Friday, June 24, 2016

Deer Hunter Cadillac - 1959 Cadillac Series 62

When I was a kid I saw "The Deer Hunter" as many times as I did because it was one of the films that HBO played over and over again. Keep in mind we're talking back in the day when HBO was a single channel and they recycled a tiny cadre of films each month. In spite of the nonsensical Russian Roulette scenes, incinerated Viet Cong and dead deer I had grown quite fond of it. If for no other reason than a kidnap victim grows fond of their captor; a cinematic Stockholm Syndrome as it were. Seeing the movie again recently and through what I can construe are adult eyes, I had to laugh at what an absurd, pretentious mess the whole thing was. Sorry, the Godfather I and II it ain't. It's not even close to another Vietnam War movie  of the same era that was released after it, a celluloid circus known as "Apocalypse, Now". 
"The Deer Hunter" is a story about three steel mill workers who serve the United States in the Vietnam War. Sounds interesting enough and while the film does have all of the necessary elements of good film, it's assembled in such a way that it completely undermines the film's ability to be truly compelling. 
The film getting much of the praise that it did because it dealt with a very uncomfortable subject. Understand that in the late 1970's, Vietnam was a four letter word in this country; We The People attempting to brush it under a rug and get on with our lives much like The South did after losing the Civil War. Thanks to Hollywood, films like this made us stare down our demons in a collective group therapy session. A therapy session that had us all mumbling under our breathes, "the hell was that?"
If "The Deer Hunter" had anything going for it, aside from Vilmos Zsigmond's wonderful  cinematography, it had a legendary cast that included a 1959 Cadillac Series 62 coupe. I'm ambivalent about '59 Cadillac's at best, however, cast as it was in "The Deer Hunter", no other car could have fit the role so perfectly. Assuming that Cimino was attempting to symbolize with it what I think he was attempting to symbolize. Again, with "The Deer Hunter" you never know.

Symbolism in film is used to subtly reinforce a film's narrative theme and in "The Deer Hunter", while the "story" is about steel mill workers who go off to Vietnam, the film's theme, we have to assume, is about the state of the United States after the end of the Vietnam War. The 1959 Cadillac in "The Deer Hunter" a none too subtle symbol of America's very recent but long lost confident, boisterous past.

Judging by the overall condition of the car, we see that America has seen better days. Indeed, the post Vietnam War, Gas Crisis I and Watergate America, like the Cadillac that Michael, portrayed by Robert DeNiro, drives was pretty banged up. As for the ramshackle way "Michael" lives his life, your guess is as good as mine as to why a man of such intelligence and emotional depth chooses to live his life this way. Had DeNiro portrayed Michael as the second coming of Travis Bickle things may have been different but then he couldn't have been the cornerstone of this film the way that he was. Again, this film is a mess.

Furthermore, while it's certainly not out of the question for someone of the means of a steel mill worker to drive such a car, if it not for symbolism and cinematographic effect, would  a serious hunter, like Michael, drive such an ornate and impractical automobile? No. Of course not. Still, as a symbol or metaphor, it's quite effective.

Derided as much as they were heralded, it's ironic that an automobile so polarizing of design like the 1959 Cadillac would come to symbolize so much about America. Good, bad and indifferent. Cadillac's were all new for model year 1957 and their styling was a continuation of the aeronautic design themes that were all new for 1948. However, when Chrysler debuted their 1957 models resplendent in sky scraping tail fins, General Motors scraped their planned 1959 models and instead, designed a series of automobiles that are without question, the most outlandish American cars ever made. The Cadillacs being the most outrageous of them all.

In many ways, the 1959 Cadillac was exactly like "The Deer Hunter" - visually appealing  without anything tangible to make it worthy of the praise heaped upon it. Contemporary road tests of the 1959 Cadillac found it to be under powered and the handling ponderous. I want the '59 Cadillac to be more than what it is because it was just so visually interesting; again, like the movie. However, like "The Deer Hunter", it just couldn't be anything more than what it actually was. Praise be damned.
The Deer Hunter won five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director for Michael Cimino, and Best Supporting Actor for Christopher Walken. The Deer Hunter was named by the American Film Institute as the 53rd greatest American film of all time. On many lists of the greatest automobiles of all time you'll also find 1959 Cadillacs.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Classic - The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
                                            -Franklin Delano Roosevelt. First Inaugural Address.
Oldsmobile had some left over 1987 Cutlass' when model year 1988 began so they continued to sell the old car as the Cutlass "Classic".
I stumbled upon one of these back then at Celebrity Oldsmobile, now  a Lexus dealership, on Sunrise Highway in Massapequa. Seemed odd to me seeing both the all new for 1988 Cutlass next to one of the old ones but I figured it was GM once again hedging their bets that the new model wouldn't appeal to everyone. Similar to what they did with keeping a rear wheel drive Cadillac sedan in the fleet when the front wheel drive models rolled out in 1985. While I liked the notion of keeping the old car around, I scoffed at Oldsmobile for not completely embracing change. After all, when you're 24 years old, all change is good.  What could go wrong?

Seeing how things turned out for Oldsmobile and GM, you have to wonder what it would have been like for them had they kept this car around for another three, five or ten years. At least in "Classic" guise. As archaic as this car was by 1988, the new car, which honestly I was a big fan of, was a seismic change for the better. However,  compared to  the super slick gee whiz '80's cars from Japan it was judged against - not to mention Ford's sensational Taurus, as good as the new Cutlass was (compared to what it replaced), it just couldn't compete. While change in and of itself is inert, with regards to Oldsmobile, in this instant, change was not good. Or at least not good enough.

The older we get the more anxiety inducing change can be since we know that change brings risk. Change can force us from our comfort zone. Fail once, twice or ten times and just the notion of change can induce panic and can be crippling. Change doesn't always mean things are not going to be for the better, though. Go through change enough and see that it can be good can buoy anxiety; but you never forget the times when things didn't work out. Most importantly, the anxiety that comes with change has nothing to do with reality. In times of flux it's best to attempt to keep the eloquent words of President Roosevelt from his first inaugural in mind, "The Only Thing We Have to Fear, is Fear Itself". By the by, by late January 1988, most of the "Classics" were gone. Oldsmobile was gone after 2004.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

1981 Chrysler New Yorkrer - New Yorker From New York

We discussed recently in our blog on the Ford Mustang II that good design triggers pleasurable responses in our brains.The  inverse is true as well. Most people look at this 1981 Chrysler New Yorker and through either a lack of emotion or a negative one they, subconsciously at least, determine there's something unpleasant about it. That's because the design is out of proportion and it has no balance. That might sound like hoity-toity design talk mambo jumbo, and there are few things as pretentious as discussing design, but the truth is, there is something really odd looking about this car. Lincoln's of this vintage suffer from the same imbalances but nearly as bad as this New Yorker does.
It all starts with what Chrysler started with when they began designing their new for 1979 "full size" cars. Using an extended wheelbase version of their intermediate M-body chassis that they called the R-body, the M-body itself a stretched version of the Chrysler F-body (Volare, Duster), we can then begin to fathom as to why this car, and very similar looking offerings from Dodge and Plymouth, appear as long and narrow as it does. Why didn't Chrysler start with their very substantial B-body intermediate (Cordoba) similar to what General Motors did?
All that extra bulk fore and aft doing nothing of course, save for a bump in wheel base, for giving passengers more interior room than you'd find in a four door, M-body Chrysler LeBaron or Dodge Diplomat. With a suspension set up to give the car a whipped cream soft ride and a phlegmatic 318 cubic inch V-8 backed by a microscopic axle ratio, you have a car that's perhaps even drearier to drive and ride in than it is painful to look at. If you're looking for an example of everything that was wrong with American luxury cars in the early 1980's, you're looking at exhibit A.
The downsizing that the Big Three put all of their cars through in the late '70's and early '80's was a slippery, tricky slope. After all, for decades they all marketed that bigger was better - offering something that was clearly less than what was replacing was challenging. General Motors did a remarkably good job while Ford, inexplicably, did what could best be described as just an ok job. Chrysler, on the other hand, failed miserably at it. Despite the smaller frame and chassis this car was designed from, I find it hard to accept that their designers couldn't have come up with a better looking car than this. Again, Ford had similarly lousy designs back then too but nearly as bad. I've seen bread trucks with more visceral appeal than this thing. Dodge had a very similar box on wheels they called "St. Regis", Plymouth's version was called "Gran Fury".
These "R-bodies" sold terribly and Chrysler ceased production of them after model year 1981. The New Yorker nameplate, which Chrysler believed to still have a fair amount of marketing mojo, was moved to a tarted up M-body four door LeBaron in 1982. For 1983, there were two New Yorkers in Chrysler showrooms; the New Yorker Fifth Avenue, which was little more than a rebadged M-body LeBaron and a stretched wheel base K-car.  The lineup was streamlined for 1984 when the M-body New Yorker became simply known as, "Fifth Avenue". The K-car New Yorker soldiered on, remarkably, through 1993.
If Chrysler had used their intermediate B-body for these cars would it have led to a design that would have triggered a positive emotional response from prospective buyers? We'll never know, of course, but based on what General Motors was able to do with just about all of their 1977 vintage full size cars, in that case, starting with bigger was better.
The demise of Chrysler as a luxury brand begs the question, "what IS a luxury car". At the top of Chrysler's pricing ladder after the demise of Imperial after 1974, Chrysler was a de-facto luxury nameplate; to the moneyed on Long Island, New York - where, ironically our "New Yorker" here is from this clearly was not considered a luxury car. ,Any luxury cache Chrysler's may ever had was had eroded away years before our 1981 rolled off the assembly line. So, what is a luxury car? Frankly, anything they, "they" being the moneyed, say it is. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

