Saturday, November 18, 2017

1981 Cadillac Coupe deVille V6 - Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

Prior to government-mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economy or "CAFE" standards, the old adage about a Cadillac being able to pass everything except a gas station was met with a chuckle and their owners got a slap on the back "attah boy". Miserable gas mileage was as much a part of the Cadillac ownership experience as was the pride of ownership felt when the valet at La Grenouille parked it out front. The notion, then, of a fuel efficient Cadillac made as much sense as a  low-calorie menu at that French restaurant; if you can afford a Cadillac you can certainly afford the gas it's going to use. However, because of CAFE, Cadillac was painted with the same hard brush the rest of GM's divisions were.

CAFE, or "Corporate Average Fuel Economy", a direct result of the 1973 OPEC embargo that doubled the price of a gallon of gas, requires even to this day that The Big Three literally have a gas mileage average for all vehicles sold in the United States.  If they don't achieve a certain number they face hefty fines. Prior to CAFE fuel economy was a concern of some buyers and The Big Three had "economy models" but there were no government edicts regarding mileage. Beginning in 1978 the government's CAFE requirement was 18 miles per gallon, 19 in 1979, 20 for 1980 and a seemingly unobtainable 22 miles per gallon for 1981. CAFE for new models sold is currently 39 miles per gallon for cars.  Hence the number of electric vehicles and hybrids sold today.

As the CAFE standards increased, Cadillac resorted to some drastic measures. For 1979 Cadillac's were offered with an Oldsmobile built diesel V-8, in 1980 they downsized the gas V-8 they built that was exclusive to Cadillac and then fitted it with fuel injection and displacement on demand (V8-6-4) for 1981. Additionally for 1981, as a "credit option", Cadillac offered a Buick built, 252 cubic inch, or 4.1 liter, V-6 engine. A credit option meaning that Cadillac would literally pay customers to buy a car with the V-6.

Ironies of ironies, while the Buick V-6 was offered as a means to improve gas mileage it actually was the best engine you get in a Cadillac those two years. At least in terms of reliability and lack of returns to dealership service departments for recalls. The "V6 4.1" offered in 1981 and 1982 Cadillacs, a long stroke version of the venerable Buick 231 cubic inch or 3.8 liter V-6 that had been around in some form or another since 1962, was also used on a number of Buicks, Oldsmobiles and even some Pontiac models. Our Cadillac subject is a 1981 Coupe deVille.

To say I hated these cars when they were new is a bit of an overstatement, it was more like they made me sad because they were not what I wanted them to be. That being traditional Cadillac's with big, powerful albeit thirsty "Cadillac V-8" engines. 

I also felt these V-6 Cadillac's were prime examples of the America that I was coming of age in. An America that was punch drunk from the Vietnam War, Watergate, two gas crisis's, and a double dip recession. It was an America that seemingly couldn't do anything right or get anything done and underpowered Cadillac's, to me at least, personified everything that was wrong or going wrong. What with the rocky childhood that I experienced, I didn't just agree with President Carter's "Malaise Speech", I was living the dream.

While things did improve for the country, it's taken decades for Cadillac to even appear to be improving. Cadillac discontinued offering the Buick V-6 after 1982, debatable that that was a good idea or not seeing that left buyers with only the unreliable Olds "350" diesel or the HT4100. Cadillac did make a step in the right direction in 1986 when they dropped the diesel and HT4100 for the Oldsmobile 307 gasoline V-8 in their "traditional" rear wheel drive sedans. A little too little too late.

However, by 1986, Cadillac's reputation had been pulverized by the Olds diesel and HT4100. To say nothing of offering makes and models seriously out of step with what (then) young, affluent buyers wanted to drive. In many ways they're still digging out from crater they dug for themselves back in the 1980's. Again, quite ironic that off all the things Cadillac did wrong years ago, offering the Buick V-6 was one of the few things they actually did right.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

