The Man Who Listened Quite Carefully To Things

The standard of the world. That’s what they called Cadillac. Details like this ashtray console in the rear passenger door would be the kind of thing supporting the idea of Cadillac’s general excellence…

ashtray closed

You could land a helicopter on that surface. It has its own cigar lighter and is also home to the electric window control. Apart from that it’s made out of metal too: some pieces are cast and some are stamped. The effect is to make one wish to take a back seat and ride through town in a haze of cigar fumes, preferably Wuhrmann Habana Feus, please.

Ashtray opened

Events conspired to make it impossible to photograph the driver’s ashtray. This because the car lived in a big barn with only partial lighting. I’d planned to move the car out into the daylight but the automated mechanism that should have freed the park brake took a holiday, leaving the car running and straining to reverse but not rolling an inch. The fumes stank.

A verbal description of the driver’s ashtray and a stock photo follow:

1962 Cadillac De Ville Park Lane: source

You can see a black cylindrical surface running from right to left starting at the vent on the right. There is a highlight which is interrupted. One of those interruptions is where the drop-drown glove box is. Another one is the drop-down horizontally-hinged ashtray which has rolled sheet steel for its outer shell and more pressed steel inside. It didn’t move too smoothly.

Even with a flattened rope-flange to soften the edge it fouled with the adjacent glove box lid. As a concept it was magnificent, a deep and wide cavern ready for at least sixty cigarettes or one day of Archie Vicar’s consumption. The rear ashtrays are not that generous, though of undoubtedly high quality.

Like other American cars of the time, the space is across the car, rather than from front to back, despite the humongous length. Although I would not call the rear compartment cramped, it is strangely like a waiting room sofa to sit on: a big seat which extends without deviation from side to side and you are perched upright. There is no set place to sit, no bucketing.

The same goes for the seat back: another continuous projection of a single curve from one door to the other. I suppose one could seat four people back there. If just two then they’ll float about either side of the rear centre armrest if the driving gets spirited. Even if not, the only thing holding one in place is the sink of the seating.

To be fair, Mercedes and other cars of the period have similarly simplistic chairs. Alfa Romeo and Jaguar’s bucket seats for rear passengers must have seemed very daring. Look again at this marvel, one of Alfa Romeo’s masterpieces. Sod the engines and handling, check out the comfort of that little aedicule:

1972 Alfa Romeo 2000 rear seats.

Not having sat in on of these 1960s Cadillacs before, I noticed the driving position felt odd: upright back, splayed legs and the steering wheel very close to my chest. The whole front chair moved by electric motors, by the way.

1970 Jaguar XJ6 4.2:

The doors are frameless and there’s a rear-centre arm-rest. It is a Cadillac after all. To drive, I can only guess: start it up, roll slowly onto the road and waft gently while the 8-cylinder engine (5.7 or 6.0 litres) drag along its two tonne heft.

This model was the Park Avenue variant of the Cadillac DeVille, meaning it had a boot that was a foot shorter than the standard car. Bill Mitchell oversaw the styling.

I will return to the exterior and the topic of steel pressings at a later time.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

8 thoughts on “The Man Who Listened Quite Carefully To Things”

  1. Before the mandatory wearing of seat belts, the wide bench seated car was the people carrier of choice. I remember as a child getting a lift in the back of a Vauxhall Cresta PC. The flat wide shiny vinyl seat combined with prodigious roll angles and over exuberant driving had me sliding violently from side to side which gave me irrepressible giggles.

  2. Ah, one of the many reasons for adoring this website, details!
    I’m imagining Cletus Jr III on his way to work, the main branch of Chowder & Cletus Bank no less in the heart of Wyoming, probably and him telling chauffeur Anderson to stop off at the next 7-11 for “more of those see-gars”
    As for spirited driving, I’m having trouble with that image. I have more “lolling” or “pinball wizard “ effect.
    Can’t wait for more on this, Richard!

    1. Thanks very much indeed. We do aim to please out readership in many ways.

      While your image is amusing might I suggest that it´s revised in the light of the Park Avenue´s purpose in life. As a shorter version of the Deville or De Ville GM intended it to serve urban areas like New York. Hence the name. They thought that loppig off a foot of car would make it a little easier to park in the inner cities. I imagine the car had owners with names like Halifax, Eastbridge and Van Aarpel. Maybe they owners were Boston brahmins too. The car for Cletus is more likely to be a truck by Ford or Chevrolet. I looked up the name. It´s of Greek origin. Why this kind of name has gained the resonance it has not something I wish to delve into.