1979 Cadillac Coupe DeVille - Eye of the Hurricane

Things were looking up for America in the first couple of years of the Carter administration. Gas prices had stabilized, the economy was finally beginning to recover and adhering to the adage of what's good for General Motors is good for the nation, the first wave of GM's great downsizing was generally regarded as a success; critically and commercially. That first wave of downsizing included our black on red, 1979 Cadillac Coupe deVille. However, like the eye of a hurricane, the break in the bad weather for the country, the auto industry and Cadillac in particular would be short lived.

At first downsized for model year 1977, the new Cadillac's were more than a foot shooter and nearly a thousand pounds lighter than the elephantine 1971 vintage models they replaced. Despite being smaller, the "'77's" were marvels of packaging efficiency as they had more interior room than the "'71's" did. 

The new "small" Cadillacs also had a new "small" engine. Based on the Cadillac engine the previous models had, which was based on the legendary Cadillac V-8 that debuted in 1967, the new Cadillac engine still displaced a substantial 425 cubic inches. While certainly no economy car, the down sized Cadillac's got approximately 20 percent better mileage than the cars they replaced.

A more manageable package that got better fuel economy that still oozed "Cadillac"? No surprise that these cars sold as well as they did. Happy Days were here again. Albeit, for a brief time.

The 1979 Iranian revolution exposed the United States' reliance on foreign oil just like the 1973 Yom Kippur War did. Not only doubled the cost of a barrel of crude oil, which was already historically high post first  oil crisis, it pushed the cost of a gallon of gas past the mythological breaking point of more than $1 a gallon. The subsequent second dip recession the second oil crisis caused put the Carter administration in a tailspin which it never recovered from.
Suddenly it was 1974 all over again but for Cadillac, times were even worse. Sales of 1980 Cadillacs, which received a (opinion) handsome restyling, were down almost thirty percent - far more than the decline in sales during the first energy crisis of 1973-74. What's more, another reduction in bore and stroke to the famed Cadillac V-8, done so to improve tail pipe emissions and adhere to CAFE requirements, did nothing for performance. That new for 1980, 368 cubic inch V-8 was not in and of itself a "bad" engine but it was the basis for the infamously problematic model year 1981 only, "V-8-6-4". The V-8-6-4 the first in a series of almost comically bad roll outs at Cadillac in the 1980's that ruined the brand's once seemingly invulnerable image.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

1969 Oldsmobile 88 - Planned Obsolescence

"Car spotters" are able tell what model year a car is by knowing what minute and somewhat disparate styling detail distinguish one model year of an automobile from another. They have a lot easier time doing so on older domestic cars since back then, all manufacturers made significant enough changes to their cars each model year to make it fairly simple to distinguish, for instance, a 1969 Oldsmobile Delta 88, which our blue on blue subject is, from a 1968 Oldsmobile 88. These days, if not for a new generation or a mid-cycle "freshening", it's all but impossible to tell what a year a car is by simply looking at it.
Reason for the year to year changes back then being due to what was referred to as "planned obsolescence". Planned obsolescence, according to the, is a business strategy in which the obsolescence (the process of becoming obsolete—that is, unfashionable or no longer usable) of a product is planned and built into it from its conception. This is done so that in future the consumer feels a need to purchase new products and services that the manufacturer brings out as replacements for the old ones.
Great example of planned obsolescence today is cell phones; don't be caught with an iPhone 6 these days - people will think you're poverty stricken. I just got a "6" and while the upgrade from my ding, pinged, dented, cracked and sluggish iPhone 4 is seismic, the only difference buyers got when they upgraded their 1968 "'88" to a 1969 were slight changes in sheet metal.
That year to year massaging of sheet metal rarely was to the benefit of a car's original design. This 1969 Delta 88 was part of General Motors 1968 update of their 1965 full size model lineup. While I think Oldsmobile did a great job updating the '65's in 1968, save for the gruesome "cow catcher' front end that all Oldsmobiles had from 1965-1970, "planned obsolescence" reared it's ugly head on the 1969 models. 
What had been a graceful, semi fastback profile in 1968 became as fussy, clumsy and cluttered as the front end of the car. Seeing that GM changed their cars so much year to year back then, it's fair to say that this design element was approved before any perceptual research was done to gauge the public's reaction to it.
Seeing that sales of the Oldsmobile 88 were slowly dissolving in the late '60's, you could point to styling gaffs like this 1969 "88" as the reason. Maybe we're not alone in thinking this car ugly as sin but that's more than likely not the case. 
It probably had more to due with the fact the Oldsmobile's loyal customer base was dying off and the customers they did have buying Oldsmobile's somewhat smaller and far more manageable Cutlass.
Planned obsolescence, in addition to it making it easy for car spotters to tell what model year a car is also crushed resale values of automobiles. With a bevy of "one year only" models out there, it also makes for a scarcity of parts these days which would also make that nasty dent on the right rear quarter panel very expensive to repair. So expensive, in fact, that while it's amazing that this sparsely equipped '88 is still standing above ground, had that dent occurred when the car was in it's prime, this car may have made fast friends with a car crusher. Just as we're forced to throw out of cell phones when we break them; it's just not worth it to repair them.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

