By on July 16, 2013

Like Dizzy Gillespie’s cheeks playing trumpet vs. at rest, cars are bigger in every direction compared to their predecessors.  Perhaps you’ve seen a 1980s Honda Accord in front of the latest platform.  Or perhaps an old/new Chevy Silverado. But what about a copiously large Cadillac, like the one made (somewhat) famous in a Moby music video?

What happens when you put that machine, an unrivaled King of The 1970s, against a pair of modern land barges?  You already know, but go ahead and click to see anyway. 

Our good friend with the former LeMons Station Wagon, Brian Pollock, snapped this 1969-1970 Cadillac Sedan DeVille (not a Fleetwood, considering the wheelbase?) sandwiched between a late-model Ford F-150 and Acura MDX.  I assure you that neither Brian nor myself have the photochopping skills to shrink the Caddy: this actually happened.

Unfortunately there wasn’t a modern-day family sedan in the mix, too: that’d show the generational changes far better than a CUV and a truck.  But note how the Caddy’s fenders works proportionally well with its 15″ (14″?) wheels, and how the Acura and Ford do the same with 17″ rolling stock. The Caddy looks even smaller because of a lower ride height, lower belt line and massive overhangs at both axles.  The extra overhang means the Caddy’s nose and butt tapers more elegantly, giving a (dare I say it) sleeker appearance compared to the other two.

Losing overhang isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just kills the ability to shape and taper a form.  Everything must have a flat nose and a (modern-day family sedan) buffalo butt! Can you imagine if this Caddy had the bullet-like face of today’s ATS, but with the same elongated snout?  It would be a seriously wind cheating land barge, slicing the air with less frontal area than modern machines.  I suggest that it’d be a modest aerodynamic victory, even if European regulations have (probably) killed this design language forever. Or at least for a long time.

So what’s the key takeaway here?  We need more cars proportioned after tennis courts. What was big before isn’t so big these days.

Thanks for reading, have a lovely week.

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29 Comments on “Vellum Venom Vignette: The Emperor Has No Clothes...”

  • avatar

    And here I thought my 1980 Cadillac Fleetwood based S & S Hearse was big , I guess not so much after all .


  • avatar

    “Can you imagine if this Caddy had the bullet-like face of today’s ATS, but with the same elongated snout? It would be a seriously wind cheating land barge, slicing the air with less frontal area than modern machines.”

    It would then be a Dodge Daytona Charger or a Plymouth Superbird; complete with the XXXL spoiler in the back. I also prefer their functional air scoops on top of the fenders to today’s non-functional ones on the side.

    • 0 avatar

      Since the Daytona/Superbird spoiler was so high to clear the trunk lid, I can only imagine how high it would have to be to clear the massive trunk lid on on of these Caddy’s.

      Too bad so many new cars have a mail slot in comparison to try and stuff the trunk through.

      • 0 avatar

        And the functional scoops on top of the fenders were installed because the tires were rubbing the fenders at high speeds on the track.

        Cutting a hole in the top of the fender dealt with the rubbing, the scoop was just put on there to cover the hole.

        • 0 avatar

          I don’t remember were I read it, but I read that was a story they told to keep Ford off the real reason, that the whole in the top of the fender reduced drag because it gave the air in the wheel well some place to go.

          It is hard to say what all is true with these cars given the all out race Chrysler and Ford were into to beat each other at NASCAR.

  • avatar

    Weight, too. IIRC a bubble-era Caprice wagon or Roadmaster wagon has about the same curb weight as an AWD Cadillac CTS. My ’93 SE-R weighs about 2400 lbs., compared to the ca. 2800-3000 lbs. for most C-segment cars today.

  • avatar

    ” The Caddy looks even smaller because of a lower ride height…” I would venture to guess that this has as much to do with 43 years (The one in the pic is a 1970) of gravitational pull on the suspension system as it has to do with design

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed, it’s a 1970.
      The MDX is also closer to the camera. There are two right turn lanes, the Acura is in the outer lane.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed. The camera angle is deceiving. The Caddy is 225″ long, the F150 is 213″, the MDX 194″. Even the wheelbase is deceiving: ’70 Caddy=129.5″, MDX=111″, F150+126″. The big difference is the height: Caddy=59″, MDX=67.3 and F150=74.8. The width of all three is similar, with the Caddy widest at 79.8″.

        Having started driving in the ’60s and lusted after cars in the ’50s, I’ve notice a down-sizing of cars. The Toyotas, Nissans and Hondas of today are much bigger than the crackerboxes of the 1980s, but a mid-size in the late ’60s was over 200″ long with a 115″+ wheelbase, and 76″ width. That’s a full sized car today.

