which expose rear seat and passenger as soon as the rear door is opened.

    And stretched SUVs don’t even count in the mix- just a gussied-up crew-transporting work truck to start with even before the extra six feet of “limo” is added…

  • avatar
    Yesterday Man

    Baruth, you are solidly in the pocket.

    That Fleetwood ending up in Houston stirred some memories. Houston was a Cadillac town when I was a boy there in the seventies. My dad was semi-rich in those days when that was possible and bought one or sometimes two every year for a while. His friends were oil men named Don and Ed and Leon and they drove Cadillacs, too. Big men with sideburns and bread dish sized belt buckles in pale yellow Eldorados with Anne Murray on the 8 track. It was a weird time. Steak and scotch for lunch.

    The first and best Cadillac was a gold ’71 Sedan de Ville he bought used in ’72. Cloth interior, small bumpers. Nothing special options wise, but it was built with a level of thought, care, and follow through in ways the later cars were not. It was a nice car.

    The worst was a ’78 Eldorado coupe. Silver with matching roof and burgundy leather interior. He had always wanted an Eldorado, but they were a stretch. It was a special order and the old man waited six months for it. He was like a little boy at Christmas when he finally got the call the car was in. I was outside in the yard when he pulled it into the driveway, and by the time he put it in park he was already disillusioned. “Damn thing can’t get out of its own way,” he said. “And it rattles.” He stood out there looking at the car and scratching his head, and the more he looked, the more depressed he got. Every other panel was misaligned, a dozen threads stuck out of the vinyl top, the stitching was absurdly crooked on the seats, the ELDORADO lettering on the hood had been applied so haphazardly it was funny. “I think the guy who put this on was drunk and blindfolded,” he said. It was a brand new car, and it was a ten footer. Once a week we would find some plastic part on the floor mat that we would super glue back on when we could figure out where it came from. One morning it wouldn’t start and he had to take the bus. The Eldorado was gone the next day.

    I thought it would be his last Cadillac, but he traded it even for a ’78 Coupe de Ville that he liked so much he kept it for a whole year. I tried to talk him into a Mercedes. He looked at me like I was slow. “Mercedes are for tight ass lawyers,” he said. It’s almost forty years later and there are a lot of Mercedes around, not so many Cadillacs. I wonder if we traded up.

    Speaking from experience, nothing on the planet can roll over a cattle guard like a ’70s Cadillac. Hit one at forty and you won’t spill a drop of your Chivas and soda.

  • avatar

    A moment from my childhood is forever vivdily etched into my memory: a ride in a ’76 DeVille. I was int he back seat of the car, which was driven by the trophy wife mother of a classmate of mine. It was nighttime, and raining. I’ll never forget the abundance of convenience lighting flatteringly illuminating the black thickness of the carpets and the plush depth of the leather seat upholstery. And when the doors closed and I was settled into the cushy comfort, we moved off. The car gave no hint of working, it just pulled forward as if drawn by a silk cord pulled by a giant. It was absolutely magical.

    Thinking of this, it seems almost absurd to be trying to revive Cadillac today. Cars like that ’76 will never exist again because the Germans went and ruined everything with their responsive handling and hard seats. Let’s hope GM has the nerve to make the new XTS, or the rumored flagship sedan plush and comfortable. But I doubt it. They would be savaged by the automotive press and would feel out of step to the buying public, even if they enjoyed the comfort. Sadly, the real Cadillac is dead. The new ones, good as they are, will never be able to partake of their ancestors’ magic.

  • avatar
    Beta Blocker

    Congratulations Jack, this article has to be among the best that has ever appeared on TTAC.

    In 1977, when I was in my mid 20s, I was given the task of teaching my 57 year old aunt how to drive a car.

    My uncle and my cousin were on a six-week wilderness trip and his 72 Cadillac Eldorado was just sitting there without being driven.

    My aunt got around Los Angeles by taking the bus or by walking, she had never learned to drive a car, and so now that the Caddy was available, she asked me to teach her how to drive — without telling my uncle what her plans were.

    We started off in the Caddy and soon discovered it wasn’t the right car to learn how to drive in. It was too big, it had next to no driver feedback, and it was too floaty.

    So we switched to my 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix and she took to that car immediately.

    The interesting thing was that even a novice driver could recognize the vast differences in the design philosophies of the two cars, even though both were GM two-door coupes.

    After a solid six weeks of driving practice, she got her license, something my uncle wasn’t all that happy to learn about when he got finally back from his trip.

    She offered me a really decent sum of money for the Grand Prix, certainly more than it was worth, but I politely refused.

    After that, she never drove the Caddy — not that my uncle would have let her — and was quite happy with my cousin’s 1974 Maverick whenever she needed to get behind the wheel.

  • avatar

    My dad had a ’75 Coupe DeVille that, unbeknownst to us, was delivered with a bent frame. Combine that with the pinky steering, which had a massive dead zone off-center, and the thing did a slow motion shimmy-shimmy-koko-bop on the highway. Cadillac refused to fix the problem. Proving himself to be a glutton for punishment, Dad traded the Caddy in on a ’73 Citroen SM, which turned out to be aptly named – only a devoted torture fetishist could really appreciate that car.

  • avatar

    As all the others said, what a wonderful piece of writing. Thank you for gracing us with it.

    I had the good fortune to drive a 1970s Sedan DeVille as a teenage boy. The funny thing was, I was stepping straight out of my other sister’s Super Beetle. In the latter, you couldn’t sustain a steady speed, you were all over the highway, and I felt the same sense of paranoia, that feeling that you’re looking up at everyone else from a bathtub, that I felt decades later at the wheel of a ’93 Escort. The Caddy was exactly the opposite. Gliding effortlessly down the road, looking down at the rabble over that commanding expanse of hood, I literally had to remind myself that it would still be bad if I ran into them. Honestly.

    After the downsizing revolution, I found myself in about ’84 riding in a colleague’s Electra 225. It was a twin to the old DeVilles. After the long time away, I could hardly believe the sheer disregard for space and resource efficiency that exuded from the beast. The interior was unbelievably wide, yet it was obvious from the baroquely impractical interior door and window shapes, and from the deep-relief 3D of the hilariously sculpted moldings of fake wood on the armrest faces, that the only effort expended to make a wide interior was to make an even wider car. The velour sofas that passed for seats were comparable to modern orthopedic designs only insofar as they might have been found in the orthopedist’s waiting room. But as Jack said, it was what it was, and that can’t be said of subsequent GM sleds.

    By the way, I’ve always been convinced that one of the ways GM prepared the public to like the overhauled ’77s was to knowingly make the outgoing ’75s and ’76s as awful as possible, knowing their customers would never judge the new iron by the speed with which the old iron rotted. This generation of big GMs rusted out noticeably faster than its predecessors, let alone its successors. Only old Chevy trucks, new Dodge trucks and Ford Aerostars could compete in this regard.

  • avatar

    Jack, that is one HELL of a piece of writing. It captures exactly what those old Caddys were all about, and why they were aspirational cars. I remember going to the Cadillac dealer with my stepdad in 1976 just to look at one of these. All you had to do was get in, start it up and drive down the road apiece and you immediately understood what this kind of car was all about. It was about luxury – period. The seats…the doors…everything about that car was special. Which, unfortunately, cannot be said of today’s Cadillacs.

    David E. Davis, in one of his last writings before his death, pretty much hit the nail on the head when he said that the people who run Cadillac today don’t really like Cadillacs. The car you describe above was, really, the last true Cadillac. Big, luxurious, pillow seats, pillow ride, and effortless power. And they looked special, apart from the crowd, not like the crap Caddys of the Eighties and Nineties. Even today’s “Art And Science” styling seems just a bit contrived compared to those old ones. They just stood out, size-wise and every other way. Would that a car like that were built today…an American car, that was actually proud to be American.

    Oh yeah, there IS a car like that. It’s called the Chrysler 300C. Big, roomy, and effortless power. And despite the German underpinnings, absolutely, positively AMERICAN. It couldn’t have come from anywhere else. If Cadillac had built cars like that, instead of the crap they built through the Nineties, they might not have the identity crisis that they have now.

  • avatar

    Fantastic job, sir! And I can’t agree more. These cars do everything wrong yet do everything better than just about everything since.

  • avatar

    My grandmother drove nothing but Cadillacs, and I remember my uncle periodically having to make modifications to her 1910’s vintage rock wall garage to accommodate the ever-increasing dimensions of her Cadillacs. In 1957, thanks to the bosom-like grille on her then new Cadillac, he had to knock two holes in the front wall. By 1976, steel I-beams were used to frame the just-high-enough-for-the-hood-ornament-to-clear hole in the front of the garage, and after a tree was taken out, my grandmother basically parked with the nose of her car poking into the back yard. The nose was protected by an oh-so-homemade-looking plywood garage extension. The car fit with at least a half-inch of clearance all the way around, and I remember my 4′ 11″ grandmother whipping in and out of that garage like there was all the room in the world.