1983 Buick Electra - That DOES Look Like a Buick

Sales of Buicks have increased recently and some pundits site their "That's Not a Buick" ad campaigns for the uptick. Sorry, not only is this (old) Buick loving early fifty something not buying a new Buick, I'm not buying that that insular ad campaign has anything to do with increasing sales. What has increased sales? Let's start with a fairly robust economy giving people the confidence they need to spend the boatload it costs these days to purchase a new car, solid, contemporary automobiles and a significant decrease in choices domestically post GM bankruptcy.

So, back to granny; if the new Buick Regal doesn't "look like a Buick" then, what does look like a Buick?

How about a 1983 Buick Electra Limited coupe? Seems about right. If the Granny in those "That Doesn't Look Like a Buick" ads is approximately 80 years old, then thirty some odd years ago this car would have been the car of her and her husband's aspirational dreams. Way to go, Buick; making  fun of old people. Nice. And let me tell you something, sonny, there's a big difference between making fun and poking fun. I'm all about poking fun but when you start making fun of anyone and anything is when I get up from the Early Bird Special and walk out of the restaurant.  Check, please.

Seriously, though, Buick's wrestled with a "old person's car" image problem for decades now and those god forsaken "Granny ads" do nothing to help define them as a brand for hipsters. Or anyone under the age of 60.
So, what is Buick attempting to be? It would appear they're trying to be what Lexus is to Toyota, Chevrolet being Toyota in this instance. Now, while Lexus is an "old brand", young people aspire to it. Can't say that young people aspire to own a "Buick". They may like the new Regal or one of their inexplicably popular little cross overs, for instance, but they appreciate the vehicle as opposed to the brand. That's the big difference between Buick and Lexus and one that I question can ever be completely changed. The Lexus brand is so strong right now that they could market just about anything and it would sell.

Let's get back to our luscious Electra. Isn't it awesome? Wish it had more than that puny Olds 307 to motivate it but, I digress. Anyway, back in 1983, despite it's updated for 1980 aero styling and snazzy aluminum road wheels and white walls (oye), this Electra was an oldster's car back then as it is now. An old person's car from a brand that at the time also offered the Regal T-Type. While that T-Type had all of 180 horsepower from it's blower fed V-6, the image of the T-Type ran counter to what this car was all about. It seemed Buick was confused about what their image was back then and one thing's for sure; if they were confused, so were buyers. And you know that if Buick offered the turbo V-6 on the Electra, they'd do a silly paint and stripe job on it to make it look sporty. Please see Buick Rivera T-Type here. Imagine, turbochargers underhood for no other reason than to increase the car's performance and with minimal badging. What a concept.

Buick's on again, off again attempts to cultivate a hip, dashing, sporting, youthful image is nothing new. In 1975 and 1976, a Buick Century was the pace car at the Indianapolis 500. Several years prior to that, Buick offered the Skylark GS with tire shredding, 455 V-8's. Talk about duality - have you ever seen what pre downsizing Buick Electra's looked like? The only times, arguably, that Buick has been able to merge youth, sporting pretensions and affluence was with the original Buick Riviera. Then again, even with that car, it's price point was out of reach for many. If it's expensive, it's for older people with money. Hence, "Buick" is for old people.
Can you be all things to people young and old? Today's booming cute-ute craze not with standing, the answer is no, you can't. And the post GM bankruptcy Buick of today highlighting their past image of being an "old brand" by using Granny in their ads only reinforces their old image as opposed to "hippening" it up. Buick needs to be less concerned about what they or perceptual studies perceive their brand image to be and let their vehicles speak for themselves. They're actually excellent.
Can you tell that I loathe everything about these granny ads? Everything about them except the snappy dark red Regal GS this hipster doofus is using to take Granny back to the nursing home. It's not his fault, he's just an actor in some ill conceived commercial who's trying scrape together a living let alone make enough to make a (hefty) monthly payment on one of these things. As if this kid has the where-with-all to not only afford a new Regal GS but to live in this tony neighborhood and afford to keep Granny holed up in assisted living. Oh, this commercial is just all so wrong.