  3. Cletus was the first American style name that came to me. I have no idea as to why. But I bow to your better judgment and can now see how this smaller vehicle would draw attention from a Halifax or an Eastbridge.
    Now, sir; more flattened rope flange, if you will.

    1. I thought you meant Cletus as in a Firstname not a Lastname. Still, a good name’s choice with a riveting side story.
      Dwayne would’ve probably been my first thought but it may have a ‘common as muck’ halo to it that does not befit the driver of such a classy vehicle.

  4. I’m guessing that if the Cadillac design staff had by sheer prescience known that their car would be judged by an ashtray fetishist 56 years later, they’d have managed to make the edges from something other than old rope that frays, its original function to eliminate rattles in the closed position when pressed against the dash. Still, a pair of scissors, a bit of a snip and you’re off to the races in 2018. You missed the Twilight Sentinel perched up on the dash. No crummy floor-mounted dipper-clickers for Cadillac customers unless they wanted it. Automatic.

    I expect the parking brake is stuffed due to that most technical of reasons, a rusty cable. And the mighty Caddy 390 V8 is no mere 6 litre jobby. 6.4 is more like it, but why bother looking it up when a guess will suffice? It had air-conditioning as well, a term 99.5% of Brits had never even heard of in 1962. At least lap-belts were standard in 1962, which use tends to hold one in place if, in those far-off times, people could be persuaded to use them; likely not based on my memory. The front centre arm rest can be deployed for holding passengers in place if all else fails. What? Yours doesn’t have one? See link belowfor decent photos. It wasn’t until two years later I experienced Volvo 3 point belts myself, and got Irvine lap belts installed in my Mum’s Anglia Super. But by 1964, Cadillac had tilt and telescope steering columns and it was collapsible even in the featured car, beating angelic Volvo to that particular punch.

    The real problem with all these giant old Detroit-mobiles that persisted up until 1980 and even later was the lack of front toe-room. The firewall was never shaped to maximize it, just being a flat sheet. Consequently, if a shortish driver set the bench seat forward to drive, the normal-sized front passenger was squashed by the bench seat into unnatural positions. Ask me how I know! Our 1959 Ford Consul suffered the exact same design flaw. Since its seats were covered in Dagenhide, a rare vinyl found only along the marshy northern Essex shore of the Thames estuary, the Consul’s seats were not supple and yet amazingly slippery at one and the same time, and not an armrest in view. It also had vacuum wipers for that heart-in-your-mouth feeling roaring uphill in a rainstorm, a Ford staple that GM eschewed.

    Let’s not judge such an ancient car by today’s standards – I wouldn’t have even known it was a ’62 if not for one photo caption, since the text never mentions it.

    1. It´s worse than that, Bill. I checked the engines for this car and managed to forget to remember the data when typing it in here. The figure you quote is for the “smaller” engine. There was a 7.0 litre as well. In my defence “1962” appears in the caption for the photograph.
      By rope flange I meant an edge consisting of the steel rolled around a tool to give it a cylindrical shape (of no more than 2 or 3 mm diameter) which is flattened to make a kind of cuff. That makes it stiffer and creates a smooth instead of cut edge. No actual rope is harmed in the process of doing thist.
      I get the impression you think I didn´t approve of the car – that´s probably based on my remarks on the seats though I did say this was not unusual for the time. Overall, I wished to convey the visual interest and considerable charm of the car. It´s profligate fuel consumption can not be judged by our times’ concerns.
      Does anyone care to suggest why Detroit made do with so few engines, then and now? It is parsimony and cynicism or some other, nobler reason? Having a V8 of big and even bigger seems like a choice of too much and way too much: no choice at all.

  5. The rear seating is one of the better features of my Rover P5B Coupe – large, individually shaped rear seats, central armrest, picnic tray, glass holders, rear reading lights, separate rear heater with rear-passenger heater and radio controls, and a large, illuminated rear ashtray and cigar lighter. The lack of knee-room is a slight issue, but the other details make-up for that.

    Unfortunately I’m the only one in our household that will drive the car, so I have to sit in the back of the garaged car and imagine I’m being chauffered to a meeting of the Board of Acme Forgings Ltd, somewhere outside Birmingham circa 1968, to discuss the proposed merger with Brunswick Pressings Ltd.

    Harold Wilson’s P5B was modified with a holder in the rear armrest for his pipe and matches.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: