America: land of unlimited possibilities. Of course, not all roads lead to success.
Cardin Cadillac Eldorado Evolution I
French couture designer Pierre Cardin* was no stranger to dabbling in the automotive sector: in 1972 and 1973 AMC offered a specially upholstered version of the Javelin with his name on it. Not only the seats but also the doors and headliner were treated to a very seventies motif in white, silver, purple and orange on a black base. The famous couturier developed higher ambitions than just car interior upholstery packages and founded Pierre Cardin Automotive in 1980, holding office in New York’s World Trade Center. The first – and, as it would transpire, last – product by Cardin’s automotive arm was presented in 1981: the Cardin Evolution I.
Developed in collaboration with Cadillac, the Evolution I was a restyled and very opulently equipped variant of the then current E-body Cadillac Eldorado. Contrary to previous projects, Pierre Cardin had not limited himself only to modifying the interior – the exterior appearance of the car was also quite different from its Eldorado base, although it is unclear whether the actual styling really was by Pierre Cardin Automotive, or that Cardin had simply agreed with a design proposal from a source within GM or Cadillac.
The most eye-catching aspect of the Evolution I was undoubtedly an extended front clip that added eight inches to the nose length and resulted in an almost cartoonish amount of front overhang. Conversely, the handsome grille, with eight slim metal bars and hidden headlights, created a much cleaner visage when compared to that of the car on which it was based. A little borrowing from sister GM division Oldsmobile took place in the form of the front wings and bumper from the Toronado.
The rear of the car was also substantially changed and here the modifications could arguably have been declared an improvement. The vertical tail lights of the Eldorado were replaced by a slim full-width light bar, while the rest of the rear bodywork was mercifully free from unnecessary ornamentation. According to Cardin’s press release, the body of the Evolution I was finished with no less than twenty coats of the highest quality hand-buffed lacquer. Somewhat incongruous aerodynamic rear view mirrors and special wheelcovers with the Pierre Cardin logo completed the external transformation.
Luxury was the motto for the interior: seats, dashboard and doorpanels were upholstered in leather sourced from England. Even the headliner was leather, as was the inside of the glovebox. Genuine mahogany adorned the instrument panel and other parts of the interior. The floor was covered in English virgin wool carpet and there was a liberal sprinkling of 22-carat gold accents including, of course, the de rigeur individually numbered plaque.
In-car entertainment was provided by a stereo system with separate amplifiers, a graphic equalizer and digital displays. A small colour TV with video cassette player was mounted at the rear of the centre console. Hidden in the rear centre armrest was a refrigerated minibar with Waterford crystal glasses. A photochromatic sunroof that darkened as the sunlight grew stronger completed the package.
Mechanically, the Evolution I was unchanged. This meant it was powered by the infamous V8-6-4 six-litre engine with automatic cylinder deactivation. A good idea brought to market too soon, it was the source of numerous problems and further tarnished GM’s image in the wake of the recent V8 diesel fiasco. Koni shock absorbers and a re-tuned suspension that (quoting the press release) “provides a perfect balance between performance and luxury” were the sole technical modifications.
Cardin envisioned building a limited number of 300 Evolution I models per year but his fledgling company never came close to realising that goal: there are no exact figures available, but most sources peg the amount of cars sold at no more than 100 over the two years, 1981 and 1982.
Apart from the appearance, which was an acquired taste at the very least, the price of the Evolution I was simply too high, even when taking all its luxury equipment into account. Consider that a Cadillac Eldorado – not a cheap nor sparsly equipped vehicle to begin with – cost less than US $20,000 at the time: the Cardin Evolution I was about three times that amount, depending on the level of equipment specified.
One could leave the Mercedes-Benz showroom in a brand new 380SEC for about US $10,000 less or, for a similar outlay, be handed the keys to a BMW 635CSi, so it took a determined Cardin aficionado to choose the Evolution regardless, and there were simply not enough of those. After two years, the Evolution I was discontinued and, in 1984, Pierre Cardin Automotive ceased its activities.
AMC Javelin 79-K
Wilhelm Karmann GmbH has produced vehicles for several manufacturers of which Audi, Renault, Triumph and Nissan are just some examples. The Osnabrück based firm’s worldwide portfolio also included clients from the USA. Karmann built not only the Chrysler Crossfire between 2003 and 2008 but, many years before, a model for America’s longest surviving independent automaker, AMC.
In January 1969, Karmann started assembly of AMC’s entry in the ponycar class, the Javelin. Most Javelins assembled by Karmann were the well-equipped SST version. Engine-wise, there was a choice between the 3.8-litre straight six, or V8 powerplants with displacements of either 4.8 or 5.6 litres. The big 6.4-litre ‘390’ V8 available in the American version was not offered. A manual transmission was offered instead of the automatic, but only thirteen buyers checked that option box.
Named Javelin 79-K, the car was indentical to its stateside counterpart apart from the six unique colour choices. These were Old White, Cherry Red, Bahama Yellow, Pacific Blue, Bristol Grey and Irish Green. Inside, only a speedometer calibrated in km/h instead of mph gave the car’s different origin away.
The car was even treated to its own brochure, with glamorous photography at selected European locations. Changes in tax laws in many countries across Europe that resulted in cars with large displacement engines being heavily penalised caused AMC and Karmann to halt production of the Javelin 79-K in July 1970 after just 281 cars were completed.
Imperial Mobile Director Option
Not an odd car as such, but certainly an odd option. First shown in the Imperial ‘Mobile Executive’ concept car that did the rounds of the 1966 car shows on US soil, the Mobile Director option was an idea probably a bit too far ahead of its time and it was also hampered by a serious flaw. This option cost US $597.40 which was a pretty sum in 1967 dollars and represented about 10% of the price of the base vehicle.
The option package comprised a front passenger seat that could rotate 180 degrees so it faced rearwards, a centre armrest that could turn and fold out to a table mounted onto a chromed metal post and a desk lamp on a flexible stem that plugged into the rear cigar lighter. When not in use, the lamp was stored in the glove compartment. The idea behind all this was that a busy executive in the back could continue working on the go, for example dictating letters to be typed to his secretary who would be facing him on the rotated front seat.
There was, however, as indicated in the first paragraph, one enormous flaw that killed the whole idea: the option was only available on the two-door hardtop Imperial because, in the four-door models, the B pillar made a rotating front seat impossible. As the vast majority of executives who didn’t drive themselves naturally chose four door cars, this reduced the option to little more than a naive folly, which was reflected in its miniscule uptake.
Very few Imperials were ordered with the Mobile Director option: it is believed most orders were not from Chrysler Corporation’s target group but rather from dealerships that wanted to have something special to show to visiting prospective customers. However, even if the Mobile Director option would have been possible with the four-door model, it is doubtful whether it would have made much difference. Its price, although substantial, would not have been much of an impediment in higher end business use, and a reduction in price by nearly 50% for 1968 did not result in an increase in orders either. Perhaps the simple fact that a secretary sitting beside the businessman could take dictation just as efficiently is the Occam’s razor explanation here.
* Cardin was born in Italy, however.