Driven to Write chanced upon a 1973 Cadillac Eldorado in NW Denmark.
David Bowie’s 1979 album, Lodger, is remarkable for a number of reasons. Among them is the scope of the record, which is partly a set of postcards back from the wider world, partly rather political (“Fantastic Voyage”, for example) and finally part social commentary. I’ve been listening to it since 1990 and haven’t tired of it.
One of the songs on the album is relevant to today’s car. “Repetition” is sung from the point of view of a dissatisfied and angry man, Johnny, who has come home late, hungry and enraged with his wife and probably his entire life. She will bear the brunt of Johnny’s rage and “the bruises won’t show if she wears long sleeves”. The song’s deadened vocals and falling note sequence captures the numbness of Johnny’s wife.
This Eldorado seems to be the kind of Cadillac I imagine Johnny would have bought “if the school had taught him right”. Johnny is probably getting by in a ’70 Plymouth but he aspires to more and this is what he aspires to, a car like this ’73 Eldorado. For a long time Cadillac has been a car for those seeking to display status.
For David Bowie’s character this is the kind of Cadillac that would help assure him of his place in the world. It’s a 1973 but by 1979 it would have been very much an outdated, grotesque reminder of the days before inflation and the oil crisis years – just the sort of hard-to-sell, devalued barge a status-sensitive man like Johnny can’t even afford on his wages from Harlington Meat Packers. Although not explicit in the song, I imagine Johnny isn’t aspiring to a new Cadillac but one that’s had two owners. That’s how far down he is.
Taking a close look at this example we find a vehicle which looks striking from about 20 metres. An examination at 40 cm makes it apparent that Cadillac were selling width and length but not quality. The interior is staggeringly cramped. Imagine a VW Polo as wide as Mercedes S-Class. And for all its padded extravagance it does not look as if you’d want to spend long in the back. There’s no arm-rest. It’s as bare as a Caprice. It seems
very much as if little but features separate this from a Chevrolet or Buick from the same period.
The Eldorado is not tidily built even by the standards of the time. The chrome on the windows is more or less banged on as if the assembly concept was conceived by a woodworker. I had a close stare at the headlamps. The sculpture and the shut-lines don’t gel. There’s supposed to be a rectangular, projecting surface upon which the lamps sit but the huge gap between the bonnet and the lower frontal parts obliterates this.
You could imagine this looking good as a single piece of sculpted clay in a studio. And then the design was sent to the production engineers and savaged in the name of practicality.
Our theme of the month is engines. This loopy land-yacht packs an 8.2 litre V8 engine producing 175 KW or 238 HP (less than Opel’s 2.0 Ecotec turbo unit does in 2014). Amazingly, this vehicle is front-wheel drive. Seldom has the gap between engineering principle and aesthetics been so great although at times GM really has tried to beat its own records on that score.
Cadillac was the last division of GM to retain its own design of V8.