I've always had a thing for older cars, particularly Cadillacs. I love the styling, the comfort, the power (well, except for the days of the 4.1), and the technology. I've owned four of them starting with my first car, a 1993 Sedan deVille I got when I was 16. Currently I have a 1976 Fleetwood Brougham d'Elegance and a 1990 Allanté, both of which are undergoing restoration.
Color: Black exterior, black interior, black top
Powerplant: 8.2 liter (500 cubic inch) rear-drive carbureted V8 (190 horsepower, 360 ft-lbs torque before modifications)
Options: Brougham d'Elegance package, anti-lock rear brakes, limited slip differential, cruise control
Upgrades: Edelbrock carburetor and aluminum intake, improved exhaust, reworked ignition system
Status: Laid-up pending installation of new vinyl top
In the seventies, Cadillac divided their lineup into "family," "personal," and "executive" luxury cars (plus the "Euro-style" Seville and the economical Calais, but we don't talk about them). The two DeVilles (Sedan and Coupe) occupied the family luxury spot. The Eldorado occupied the personal luxury spot. For the executive luxury option, the 6000 pounds of excess called the Fleetwood Brougham was available. Just shy of 20 feet long and powered by an enormous 8.2 liter engine (that, in all fairness, was shared by most of the rest of the lineup), the Fleetwood was the perfect car for the type of person who had a valet, a last name like "Corleone," or oil wells in Texas.
The origin story for this car isn't anything special. It was originally sold in Texas (unsurprisingly) and somehow found its way to Tennessee, where the elderly widow of the original owner sold it after her children took her driver's license away from her. Truth be told, this is why a LOT of Cadillacs of this vintage were sold. I came across it in a bookstore parking lot and couldn't say no. It had 87,000 miles on the clock, although that's not really important because the Cadillac 500 engine and TH400 transmission are notoriously hard to kill, and had been immaculately maintained.
My Fleetwood has the d'Elegance package, so it has a velour-cushioned interior and padded vinyl top with opera lamps that I need to return to working condition. I'm currently in the middle of replacing the top and headliner with some high-quality reproductions from an upholstery place in Oregon. It also has the mechanical rear-only "Trackmaster" anti-lock braking system. It does not have the optional fuel injection system: roughly 1% of Cadillacs were ordered with it, so it's not something that it should really be expected. It also does not have the airbag which, 40+ years down the road, is probably a blessing.
I want to keep this car looking as original as possible, but the power output from the 500 in 1976 was just embarassing (to put it in perspective, the same engine made over 400 horsepower and 550 ft-lbs of torque when it was released for the Eldorado in 1970). To help remedy this, I've replaced the exhaust, carburertor, and done some intake work. I'm also building an Eldorado-spec 500 that's been overbored .040" that I hope to have installed in the car in the next couple years. Given the weight of the vehicle and the endless potential of the engine, I'd like to have at least 500 horsepower by the time I'm done, and this should be an obtainable goal.
Color: Maroon exterior, maroon interior, black top
Powerplant: 4.5 liter (275 cubic inch) front-drive port injection V8 (200 horsepower, 275 ft-lbs torque)
Options: None (see below)
Made In: Detroit, MI and Turin, Italy
Status: Alive and well!
The Allanté is one of the least-Cadillac-like cars Cadillac has ever made, in my opinion. A two-seat roadster from the company had been unheard of since at least before WWII (if they even made them then), but they were trying to attract a younger, professional customer base to offset their aging, often-retired typical customers of the time. Sadly, they went about it all wrong. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE this car, but there were some design decisions that were questionable at best. Most obvious is the decision to make the car front-wheel-drive. Most roadsters were not, but the Allanté is thanks to Cadillac policy and the economy-minded decision to use a modified Cadillac Eldorado frame instead of developing an entirely new platform. Less obvious is the round-trip trans-Atlantic flight each car took. Assembly was started in Hamtramck, MI (outside Detroit). The incomplete frames were flown to Turin, Italy where the bodies were hand-fitted at a Pinin Farina plant. The mostly-finished cars were then flown back to the United States for final assembly and sale. The Pinin Farina bodies were sharp but conservative and their styling has aged very well.
The Allanté is a technological and luxury wonder. It has an excellent fuel injection system, a nicely-tuned intake, speed-sensitive suspension (somehow mine still works properly), an advanced redundant lighting system that can compensate for a burned out bulb by activating other lights, the extremely capable (but maintenance-intensive) Bosch III anti-lock brake and traction control system, the fully-electronic GM F7 transmission (used only in the Allanté), great audio, comfortable yet supportive power and memory-enabled Recaro leather seats, and a funky but conservative top-of-the-1980s digital instrument cluster (image courtesy of Cadillac literature). All this coupled with the round-trip flight to Italy resulted in a price tag of well over $55,000 when the model was introduced in 1987. As a flagship car, the Allanté had no upgrades, but the digital dash and detachable hard top could be deleted to get the pricetag closer to $50,000. GM was only able to move a couple thousand units a year and supposedly lost money on every one that was sold.