    The ’76 would turn out to be my grandmother’s last car. I think I last drove it sometime around 1998 and it only had about 30k miles on it. In 1976, my personal car was a Grand Prix, quite a bit shorter than the Cadillac, but when I’d fly out to visit my grandmother, I’d usually be the one to drive her car, and I didn’t remember it being all THAT BIG. By 1998, my personal car was a Chevy Astro, a vehicle that may have been bigger than a Suburban on the inside, but on the outside it was smaller than what we used to call a compact car. …and wow!, In 1998, that ’76 Cadillac was huge.

  • avatar


    My big Caddy is bigger than your big Caddy.

    Behold the 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Seventy Five Limousine in all it’s 151.5″ wheelbase, 252.3″ total length and a weight just a fashion models shy of three tons.

    • 0 avatar

      Ronnie, I also own a ’76 Cadillac Fleetwood Seventy-Five Limousine. These cars certainly are big (252.2″, not 252.3″ or a fraction over 21 feet long). The limos can seat 9 people (not 7 or 8, as sometimes claimed). The ride and interior roominess is unlike anything Cadillac makes today. Contrary to popular belief, the trim is actually holding up quite well in my ’76. And it certainly can easily match or exceed the posted cornering limits around off-ramps. I’ve driven on streets with curves with a posted “35 mph” speed limit at 45-50 mph. I’ve not had problem with braking and I’ve owned the car since 1999. Shipping weight is listed in the brochure at 5,889 lbs. Mine was weighed and the figure came to 6,040 lbs, but that was with a floor jack and bicycle in the trunk.

      Mine is triple black and has the crushed velour rear seat… very comfortable. Too bad Cadillac makes nothing even remotely like the Series 75 today!

  • avatar

    May I add my 2cnts on this car. Good story and true overall feelings.
    1)Gramps was pissed off with the shorting A/C fuse. 2) Yes gas crisis.
    3) Dealer gave me (18 yo at time) $800.00 credit for 1975 Fleetwood Talisman Dark Blue.(I went back late afternoon car was GONE!!!).
    A) I think its a 1975 Talisman. Egg crate front. The trim on rear backup light was chromed in 1976. A EFI 1976 Fleetwood Talisman
    with leather would be $$$$$$$. This is a great 1975. There is a Talisman site on yahoo. I drove this exact car from Los Angeles to Colorado Spring at 120 MPH Trunk Loaded with luggage. A/C on full blast. Gramps in back seat leg up on writing console. Gramps it seems was a real “Car Nut” but you would never dare say it to him. Thanks gramps for letting your youngest grandchild drive “Cadillac” when it meant something. Collectors of today Talisman & CTS-V and close the garage. We will never buy GM again in this family after the bailout. Bondholders were screwed badly. Damn A/C fuse I begged him to let me keep the car!!!!! %$#%@# Oh Well!!!!

  • avatar

    Hi all,

    I’m the proud owner of a very fine 1977 Lincoln Continental Town Car (with the 460 engine) from Pennsylvania (I’ve exported it to Sydney Australia where I live). Its the Lincoln counterpart to the 1977 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham, and similar in many respects but without the junk build quality and flimsy materials in the bodywork/trim/cabin.

    I like the review, but add that these cars have an amazingly commanding presence and a feel on the road that no modern car can match. Near-total isolation from the outside world.

    The Lincoln has a softer ride than the Cadillac and having driven this and a Fleetwood Brougham (my former car of 12 years) I do not agree with the complaints about the ride. These cars are much smoother and quieter than modern cars (wife has a 2011 car), particularly in the drivetrain and the sense of there being a magic propulsion force – there is no sense of moving parts in the engine bay or driveline.

    I drive my Continental everyday, but it’s pampered and always garaged.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, even well into the 1980’s the Lincolns had superior build quality to Cadillac. I had a friend with an 80’s Town Car – the downsized super-boxy ones. The inside was actually quite nice and very tight, whereas the FWD Caddy DeVilles from those years were rattletrap nightmares. Ditto with the awful Caprices from the 80’s.

