This weekend, the 2010 Cadillac & LaSalle Club Grand National event, hosted by the Cadillac Club of Kansas City, was held in Overland Park, Kan. The Doubletree Hotel near Corporate Woods was loaded with some of the finest examples of GM’s flagship brand in the country.
In the first part of this story, we studied the opulent Cadillacs from the first 60 years of the company’s existence. In this segment, we’ll look at the more restrained cars from 1961 and on-up-through the 1980s.
We chose 1961 because this was a transitional year for Cadillac styling. Harley Earl, Cadillac’s legendary design chief, retired in 1958. His successor, Bill Mitchell, was a big fan of clean lines and simple elegance. Of course, the 1959 Cadillac was among the most gloriously garish vehicles ever conceived, but Mitchell’s influence started to show with the slightly less overwrought ’60 model, and was even further realized with the completely redesigned ’61.
Throughout the early 1960s, the fins got smaller, the chrome got lighter, and the designs became simpler. By 1965, the fins were completely gone. A new Mitchell-designed front-wheel-drive Eldorado debuted for the 1967 model year, and the clean, contemporary design of that car is still considered a masterpiece today.
Cars of the 1970s, and Cadillacs in particular, seem to get a bad rap these days. The arguments stem from the ideas that they’re either too big and boaty, or they are completely lacking of quality. To the first point, Cadillacs did get pretty big and boaty in the 1970s. But as far as the claim that they lacked quality, the proof is not there.
Looking at the later model cars at the Grand National event revealed a trend of high-quality materials and innovative ideas. Rich leather interiors, plush carpeting, heavy chrome knobs, and delicate details were motivated by some of the largest, most indulgent powerplants ever installed under a car hood.
Many consider 1967 a banner year for the Eldorado. Author photo
What did hurt Cadillac, and really the auto industry as a whole, was the fact that even though people craved and were willing to buy large, safe, comfortable vehicles, governmental fuel regulations stretched the limitations of these platforms. Those big engines that people came to expect were bogged down with vacuum lines, restrictive exhaust, AIR pumps, underdeveloped fuel injection systems, and catalytic converters. Power decreased, and so did public perception.
Eventually, the 1970s brought about a much smaller rear-wheel-drive Deville and Fleetwood in 1977, a smaller Eldorado in 1979, and a smaller-sized, electronically fuel-injected Seville in 1976.
The early 1980s brought restyled versions of the late ’70s offerings. The big full-framed cars received the now infamous V-8-6-4 variable displacement, 368-c.i. V8 for the 1981 model year. The theory was that during highway cruising, the engine may only need four-cylinders. A light load might kick in six. And a full-throttle run would require all eight lungs. This was revolutionary technology in 1981. Unfortunately, with the know-how in place at that point in history, it wasn’t quite ready for prime time. The transition between cylinder activation wasn’t exactly seamless, and customers complained about that set-ups performance.
The V-8-6-4 was gone after 1982 though, and Cadillac soldiered on without too many changes. The cars were still unlike anything else on the market. They were starting to show their age, but they continued the tradition of smooth, quiet luxury that Cadillac was known for.
Maybe the worst hit to Cadillac’s reputation came in 1982 with the introduction of the Cimarron. Basically, this was a highly loaded version of the Chevrolet Cavalier, but the price tag was about double. Not too many people were fooled, and in the end, it did more harm than good.
Cadillac continued to build the large, rear-wheel drive Fleetwood through the 1987 model year, but a much smaller front-wheel-drive Deville arrived in 1985, and a significantly downsized Eldorado/Seville hit in 1986. By ’88, the true big, full-frame Cadillacs were gone. They made one last stint from 1993-1996 with a full-sized Fleetwood, and then faded into history forever.
Cadillac really got into their grove by the mid-1990s, and sharp, precision cars, a powerful Northstar V8 engine, and significant styling and quality improvements gave back some of the cache that was lost in the late 80s. Today, GM’s flagship continues to build world class cars, like the highly regarded CTS-V. With a history that spans more than 100 years, the “Standard of the World” forges on with cars that people still dream of owning one day. It’s a formula that worked in 1902, and it’s a formula that is still going strong today.
ALSO SEE PART 1: CADILLACS FROM 1960 AND OLDER AT THIS LINK
CLICK ON THE SLIDESHOW BELOW TO SEE MORE PHOTOS OF CADILLACS, 1961 AND NEWER, FROM THE 2010 CADILLAC GRAND NATIONAL CONVENTION IN OVERLAND PARK.
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