1979 Pontiac Parisienne - Royale With Cheese

Just like the little differences in Europe, it's the little differences north of the border that are different from down here. For instance, in Canada they use the metric system and they have two "official" languages, English and French. The fact that French is spoken up there the reason why Buick calls their Lacrosse "Allure" in Canada. "Lacrosse", apparently, is a French-Canadian slang term for masturbation. Take note, Louis C.K. And just like Canadian football, the GM of Canada built Pontiac Parisienne sure looked like a Pontiac Bonneville but it's not.
The Pontiac Parisienne might be a familiar nameplate to those who recall the 1983-1986 Parisienne that was sold "down here". However, Pontiac of Canada, which was part of GM of Canada which in and of itself is an independent subsidiary of General Motors, built a Parisienne for nearly thirty years before putting the nameplate to pasture after 1986. Finding a 1979 Parisienne for sale down here might be because of the proximity of northern Ohio to Canada. For certain, I've never seen one of these before in any other part of the country. Again, those that don't know how unique this car is might just think it's a rebadged Bonneville like the Buick Lacrosse is badged Allure in Canada. In reality, though, it's not.
The Pontiac Parisienne was a Pontiac of Canada full size car that used Chevrolet running gear.  No doubt this car has an interesting past as it was never sold new in this country and knowing what I know about registering foreign cars in this country, there's a ton of paperwork that goes along with this car as well. Much like opening once sealed documents, it doesn't matter much now but on cars less than twenty five years old, it's easier for a Canadian to become a U.S. citizen than it is to "federalize" an automobile.
The federalizing of this car might help to explain why it has only 17,000 miles on it. That process can take forever and if this car was sold to someone down here who couldn't get it registered, it probably sat for years. Odometers years ago topped out a 99,999 so usually a claim of "only" so many miles on a car this old would be met with raised eyebrows however, judging by the overall shape of this thing, that boast would appear to be true. Check out this dreadful dash layout. No, this is not a Pontiac of Canada thing either - all 1977-1981 Pontiac B bodies, domestic and foreign built, had dashes laid out this way. When Pontiac started selling Parisienne's down here in 1983, thankfully, this dashboard was redesigned.
While General Motors did disclose that some of the parts of their cars where made by other GM divisions, they did so subtly after getting nailed for not doing so at all, Pontiac of Canada never made any bones about the fact that their cars were powered by engines built by Chevrolet. Eagle eyed engine spotters will point out that below that rats nest of hoses and wires lies a Chevrolet 305 and not the Pontiac 350 that you'd find under the hood of a similar Bonneville sold down here. A Chevrolet 305 with a two barrel making 130 horsepower.
The long, not so sordid tale of why this car is what it is, would make more obvious sense if this car was built in a foreign country that wasn't contiguous to the "Lower 48". The reality, again, is that GM of Canada is for all intents and purposes is a separate company from "GM of America". In the restaurant business, GM of Canada would be a franchisee that was allowed to do things differently than the parent company. GM of Canada bought parts from General Motors and assembled them as they literally saw fit. They bought Chevrolet's because they were less expensive than Pontiac's but festooned said Chevrolet's with Pontiac baubles and bits.
To make matters somewhat more confusing, from 1983-1986, down here, Pontiac sold the Canadian built, Chevrolet parts bin sourced Parisienne. They did so because, allegedly, after Pontiac discontinued their full size Bonneville and Catalina after 1981, the Pontiac dealership network protested that they didn't have a full size car to sell. With the Pontiac plant that built Bonnevilles and Catalina's already repurposed, Pontiac bought Parisiennes from Pontiac of Canada and sold them down here. They didn't bother rebadging them as Bonnevilles because starting in 1982, Pontiac starting labeling their mid size sedans as Bonnevilles.
If you're getting the same feeling that we've gotten that GM was making product planning decisions  in the huddle, I don't think we're far off the mark. By the way, our lovely Canadian Pontiac here is for sale about an hour or so south of bucolic downtown Cleveland Ohio for a nearly $8,000. American. Wow. That could buy a lot of hockey pucks. If you're interested, here's the listing. Split a Royale with Cheese with you if you're interested too.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

1986 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham - No One Cares

Years ago, all of General Motors divisions were responsible designing, engineering and manufacturing their own engines. While they shared ancillary parts like air conditioning compressors, carburetors, alternators, generators, distributors and what not, by and large, a Cadillac V-8 for all intents and purposes was as different from a Pontiac V-8 as it was from a Ford or Chrysler V-8. Even when all the displacements of various GM engines, with the exception of Cadillac, were identical, the engines were different; an Olds 350 sharing nothing internally with a Buick 350 and so on.