  • avatar

    I can only imagine what this Caddy looked like on the showroom floor. I was born in 1982, and even as a child I remember thinking that there were no differences in almost all GM cars except the badges. The 1984 DeVille looked identical to every other GM midsize or fullsize. Remember how all during the 80’s and well into the 90’s EVERY single GM car had the same straight upright C-pillar with the almost vertical back window? From a Grand Am to an El Dorado, you were basically getting the exact same styling and shape of car. Along with usually the same dashboard, and that awful, tacky GM pleather dash material.

    One of the best things about the W bodies when they debuted in 1987/88 was that, unlike the A body midsizers, they all looked very distinct. The Celebrity, 6000, Century, and Cutlass Ciera were the same exact car with different (although not much) grill treatments.

    The new Caddy XTS looks much better in person than I expected, but it’s shape suggests it should be a Toyota Avalon competitor. Which I guess it really is, having the same drivetrain style. It is a car that is rather incongruous with the other Cadillac cars like ATS and CTS. Shame on GM for not coming up with a legit flagship….hopefully 2015 will be much different. I doubt it, though.

  • avatar

    This article (though over a year old now) inspired me to register on this site, after reading the articles for some time and resisting an urge to comment.

    I have a huge appreciation for the large barge American cars of the 70s, and it makes me a bit sad that I wasn’t around during that time. I’ll never have the warm, proud glow that accompanies piloting a 19-foot-long Cadillac/New Yorker/Continental around town, eliciting envious glances from passersby. Or never needing to worry that I’m getting <10 mpg, because hey – I'm more concerned with my new poly-blend shirt.

    What a grand car from the end of a grand era of Americana.

  • avatar

    Hi Corey,

    May I suggest you do as I have done and but one of these ’70s battleships?
    I use mine daily in the congested streets of Sydney Australia where subcompacts are like a roach infestation. Assuming you buy a very good one and garage and regularly service and thoroughly rust proof it, its a better proposition than buying a new modern ‘large’ blob car. The total absence of depreciation easily offsets the maintenance costs of an old car, and because even a very good one sells for half the cost of anything new, no finance costs either – I paid cash.
    Keep a set of cheap wheels though for winters where road salt is used.

    The dream can be yours.
    Dermot…..1977 Lincoln Continental Town Car 460. 19 feet 4 inches by 80.3 inches of Vintage Detroit

    • 0 avatar

      Oh believe me if I had a place in the garage, I’d have one. As-is, I have one garage space, and enough room in the driveway for one other car. I don’t want to get a nice one of these and park it outside, because I’ve seen what quickly happens to those which are not sheltered.

      Ideally I’d find a midnight blue 79 Town Car Collector’s. ;)

  • avatar

    These cars were what they were, because they made a statement. They spoke volumes. And they were about s-t-y-l-e.

    Complaints of fit and finish be damned, they were rock solid. Relegated to trailer parks and ghettos? Because they were reliable. Even affordable. AFFORDABLE? Yes. They were repairable, covered every job you could throw at them, and had trim parts that were actually SCREWED on, instead of snapped together.

    Handling? Phht! You had to actually KNOW how to drive, if you wanted them to handle. People KNEW how to drive, in those days-and those that did not, did not try to DRIVE. Throw the wheel, bop the throttle, and put it where you want it to go. Otherwise, just cruise. If you want to sail into tight corners like you’re in an MG, then tighten things up. Springs, shocks, etc., and then drive it like you stole it.

    My 1975 Coupe De Ville did what I wanted it to do. And in the winter it was a trooper! As did my ’69 Bonneville, and Plymouth Fury. I grew up in these cars, and they spoke volumes all by themselves-they needed no explanation. The same cannot be said for cars of today, by any standard. Driving one of these, or any new car, into the driveway back then was a HAPPENING! A feeling one tries to create as an automobile salesman today-a very difficult thing to do, in today’s world of plastic homogeneity and lack of options. I mean really, what’s in a color anyway, right?