        The compact of 1970, the Dodge Dart, was the same length and wheelbase of the MDX, but 7″ narrower and 8″ shorter. After the ’60s decade of “longer, lower, wider”, only the height hasn’t returned to the late ’40s, early 1950’s. The visual impact of height really makes the difference – no wonder tall people get all the breaks!

        • 0 avatar

          When I’m parked next to a Corolla I’m looking up into it.

          • 0 avatar

            Really? So 43 years of gravity has taken a toll on the Cadillac, because the ’70 had a ground clearance of 5.9″ compared to a current Corolla’s 5.8″.

        • 0 avatar

          It seems the pendulum has swung back from the extremes.

          1957 Chevy Bel Air (full size car)
          Weight 3265 in.
          Length 200 in.
          Width 73.9 in.
          Height 61.5 in.
          Wheelbase 115 in.

          2014 Chevrolet Impala (full-size)
          Length: 201.3″
          Width: 73.0″
          Height: 58.9″
          Wheelbase: 111.7″

          Of course, compacts didn’t really exist in the line-up, so fast forward to a 1960 Corvair:
          Length: 180″
          Width: 66.9″
          Wheelbase: 107″

          Compare to a Cruze:

          Length: 181″
          Width: 70.7
          WHeelbase: 105.7″

          Basically, throughout the 60’s and early 70’s, sizes swung to one unsustainable extreme. The market overcompensated with another unsustainable extreme, and the car sizes have settled to right about where they were.

          • 0 avatar

            Hmm the designers seem to make a big deal about “pushing the wheels out to the corners” yet the new cars have more length and less wheelbase than the old cars. I realize it is likely due to FWD transverse drivetrain, but I wonder what else might be the reason for that. They seem to hide the overhangs better on new cars anyways.

    • 0 avatar

      Good point. Springs get saggy, but even with fresh springs, the extra 0.5-2″ of lift won’t change much in this discussion, relative to modern cars.

  • avatar

    It is, unfortunately for the Caddy, the shape of the nose, the roof line (windshield etc.) and the rear end that will hurt it’s aerodynamic figure. I am not sure how the width compares. The Caddy may be lower but it might be quite a bit wider than a modern car?
    You can’t compare any thing aerodynamically speaking, to the truck because it has all the aerodynamic properties of a parachute…

  • avatar

    CAFE regulations –> downsizing –> cars too small for families –> minivans –> oh, the horror –> SUVs –> bad fuel economy.

    Ironic, huh?

    • 0 avatar

      This. Americans (and, I wager many other peoples) know instinctively what size cars work for their roads/circumstances, and buy them, regardless of regulations or nomenclature. If the car they need is too much money, they buy it anyway, and keep it for longer.

  • avatar

    Sorry Sajeev, I think you’ve got a little bit of a logical fallacy going on in this article, although perhaps you’re looking at it differently than I am.

    Cars have indeed gotten smaller. Family sedans and luxury cars, at least. The absolute upper limit is still about the same-Lorenzo already mentioned that the Cadillac in the picture is 225″ long; that puts it in between a Yukon XL/Escalade ESV/Suburban and an Excursion-but compared to a modern luxury car like the S, the A8 or the 7, the Cadillac is considerably larger. Similarly, the family sedans of the ’60s like the Buick LeSabre are much longer than their modern equivalents-a 2013 Camry is 189″ long, a 1960 LeSabre (which stickered, inflation-adjusted, for about $20-25k, so it’s the same basic market segment) is 218″.

    The angle and perspective of the picture that Mr. Pollock sent you makes it difficult, if not impossible, to judge the relative sizes of the cars in the photograph; I’ll see if I can get a picture of my ’69 Sedan DeVille next to either a Yukon XL or a W221 S65. That’ll give you a better idea of the relative size of the car.

    • 0 avatar

      Another ’69 SDV owner on TTAC? I think these are gaining in popularity.
      Don’t know if you follow Curbside Classics, but here is the story of mine…¢-per-pound/

      • 0 avatar

        i follow CC sporadically, but I hadn’t seen that post. Clean car.

        I had a ’70 CDV for about 9 hours a few years ago; bought it in LA, was told the brakes had been completely gone through, started driving back to the bay area, lost the brakes at the top of the grapevine. I was not pleased. Took the car back, got my check back, called it done. I’ve thought about buying another one on and off since then, but never got around to it.

        I decided some time ago that I like the SDV more than the coupe, and that I prefer the ’69 to the ’70 (the little medallions on the front fenders on the ’70s bug me. A lot.), and I’ve been idly looking through ebay and stuff when I remember to for the past couple of years. I happened to find a ’69 sedan back in Illinois a few months ago that looked like it was in decent shape, had an indicated 40k on it that seemed to be accurate based on the condition of the interior, and-most importantly-was painted that metallic green color they had in ’69 and didn’t have a vinyl roof.