It all was part of GM's brand essence and helped to differentiate the myriad makes and models from each other. They all looked very similar did they not? What's more, often times General Motors would market one division's engines as superior to another's and, subsequently, charge more for them. Back in the '50's, that may have been true to a point. In 1950, Chevrolet's only came with a six, Pontiac used flat head sixes and eights, Buick used an overhead valve in line eight. Olds and Cadillac used overhead valve V-8's that were similar in design but as different as a Chevy 350 would later be from a Pontiac 350.

Fast forward to the 1970's when GM started putting Chevrolet 350's in Oldsmobiles. They claimed a shortage of Oldsmobiles "Rockets" and used Chevrolet engines instead. Problem was, not only did they not tell buyers that their Olds had a Chevy engine, they charged more for the Chevy engine in an Olds than they did in the Chevrolet. GM then had a good old fashioned self-inflicted public relations shit storm on their hands and it cost them not only millions of dollars but their gleaming image was badly dented. It didn't really matter of course since the Chevy engine was just as good as the Olds, I've always thought them better, but you can't blame the public for going nuts over something that GM drilled into their skulls as important in the first place. Especially when you're charging more for it.

I always thought it rather ironic, then,  that starting in 1986, Cadillac fitted their "Fleetwood Brougham" with an Oldsmobile 307 V-8 after decades upon decades of using their own V-8 engines. Yes, the 1976 Cadillac Seville used an Olds 350 but with its port fuel injection being exclusive to Cadillac, you could argue that it was a "Cadillac 350". Not only that, since Cadillac disclosed the use of an Olds engine in the 1986 Fleetwood Brougham, as quiet as that was as opposed to all but covering it up like they did in 1977, it confirmed my long-held belief that back in the day all of the hand ringing that GM did with all of their division exclusive engines was a waste of time. The buying public could not have cared less.

The 1986 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham was also quite interesting since Cadillac even built it in the first place. With Cadillac's focus being on their new for 1985 front wheel drive H body deVille and Fleetwood (note, not Fleetwood Brougham) not to mention the new for 1986 mini-Eldorado, the Fleetwood Brougham was decidedly "old school" even back then. What's more, the Oldsmobile 307 (5.0 LITER) it had used a Rochester Quadra-Jet as opposed to fuel injection like all other Cadillac models. Even the 1985 Fleetwood Brougham had fuel injection albeit it was on top of an HT4100.

Cadillac continued to build a rear wheel drive, body on frame sedan for two reasons. Firstly and leastly, to appease disenfranchised Cadillac buyers who were abhorrent to the new front wheel drive deVille and Fleetwood. More importantly, Cadillac was not about to turnover the entire fleet service industry pie to Ford.

Much to General Motor's surprise, above and beyond fleet sales, the 1986 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham sold quite well. So much so that Cadillac continued to sell it through 1992 virtually unchanged. After 1987 this car became known as just "Brougham". After 1990, the Oldsmobile 307 was replaced by, of all things, a Chevrolet 350. And guess what? No one cared.

Today, GM's divisions, what's left of them anyway, all share engines. The turbocharged 2.0 liter in four found in a Cadillac ATS is the same engine you'll find in a Chevrolet Malibu; albeit adopted for front wheel drive in the Malibu. The 3.6 liter V-6 in a Buick Lacrosse the same you'd find in an Impala.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

1981 Cadillac Coupe deVille V8-6-4 - Arm Chair Quarterback

By 1981, GM, Ford and Chrysler were using using microprocessors to help their new vehicles meet ever more stringent federally mandated emissions and fuel economy standards. Through a series of sensors detecting throttle position, coolant temperature, manifold pressure and RPM, these primitive analog computers did an admirable job of helping The Big Three achieve government requirements.  That doesn't mean these early computer-controlled automobiles actually ran very well. 

Cadillac, naturally if not arrogantly, took things several steps further and had GM's "Computer Command Control" manage not only emissions control but fuel injection; all other GM divisions were still using carburetors. What's more, a fuel injection system that would control the operation of cylinder banks on their large V-8 engine to help Cadillac improve fuel economy. Essentially a cylinder deactivation or displacement on demand system they called, "V8-6-4". 