    Continental and Fleetwood meant something. So did Catalina and Lesabre. Today? Not so much.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    I got to ride a couple of times in a 1976 Fleetwood in the late seventies that belonged to a co-worker’ s parents . She was a redneck , like 5′ tall and would frequently borrow her parents’ cars including this . IIRC her father , knowing GM was downsizing , bought this at the end of the model year . I remember going to lunch with her and another would-be urban cowgirl co-worker , she was tearing down suburban streets at high speeds. Being she was only 5′ tall the front seat was up as far as possible and I was in the back , with limo – like room . As far as the limos , Daddy’s most important client , in his later years his only client was an elderly tycoon who had a limo . In the mid seventies I remember riding with Daddy and him and his driver in a mid seventies Cadillac 75 to his office so the driver and me could move some office furniture . I had never ridden in one , this one was white which he always got , thinking black limos looked too funereal . Twenty years later the guy had finally died – I think he must have been close to 100 years old – and Daddy was working on the guy’s estate . The client’s seventy something GF / secretary needed a ride to the bank and had me drive her in the limo . It was an eighties version like the one in this comparison , except white . I had never driven a limo in my life but this one being much smaller was more like driving a big station wagon . And so cheesy , compared with my memories of the guy’s 1974 limo , obviously built to a lesser standard .

  • avatar

    Very nice article on the 1976 talisman. Took me back to memory lane. My dad had some caddies, 1960 fleetwood, 63 sdv (accident), 65 sdv, 69 fleetwood, 73 sdv 77 cdv, 78 barritz, 81 barritz, 85 sdv, 90 eldo, 93 seville, 97 eldo.. He had also bought mustangs, camaros, firebirds, mostly. gm .. A lot of these cars rusted out in 2 years. Chicagoland..

    There is no doubt the 65 black with white leather trimmed seats was the nicest all around experience. I was 16 when he had the 73. Silver, white top black brocade cloth. Gas mileage was horrendous. Never ran right. His brother had new caddies almost every year.. My favorite was the 74 sdv yellow withe the gold paisley, omg that car was too much. When he traded for the 76 cdv medium blue white interior., he was agitated for sure.. By 1977 he went back to olds. His other brother bought a new t-bird every year, my favorite was the 66 town landau.. The old mans 77 had a leather interior, copper and copper.. He had that car the longest. The 78 barritz champaign with chocolate , for my mom. That car only had 25k when traded for the 81. After the 81, my mom went japanese and is driving a 14 forester now. That 97 eldo was crimson red and just a beaute. He loved that car, last time i saw him alive, he floored that damned thing. Always drove em like he stole em.. Ihave an 06 sts F that I use as a driver, and park in the drive. We are car people.

  • avatar

    Thank you for writing this article. I have not enjoyed an article more than this in years. There is another saying I have heard that I think may apply; namely, give me all the luxuries, and I will gladly forego all the necessities.
    My paternal grandfather was a typical country-club father and owned a 1974 Sedan De Ville. I remember everyone who rode in that car always commenting about how “luxurious” it felt. It was white with a green pattern fabric interior. At the time, I thought it was too typical for Naples FL, but boy did it float, and, funny, my posture always improved when I rode in that car.
    My maternal grandfather was a hard working entrepreneur and owned a “God Key” 1986 Fleetwood Brougham. That car was so elegant with all the tufted interior and brightwork and elegant lighting, but it drove like a sled and you really had to tromp it to get it to move. I remember beating it from a light in my 1986 300 SDL.
    My step mother’s father was a hard working steel mill guy who managed to start his own metal refinishing company and ended up well off. His last Cadillac was a 1987 Fleetwood Brougham that was all in silver and I always remember that car being super elegant and performance was respectable also. Boy did the valets scamper when he drove up to the Medina CC in that beauty.
    My paternal grandfather and his wife’s brother both lived in Naples, both Perfect Circle auto industry execs and always compared their cars. My grandfather had a 74 Sedan De Ville, and his brother, who was a chairman of the Co. drove a 67 Silver Shadow sedan and 71 Shadow convertible. I remember them always debating the cars, but I always remember the RR Convertible being elegant beyond belief … mainly because of the incredible smell of connolly leather and wilton wool carpets along with the winged victory reflecting down that jewel-perfect finished hood … I could tell the quality was far above the Caddy … even as a child. Even with obvious quality differences, my grandfather always defended the SDV as a more reliable car and stated that the real luxury is getting where you are going. The Shadows had a tendency to leak oil out of their open oil pans when sitting on a sharp incline, and they were always in the shop for this or that.
    My mother had a beautiful 1974 Coupe de Ville that totally eclipsed our Mercedes for luxury appointments, yet there was a definite difference in quality and long-term design intent.
    Your article, though, is particularly interesting to me, since, out of all these cars, the ones I recall standing for pure unashamed ostentatious luxury were the Cadillacs from the early/mid 70’s. When those cars were new, everyone noticed you arrive anywhere you went, and the way you were treated exceeded even the way you were treated when you arrived in a Rolls. I always remember the difference in the ways the valets reacted at the Naples Yacht Club. When my grandfather and I would drive up under the portico, the valets would literally run to get the doors .. and funny enough, when I went with Herman in his Rolls convertible, the valets never seemed in any hurry to assist.
    To this day, valets react completely different to whether I arrive in my shiny (obviously not a work truck) Silverado 4 door, Diesel, 4X4, extended bed versus my Mercedes. I always get better service in the Silverado, and am treated with much more respect on the roads in the Silverado. Although I have always had a MB in my stable, I have tired of the hostility on the roads toward the marque and will not get another.
    How I long for the days when the early/mid 70’s Caddys were newly minted, for their magic only lasted for the first year or two after their birth .. just as you mentioned. They burned brighter than any other star, but that also caused them to burn out sooner. Once again, thank you for writing your insightful article.

  • avatar

    My father, being an auto mechanic, automobile enthusiast, and guitar player, exposed our family to the American automobile in a way enjoyed by a select few. I have ridden in cars ranging from hot ’40 Ford Coupes, through Studebaker Hawks, Starfire (convertibles), to the ’67 GTO. I have enjoyed, loved, admired and appreciated, full-sized American automobiles from day one. The ’58 Impala, or the 60 Chevy Nomad- with a 409 4-spd in gunmetal gray. Or the Olds, with the J-2 setup.

    And I have driven these cars. DRIVEN, as in moonshine-runnin’, real NASCAR throwin’ D-R-I-V-I-N-G. One poster says he drove a car such as this, and could not tell where he was on the road. Well, kid, then you ain’t driving! You need to look at the big picture! Like they tell you in Drivers’ Education. It is a skillset, and one that enjoys being exercised. A feeling in the seat of your pants, that knows exactly how much traction you have left, and how to break that to get around the next corner quickly, and in style.

    There is no explaining it. You can only communicate it by demonstration. There is no feeling in todays’ automotive market like the feeling of a big block under your go-pedal, in a full-sized, metal, American car. None. They had presence, and style, and panache. They were art, on wheels, in a way that can scarcely be matched today.

    And I knew the make, model, and year, of nearly every one of them I met on the road, from the time I was 6 years old, and on. THAT, my friends, is not an easy thing to do today.

    And that last bit pretty much sums up the difference between automobiles then, and now.

  • avatar

    I owned and drove a ’76 Talisman for thirty-one years. Everything fell apart except the engine–it proved indestructible.
    Princess Margaret was the only one ever to have smoked in it (I leased it to the government when she visited Canada in 1980).
    I eventually traded it for an ’07 Impala.

    • 0 avatar

      The dealer who took my Talisman had it crushed. I kept the rear view mirror as a souvenir.

      A few months ago, on impulse, I bought a mint ’76 Coupe DeVille for $4000. and sold it a day later for $4200. I just wanted to recapture the thrill. I’m very immature.

  • avatar

    Incidentally, about 1900 Talismans were made in ’76.

  • avatar
    escalade esv from shirey

    I bought me first Cadillac in 1967 just out of university. It was a Calais without air conditioning. My second was a Sedan deVille in 1969 that had air and a lot more options. I bought a 1973 and then in 1976 I bought a new Talisman for around $15,000. It was a pleasure to drive on the highway and the most comfortable car I ever owned but I call it my biodegradable Cadillac because it was rusting through in three years. My dealer told me GM was experimenting with increasing the percentage of scrap metal in their cars and also saving the overspray on a water bath in the paint booth and reusing it. I didn’t like the downsized Cadillacs at all when I went shopping in ’79.That led me to buy my only two Lincolns. A 1979 Collector Series Sedan. I say two because it was my first and last Lincoln. It wandered all over the road and they could not get it lined up properly. It also couldn’t pass anything on the road including a gas station and it had a small tank to make matters worse.
    I have owned Broughams throught the ’80s and ’90’s until I got an Escalade ESV in 2007. For me, it is the closest ride to my Talisman I have seen since.
    I have tried out the head banging German and Japanese Luxury cars and find they ride like a farm wagon without springs so they are sure not for me.
    Wish they would build a new large Talisman with today’s technology and I would buy one.

  • avatar

    What does “saving the water spray” mean? Thank you.

  • avatar

    I meant “saving the overspray.”

  • avatar
    escalade esv from shirey

    When a car is painted there is a fog of paint that is drawn off by exhaust fans in the paint booth through filters that are usually wasted.
    Since most paint; like oil will float on water, the idea was to run this overspray through water and then capture the paint that floated on the water and use it again. When a car was painted with this “saved” paint there was inevitably some water in it that got next to the metal and these cars then rusted from the metal surface outward. That was my Cadillac dealer’s explanation of what happened to my car.

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you. My Talisman certainly rusted. It got so bad that every summer I got a can of Tremclad and a brush and swabbed it from stem to stern. Still,I loved that boat.

  • avatar

    Moment of Glory

    My father told me, “Everybody has a moment of Glory in their life. That was my moment of glory professionally” as he swiped some snack crumbs into a napkin from the corners of his mouth. Most ended up on his chest which were brushed onto the carpet to be gotten later. He was 81 years old, a widower for 10 years, and sitting on his brown leather couch in the Irish Hills of Michigan. We had just begun meditating on a picture from some dusty work files that I pulled out of the attic. The 60” LED flat screen with Tom Selleck in “Blue Bloods” before us, the panoramic window featuring aqua blue Loch Erin behind, the 1958 Mcintosh Tuner with turntable paired with MC30 tube amps on the left, and a JBL Ranger-Metregon Loudspeaker on the right faded away. The flash of a polaroid many years ago had captured my dad, a fit 40 year old silver-haired fox with swarthy Maltese skin, a pressed triple starched shirt, a fat cigar wedged between his pointer and middle finger with him poised in a power stance sporting some white patent-leather shoes. He was standing 5 ’6” with the giants of General Motors Corporation gathered around him gazing up at the “Flying Nun” that he engineered to put the vinyl tops on Cadillacs in 1976..

    John Zammit worked for General Motors in Detroit, Michigan for 41 years. He grew up there, attended Holy Redeemer High School, and eventually General Motors Institute to become a mechanical engineer. My dad grew up poor. His parents immigrated from the Island of Malta to Detroit. Grandpa Zammit had to work two jobs to support his seven children. My dad was the second child and the Mommy’s boy behind his brother Frankie. I say Mommy’s boy only because Grandma said she kept Frankie on a diehard milk schedule even when he was wailing in his crib but gave Johnny milk whenever he wanted it. They lived near the old Tiger Stadium at Michigan and Trumbull. When he was a boy, to earn some nickels in the summer, him and the neighborhood boys would convince Detroit Tiger fans that they would guard their cars while they went into the game. People would give these juveniles, some delinquents, coin money for their watchful eyes or maybe as a token of “please don’t break into my car while I’m in the game.” Dad said that all the boys would run off to the corner store or go back to playing but he would sit on the curb several hours being vigilant to protect their investments until his customers would return. It was in him from his youth that earning money for a job required doing what is expected and agreed upon by the employer. He did not respect lazy people who refused to work and even less those who would slack in their work.

    I didn’t grow up with him. My father and mother divorced when I was 5. When my mother and I would drive I-75 past the Fisher Body Fleetwood Plant on the way to my grandma’s house in Southwest Detroit, she would always say at exit 44 , “There’s the plant that ate your daddy.” I would pause from my memorization of Topps Baseball cards, look at the monstrosity, and wonder. To add to the mystery she said one time, “Your dad received death threats for a machine that he designed in there.” There are people in there that want to kill him.”

    The machine was installed on the sixth floor of the Fisher Body Fleetwood Plant which produced American luxury for home and abroad. From this spot, management and UAW workers mixed in a seething cauldron of forced speedup and resistance. All of the auto industry was being rocked by union clashes with management. These work stoppages were not peaceful assemblies. People were beaten, property damaged, jobs lost, and families ruined. No wonder my dad would tell me when I was a directionless teenager, “Son, you have to have a plan. It’s a jungle out there.” John Lippert, Bloomburg Markets Senior Writer, was a worker on the sixth floor. He describes the strike on August 26,1977 in his article The Fall of Detroit saying, “I ran down six flights of stairs and onto a sidewalk baking in 85-degree-Farenheit heat. About 600 of us started drinking beer and celebrating. The line would stay shut for a day and a half. We called that a victory…Our militancy at GM drew on the youthful rebellion that was gripping the U.S. Hundreds of us at Fleetwood, black and white, grew our hair long, fueled by anti-establishment fervor that helped end the Vietnam War and sweep Richard Nixon out of the White House. During our 30-minute lunch breaks, we sat in our cars and listened to Jimi Hendrix as we smoked marijuana, drank beer and took Desoxyn and other methamphetamines before returning to work. Our quality levels and absenteeism rates were among GM’s worst. We didn’t care.” My dad explained to me that concessions would be made to the workers across Detroit because General Motors ruled the auto industry. They felt no threat from the “Japs.” He said he gave some Japanese manufacturers tours of Fleetwood and in retrospect they were probably writing their reports, We are not going to do this, this this, and this.” How ironic it is that the Fisher Body plants converted into mass production facilities of planes and tanks for the WWII effort! Japan was coordinating another attack on the United States with a better automobile.