In 1993, Cadillac introduced the Northstar System that included road-sensing suspension and a 4.6 liter, all-aluminum, DOHC V8. This system debuted in the Allanté and made the car more like the European roadsters it was designed to compete with, but it also lost some of its character. To save money, the brakes and seats were replaced with generic parts from other Cadillacs (specifically the Eldorado) and the redundant lighting system was removed. The sound system was also replaced with a less-premium version and the windows were redesigned, supposedly making the car a bit louder with the top down. This was the most successful year of sales with over 4,000 cars sold, but the model was killed off at the end of the year and the planned 1994 edition was never released.
One of the advantages of living in the south is that you occasionally find cool cars for cheap. So it was with my Allanté. I'd wanted one since I was old enough to drive, but figured it would never happen due to the car's rarity. Then I found the one that I now own, sitting in a car lot out in the country with a for sale sign in the window. It wasn't in an area where people are looking for roadsters and the owner didn't want to sell it online. $800 later, it was mine. A few hundred after that for fuel injectors, tires, and brake work and it was drivable, and it's everything I hoped it would be. It DOES have the world's ugliest wheels on it, but I'm planning on replacing those with a set of factory-style wheels when the current set of tires wears out.
Color: Purple exterior, purple interior
Powerplant: 6.0 liter (368 cubic inch) rear-drive throttle body injection L62 V8-6-4 (145 horsepower, 270 ft-lbs torque)
Options: d'Elegance package, sunroof
Cause of Death: Doomed from the start!
This car was never intended to be a driver. I bought it for $200 to teach myself more about cars, and for the most part succeeded. I did get it running and drove it a few times over a couple months, but it had been poorly maintained before I bought it and there was always more it needed. Ironically, the reason it was so cheap (leaking transmission fluid) was actually the easiest thing to fix: the transmission pan bolts were only finger-tight. On top of the that, the usually-troublesom V8-6-4 system worked perfectly. Beyond that, the thing was a trainwreck: the sunroof had been leaking at some point and was tarred shut, the speakers were all blown, the windshield wipers had a short somewhere and were constantly blowing fuses, the speedometer would only read either 0 or 15, and various warning lights were always randomly illuminating. My theory is that, before it was fixed, the leaking sunroof caused serious electrical damage.
The d'Elegance package meant the car had some extra luxury options. It had velour cushions on the seats, fancy reading lamps, (working) opera lights, and, by the time I bought it, the world's rattiest vinyl top. The whole car was purple throughout, which gave it a really strange "persona."
The most interesting thing about this car was the V8-6-4 system. To get better fuel economy out of large engines, Cadillac implemented a cylinder shutoff system that was only available for the 1981 model year. The outer two cylders on one bank and the inner two cylinders on the other contained solenoids over the rocker arms. Normally, the solenoids were in the "down" position and provided a central pivot for the rocker arms. When the system was activated, the solenoids would retract to the "up" position, removing the pivot point and causing the rocker arms to pivot on the tops of their respective valves, removing their ability to actually open the valves. Unfortunately, the system was widely-hated at the time: the computers available in 1981 were not powerful enough for it to reliably and seamlessly work, often leaving cars stuck in four-cylinder mode when full power was needed (e.g. when passing). To make it even worse, when in the intermediate six-cylinder mode, the engine felt extremely unbalanced and detracted from the ride quality. Many owners just had the system deactivated by their dealers; I was apparently extremely fortunate to get my hands on one that still worked.
This car is not entirely gone, however. I still have the front seats, cylinder shutoff solenoids, and "V8-6-4" badges. I don't particularly miss it, though. It was an educational experience, and while it was fun, I never really got attached.
Color: Black exterior, black interior
Powerplant: 4.9 liter (299 cubic inch) front-drive port injection V8 (200 horsepower, 275 ft-lbs torque)
Options: pretty much all of them except the sunroof (leather, digital dash, power seats, climate control, Bose audio, twilight sentinel, premium wheels)
Cause of Death: Age, apathy, and wear
I got this car when I was sixteen. Unfortunately, camera phones were not prevalent at the time and cloud storage was unheard of, so I don't have any surviving pictures of it. However, most of my memories are quite fond. With the exception of a friend's 1970 Ford Torino GT, it was the fastest thing at my high school (even if it may not have looked like it) and without a doubt the most comfortable. It has, to date, one of the smoothest power curves I've ever seen in a car: you had torque the second you pressed the gas, and you had it all the way up until the engine couldn't turn any faster. The 4.9 proved to be exceptionally reliable as well as more-than-sufficiently powerful. It also got decent fuel economy: depending on whether or not I needed air conditioning, I could get close to 30 MPG out of it on long trips. As a teenager, I didn't maintain it as well as I should have and it finally gave up with around 200,000 miles on the clock. It was technically repairable, but at the time it wouldn't have been economical. Looking back, I wish I had saved it anyway.