Depending on vehicle load, the engine would use four, six or as many as eight of its cylinders. Solenoids engaged blocker plates that stopped the rocker arms from engaging the intake and exhaust valves. Air was pumped into the cylinders not being used to cushion any sensation of a misfire. Cadillac claimed a 15 % fuel economy increase for the V8-6-4 compared to the same engine without it. Back in the early 1980's going from 14 miles per gallon to almost 17 being cause for celebration. 

Now, if GM cars with "Computer Command Control" that had a carburetor had idled strangely and stumbled and hesitated when accelerating, imagine how poorly a far more complex fuel injected car ran. Not only that, but a fuel injected car where banks of cylinders turned on and off. Mechanically, the engine was fine; it was the "Computer Command Control" that couldn't keep up with myriad driving scenarios regardless of the fact that GM claimed the computer could handle up to 300,000 calculations per second. 

Note the very tall valve covers on the V8-6-4; extra room for the blocker plates to move up and down. The solenoids that triggered them are on top of the valve covers. 

Displacement on demand or cylinder modulation is fairly commonplace today and even today's engines stumble or vibrate somewhat going between cylinder modes. Again, with the computing power of the early GM computers, the V8-6-4 didn't just stumble between modes, it all but tripped and fell down. The V8-6-4 got stuck in four or six-cylinder mode, made the engine vibrate harshly and at worst the engines would not start at all. A deluge of recalls to fix the problems became a public relations nightmare for Cadillac and General Motors. To make matters worse, the V8-6-4 was the standard engine on all deVilles and Fleetwoods for 1981. That was a lot of recalls. 

Customers either had the V8-6-4 disabled, the entire system removed and replaced with a carburetor or the "Computer Command Control" reflashed and updated. Either way, it made for an expensive day at the office for Cadillac and General Motors. Our painfully original subject here still has her V8-6-4 system and the seller of this car claims it runs very well. I wasn't about to ask questions about whether it was still hooked up or if the computer had been updated. Some things are best to speculate about. Most "V8-6-4" Cadillacs from back in the day that I knew had the system "turned off". Apparently, turning it off was as simple as disabling the solenoids on top of the valve covers. 

Interestingly, Cadillac did not develop the V8-6-4 further. Instead, they replaced the engine with something arguably worse, the aluminum block, iron head, "HT4100". Why they didn't simply use Oldsmobile's unspectacular but bulletproof 307 engine in these cars or, heaven forbid, the Chevrolet 305, is anyone's guess. While it's easy to armchair quarterback thirty-six years later as to what Cadillac should have done, it's impossible to say with any certainty that what they should have done would have been any better than what they did. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

2001 Cadillac Eldroado - The Aging Process

This past weekend I stumbled across this 2001 Cadillac Eldorado Touring Coupe only to be stung by my 20-year-old son's admonition that not only did this car "not look like a Cadillac", but that it just looked "old". Not "old man car" old like his mother chastises me about with regards to my taste in older Detroit iron but just "old". He also didn't see anything cool or alluring about it. I can't argue with that sentiment seeing this car is 16 going on 17 years old but the fact that he didn't see anything in it that I did tells me that I may not be as young and hip to the ways of the young as I may think that I am. Or was.

My son saying this car was old, and not in a good way really took me by surprise since we tend to have similar taste in automobiles. I, for one, still think these cars as fresh and new looking as the day they were first new; even if that was twenty-five years ago. Cadillac changing little on these cars through its elongated production cycle from 1992 through 2002. I guess I got this one totally wrong. Not that I'd buy this car to make him happy, if he actually liked it, but having his thumbs up certainly makes the decision-making process a whole lot easier. I'm not someone who is impulsive about "wants"; my pragmatic side wins out 99% of the time. 

Now, granted, Cadillac has never been a brand for young people but they have done a spectacular job in the last ten to fifteen years or so of becoming an aspirational brand for young people. Pretty heady stuff when you think about it considering how far off the mark Cadillac was years ago. For certain, when I was my son's age, I was the exception to the rule; young people didn't aspire to own a Cadillac because "Cadillac" was for old people.