    The Vinyl Workers at the plant were the generals in the battle against Fleetwood. My dad had a plan to abolish them but was rejected time after time by his superiors. He watched them day after day slow production, stand around brazenly letting Cadillacs go out of the building without completed roofs. Lippert chronicled the situation, “The company assigned more work at almost all job stations. On the day of the walkout, GM’s head of labor relations and the UAW shop chairman shoved each other while arguing about speedup. The local union president stood by, swearing. After its leaders were suspended, the UAW sent Bird and other lieutenants to organize the strike. About one in four afternoon-shift workers left that Thursday—a payday. On Friday, GM wouldn’t pay workers who hadn’t stayed for their checks. A striker put his foot through a glass door. GM started paying. After our walkout, the speedup tension simmered, especially among vinyl top workers. There were about 100 on each shift. They were a distinct subset and powerful enough to convince each other that militancy could pay. The vinyl workers—and a lot of the rest of us—goaded management by working “in the hole,” or purposely going slow so we’d follow cars beyond our workstations. The vinyl top people took their job 500 or 600 feet into the hole and disrupted what others were doing for weeks at a time. Management fired or suspended dozens of them. By Oct. 8, Fleetwood didn’t have enough people to cover absenteeism. GM let one in six cars go without vinyl tops. Their metal roofs, amid the whites, yellows and browns of the completed cars, were visible hundreds of yards away. As the unfinished models filled repair bays, GM capitulated. It increased the number of vinyl top teams to 39 from 35 and reinstated everybody with pay.” My dad couldn’t take it anymore. He walked into the plant manager’s office that glowed with Cadillac memorabilia, threw the blueprints and costs analysis on his desk with one question, “How long are you going to let these guys [email protected]#! You? Dad had been rejected numerous times on this. The executive never looked at the plans. He said to my dad, “Go ahead and build it.” The Polaroid picture captured the culminating ironclad moment of victory. Lippert summarized, “The UAW was losing its grip at GM. The company eradicated sixthfloor militancy at Fleetwood with a robot for installing vinyl tops. Workers called it “the flying nun” because it pivoted over the car and dropped the top in place.” In that flash- Gone were the vinyl workers who took the money to the store and did not watch the owners cars. Gone were the vinyl workers who took the money and went to playing games and not finishing the job.

    A worker is recorded saying, “I worked at Fleetwood and four other plants for eight years during the heyday of U.S. carmaking dominance and union militancy.” George McGregor, president of UAW Local 22 at GM’s Hamtramck, Michigan, plant, worked at Fleetwood during the 1970s. He says the UAW should have used its power to stop GM from shipping defective cars instead of forcing it to hire unneeded workers. “We fucked that place up, and we’re paying for it,” McGregor says. Gone is the factory that spanned eight-city blocks pumping out American luxury to the world. What I imagine remains for my dad is knowledge of a job well done and a moment of recognition for being wise in battle and triumphing over an evil empire. I know that there are some funny cartoon caricatures created by another manager depicting my dad as several different world leaders for his victory. He also has a pretty neat painted wooden model of the contraption, and best of all the nicely framed patent for the invention coupled with the one dollar bill that he received from the company for his work.

  • avatar
    The Facts

    “The public had barely accepted the 1977 de Ville” ??
    He clearly has no idea what he is talking about.
    The sales of the all-new downsized 1977s were much better than in 1976.

    1976 Coupe deVille: 114,482
    1977 Coupe deVille: 138,750

    1976 Sedan deVille: 67,677
    1977 Sedan deVille: 95,421

    1976 Brougham: 24,500
    1977 Brougham: 28,000

    “A new Seville, basically a Chevy Nova with leather”

    UGH. Yet another uneducated statement. The first generation Sevilles only shared the front sub frame, rear sub frame cross members and rear compartment floor pan with the other X-body cars.

    For someone that says they like these cars they sure know very little about them.

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