        I know better than to buy a car out of the midwest, but I like that color and I detest vinyl roofs, so I figured I’d risk it. I’d rather have a rusty (within reason) car that was optioned the way I want from the factory than a car that’s clean but the wrong color.

        It’s not as clean as a CA or AZ car of its age would be, but the rust that I can find under the car will come off with a wire brush, and the paint bubbling is pretty minimal and localized. And judging by how the car drives relative to other GM cars of the same era that I’ve owned and driven, I suspect that 40k number is, in fact, correct. I’m pretty happy with it.

    • 0 avatar

      But Sajeev is right, if you consider the majority of cars on America’s roads today – the Japanese makers. I had a 1983 Accord hatchback, with a peppy 75 HP engine. That’ll barely move a 2013 Accord out of its shadow.

      Likewise, my sister had a 1993 Sentra, and I had a much bigger compact 1995 Altima. Today the Sentra is the same size as the ’95 Altima, while the 2013 Altima is much bigger, the same size as the ’95 Maxima (and 2013 Maxima!). It’s only when you compare older American makes with their modern counterparts that you see considerable shrinkage from the late ’60s, and as afflo pointed out, that period was an anomaly. Compare older Toyotas, Hondas and Nissans to their current models and they’ve gotten huge.

      • 0 avatar

        I would guess that the ages of the majority of posters’ ages here range mainly from 30’s to 50’s. The “huge sedan/wagon” phase of the 1970’s would be fairly formative memories.

        For all the complaining, cars have never been better. We’re in a golden age of horsepower, and even the worst handling crapcans are better drivers cars than many “performance cars” of yesteryear. And that caddy – at least the modern SUV’s and crossovers DO something with their mass – an enclosed trunk is the worst possible design on a car.

        Wagons though – I have a weird thing for old wagons. I think it’s a mix of my parents Buick station wagon and the hearse from The Ghostbusters.

        The 190-200 inch car seems to be a sweet spot that the industry hits again and again. Big enough to hold a family of 4, small enough to fit in the garage or a cramped parking space.

    • 0 avatar

      While you have good points to my flawed posting, why are you only including lengths?

      Cars are growing in width/height/wheelbase/interior dimensions, and while they might not dwarf the Caddy like this picture, these modern machines are larger than most (all?) of their nameplate’s previous designs in the 1990s-1980s.

      And yes, send over that photo of your Caddy next to an SUV when you can. Much appreciated.

      • 0 avatar

        Well, that’s another problem with American makes. Remember the downsized 1980s Cadillacs? After the smog rules of the ’70s strangled the big V8s of the ’60s, Detroit downsized a bit too far. They’ve grown their cars since, as drive train technology advanced, turning our cars from wrenchable machines into computers.

        • 0 avatar

          theyre still wrenchable, and OBD2 scanners are cheap and more helpful that random guessing. pull the codes, get to googling.

          if you have a particular problem with a particular mak/model of car, google, web forums and youtube are always there to help point you in the right direction.

          what im saying is if YOU have a particular problem, thousands of others have probably had the same problem too, and posted about it… and the fix.

      • 0 avatar

        Oh, I only posted the lengths simply because I knew most of them off the top of my head and I didn’t really want to run around wikipedia and manufacturer’s websites and stuff looking up wheelbases, widths, etc. for a casual comparison. :)

        Both you and Lorenzo are absolutely correct about the ’80s and ’90s cars vs. now. That’s a discussion that I have with one of my BMW fanatic friends from time to time. The F30 3 series is a marginally bigger car than the E28 5 series was (182in long, 67in wide, 55.7in tall for the 5 vs. 182.0in long, 71.3in wide, 56.3in tall for the 3 [I even went to wikipedia and looked those up! :P]), and the SWB E32 7 series is juuuuust slightly smaller than the F10 5 series. This lineup of the various E-Classes that was posted on Jalopnik I-don’t-remember-when is pretty impressive, too:

        So yeah, I suppose it depends on how you look at it. The longest post-war production car sold in the US (and next on my list of cars to buy, specifically for that reason) is the ’73 Imperial, which is something like 9″ longer than an Excursion and a full foot longer than the Cadillac. Nothing anyone makes now really measures up (pardon the pun) to the size of that thing. But compared to what they were in the ’80s (or even earlier), cars like the Camry, the Accord, the E class and the 5 series have become absolutely enormous.

  • avatar

    If you want a Land Barge with the nose like an XTS check out the 1975/76 Laguna.
    It’s not quite as large as the Cad but it’s close.

    • 0 avatar
      Firestorm 500

      I had a 1974 Chevelle Laguna Type S-3 that I bought new.

      With a 454.

      It was not a land barge. The Colonnade cars back then were considered a mid-size car.

      The Caprices, LTDs, and Cadillac/98 Regencys were much bigger.

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