Which is ironic considering that Cadillac's renaissance really began in earnest with the introduction of this car and it's four-door stablemate, the 1992 Seville. Their renaissance being that after years of being exclusively a brand for "blue hairs", Cadillac was suddenly a brand that younger buyers would consider purchasing. At least in theory. In practice, this car got laughed off the court by BMW and Mercedes but it was at least it was an honest collegiate try whereas what came before couldn't even suit up to play.

Surprise, surprise, I contacted the dealership first thing Monday morning and they told me it had been sold. The pressure to make a decision to buy this car, mercifully, having been made for me. Another case of, subconsciously, my practical side winning out. Just as well. My son, and my wife for that matter won't have this old car to kick around not to mention I won't have the added stress of waiting for it's dubious "Northstar" V-8 to blow out a head gasket. As miffed at first as I was when I learned it was gone I was just as quickly overtaken by a sense of relief. Avoidance of change - another symptom of getting old (er).

Sunday, October 29, 2017

1953 Ford F100 - Back Where I Come From

It took my moving away from Greater New York to understand the obvious that "New York" is different from the rest of the country. One of many differences is middle America's love of pickup trucks. Back where I come from no one owned one who really didn't need one. Here in Cleveland, Ohio, which is a microcosm of everything good and bad in this country "between the coasts", folks who don't even need pickups buy them; for reasons that still escape me. A prime example of that mid-American love of pickups is this 1953 Ford F100 that's been sliced, diced, hacked, welded and chopped into something that would have Crazy Henry spinning in his grave.

Every car or truck has a story and it's safe to say that the actual story can't be as interesting as what you think it would or could be. I have no idea why someone with the welding, soldering and fabrication chops that this person has, not to mention their mechanical acuity, would morph this old Ford so it could be "resto-modded" with a Chevrolet V-6. Obviously, based on the cataloging of the build, it was done on purpose. Again, the reasons why have to pale in comparison to why we think this was done.

Rather than mull about the why, the facts are this person merged a 1985 Chevrolet S-10 with a 1953 Ford F100. They didn't just modify the frame of the F100 to hold the big Chevy V-6 either. They took about every mechanical bit they could from the S-10 and morphed the ladder frame of the Ford so that everything could bolt in or on. While spectacular, this build does beg the question about why Ford Ranger components of this vintage weren't used. Given a choice, I would have swapped the S-10 guts into a Chevrolet 3100 of the same era but that's me, Chevy guy at heart.

My "blue collar" genes throbbing with envy not so much because I want this truck but because, deep down inside, I want to be able to do stuff like this. And do it right. That's not to say this wasn't done "right" although I'd have kept it as much Ford as possible. Chevy and Ford folks get as testy about their vehicles as the Hatfields and McCoys did fighting over whatever it was they were fighting over. This would be fine as a vehicle for the farm, or what they call in the Dallas area a "deer lease", but if you're going to try and sell it, and for as much as $7,500, fans of either are probably going to have an issue with this.

I've expressed to my family my won ton desire to own a small, regular cab, short bed pickup. While I happen to really like their proportions, regardless of make, I'd like to have one not so much as a daily driver but so I can do "stuff". We could then get rid of our aging Chevrolet Tahoe while not sacrificing any of its wonderful practicality. They look at me like I have three heads, of course. My wife, in particular, taking me down to earth reminding me that Lowes and  Home Depot offer perfectly good pickups to rent for like $20 an hour.

New York might be different from the rest of the country but the Midwest apparently is rubbing off on me. The Craigslist listing for this is gone but if it pops up again I'll update this. This guy was asking $7,500.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

1966 Cadillac Eldorado - Less Than What It Is

Back in the 1970's a "Cadillac Eldorado" was a 5,400 pound, front wheel drive, parade float like this 1976 "triple white" convertible. Although priced considerably more than a deVille or Calais, it wasn't necessarily any better an automobile. For what it was worth, it wasn't any better than a Chevrolet Impala but then again back then these cars weren't so much about being better automobiles as much as they were props to make their owners appear to be better off. Its unique styling and front wheel drive layout at least made it significantly different than anything else Cadillac offered; it wouldn't have been far fetched to say they were "special". Even if by the mid 1970's, Cadillac had long abandoned marketing the Eldorado's front wheel drive as anything truly noteworthy.

