Calais is more than just a Town in France.
Very recently I mentioned the Calais cloth in a Buick Electra 225 . That reminded me that a long time ago I thought I would explore the world of GM name references to France. Today I will deal with one town in France. It turns out that GM has quite a thing for Calais, applying the appellation to trim, car lines and whole models. We chart the rise and fall of the Calais name today.
We have already covered the 1961 Buick Electra 225s, a stable mate of the Invicta and LeSabre, which had “Calais” cloth. A little research showed evidence that the Calais region in France has long been known for textiles. The industry is still associated with the region even though the volume of production has declined. My guess is that personnel in GM’s colour and trim department were well aware of Calais’ tradition of textiles and may either have sourced the material in France (not likely) or found a material redolent of a French product (more likely). Knoll make a fabric named after Calais even today. It’s a velour. Returning back to our story, it seems that someone in GM liked the name and it returned on a whole car line.
That would be the Cadillac Calais, which GM made from 1966 to 1976, over two series. The Calais served as the lowest model in the Cadillac hierarchy. Typical of the time it could be had as a 4-door hardtop, 4-door sedan and 2 door hardtop (we in Europe offered cars as hatches, coupes, saloons, and estates). As a poverty model, the Calais initially had no leather option, you had to trade up a notch for that, but instead it had vinyl and cloth (making it overlap somewhat with higher Olds and Buick cars). The 1971-1976 car came in the same formats as the first series. Interestingly, GM seemed to be besotted with the possibilities of the upholstery for the second run. The trim included tartans (a weave), velours (tufted cloth), knits (knitted, obviously) and 11 leathers (not cloth at all). That really is quite a huge range and even more bewildering if you add the possible paint and roof-coverings and engines. None of this looked especially French. However, Cadillac is named after a French aristocrat who founded Detroit. More however, names ending in -ac are more prevalent in the the southern half of France where the district of Cadillac is found.
The Calais name took a bit of a vacation and then reappeared in the ‘eighties in a car that had no French connections at all. As we know from previous posts Olds had a line of cars and then a sub-range named Cutlass (Ciera, Supreme and Calais). One of the smaller Cutlass variants gained the “Calais” suffix before a short period of independence ensued. The Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais ran 1984 to 1991, but was the plain Calais from 1985 to 1987 before regaining its full boot-lid-spanning badge. The Cutlass Calais N-body car was related to the Buick Somerset, Buick Skylark and Pontiac GrandAm. As a front-wheel drive compact car the Cutlass Calais replaced the unloved Omega, available as 2 door coupe or 4-door saloon. To this day I don´t think anyone knew what GM were doing with the Cutlass family of Olds.
The Calais name, still lives, just. Holden use the name as a variant of the Commodore series which is about to end production. From 1984 Holden has sold the top-trim level Commodore as the Calais (imagine the Vauxhall Omega sold as a Vauxhall Elite). The current generation is
the Holden Calais V. Caradvice describes it: “vast and well-equipped cabin, keen handling, willing V6 fantastic transmission calibration, affordable to run….street presence”. They also say this: “The VFII also handles like a proper rear-drive sports sedan should. The electric steering in FE1 Calais V form is a little wooly on-centre, but beyond this, the turn-in, body control and composure, and balance levels are well beyond most mid-sized price rivals — especially if you leave the confines of the city for something more remote”. A little bit of research reveals the Holden is a development of the 2006-2016 Zeta platform which Holden designed when Opel gave up rear-drive cars. That makes the acute similarity to the FWD Insignia rather puzzling. As puzzling as the oblique references to a rather drab French town. Where will the Calais name crop up next?
[Further to intelligent observations by Sam the Eagle and Sean, I have amended the text to note the long association between Calais and textile production. Nov 1, 2016]