There was a time, though, back during the Eisenhower, Kenndy and Johnson administrations that the Cadillac Eldorado was merely a trim option and nothing really noteworthy above and beyond a "run of the mill" Coupe deVille convertible. Our well worn subject here is a 1966 and is for sale on ebay out in sun drenched Los Angeles with a starting price of $10,000.  

After the splendor that was the 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Seville, Eldorado went through GM's infamous debasement process that pushed at one time lofty models down on the pricing ladder. Coming of age with the frilly cake toppers that I did you'll have to forgive me if I happen to think a "Cadillac Eldorado" should be something more than just a Cadillac with different chrome accents. Interestingly, while all Eldorado's after 1960 where convertibles, Cadillac also offered a convertible Coupe deVille. So, what did a buyer get with an Eldorado they couldn't get with a Coupe deVille convertible? Aside from a wood veneer lined interior nothing much.

First introduced in 1953 to commemorate Cadillac's golden 50th anniversary, the car was named after El Dorado, the lost city of gold, the Eldorado was originally Cadillac's most expensive and exclusive model. The '53's, in fact, where a factory custom model that cost nearly twice that of a Series 62 sedan.  

The suicide door equipped 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Seville, at more than $13,000, was the most expensive Cadillac ever manufactured and sold. Problem was, as luxurious and opulent as it was, there were few takers. And, just like that, starting in 1958, what was once a boutique automobile became nothing more than a Coupe deVille with a bit more chrome. Cadillac, after all, at its most elemental, being a luxury car for the bourgeois. 

When General Motors relaunched their full size B and C bodies for 1965 they kept the Eldorado nameplate with one caveat - Eldorado became a submodel of their Fleetwood series. Going back to 1958 it was trim option on the deVille. Nothing more than semantics, really, but Cadillac marketed Fleetwood as being grander deVilles; the sedans rode on longer wheelbases too. Thing is, the Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado wasn't a two door Fleetwood, it was, again, a two door deVille. Yes, this is genuine wood veneer - something only offered on Fleetwoods. Fancy.

In any event, by 1965, Cadillac was deep in the development process for the 1967 Eldorado which was indeed a totally different automobile than a deVille, Fleetwood or Calais. This car was literally a placeholder until that car was ready; similar to what Buick did in 1977-1978 tarting up a LeSabre with a Park Avenue's interior and called it a "Riviera" until the new front wheel, E body Riviera was ready come 1979.

While pristine Eldorado's of this vintage have asking prices of more than $50,000, the starting price of $10,000 for this car is vexing. Everything looks better in pictures too so you have to wonder how bad this thing really is. It appears it needs everything. I'm surprised it runs. Yes, that's a whole in the floor board. 

Knowing what I know of the car crazy culture that is Hollywood and L.A., you are what you drive and it's better to drive something like this rather than some Camry or Explorer. The worn out, vagabond appeal of a beat up old block long Cadillac, while lost on me, no doubt appealing to a wannabee star or starlet who got a sizeable check for that appearance they did in a pilot. Hope there's more of that mailbox money coming, honey. Holes in the floor boards, no carpeting and a crumbling dash bad are all fixable but it's gonna cost you.  Two grand for the floor boards, couple grand more for a new top. New dash pad? Another thousand maybe? To do it right you should pull the windshield out. All this gets really pricey. I'd figure a good $8,500 to get the interior and top done. Better still, let's bank on ten grand. Anything left over you can plow into something else like the body and engine.

You're in deep for at last $20,000 to fix this bomb up right and that's on top of the $10,000 you dropped to buy it in the first place. And then all you have is an ill handling, underpowered, rattle trap gas guzzler you'd be afraid to take to Hollywood and Highland, Another example of where it's always better to buy something that's already been restored rather than pay for it yourself. Could you get your money back? It's Hollywood so anything is possible. No doubt there's a starlet or two looking for an interesting prop to make themselves appear to be more than what they really are. Funny that they would do so with something that's actually less than what it is.