The cars we loved.
When thinking about big old school cars, Cadillac comes to mind. The last of the big rear drive ones, the Fleetwood Brougham may be the most popular. Everyone from Texas millionaires, to big hat church ladies to gansta rappers loved the comfort of Cadillac’s full-sized luxury sedan. The Brougham name had been used on various Caddy’s from as far back as the 50’s as a trim level but became its own model in 1986. Riding on the D-body chassis first seen in 1977, the Brougham was originally just a Fleetwood trim package. For a short moment, the name was used on one of the new downsized front wheel drive cars in 1985, but that did not last long due to confusion. Cadillac knew that even as it was making the switch to smaller front wheel drive cars, there was still a large contingency of buyers who wanted their Cadillac’s to be big imposing cars, with rear wheel drive and with nothing less than V8 power.
This formula had worked so well for Cadillac for so long that it just seemed strange not to have at least one car that followed that philosophy in its lineup. Many other Cadillacs including the Sedan de Ville, Eldorado and the Seville had made the jump to front wheel drive in an attempt to modernize and slow the stream of buyers to imports. For the shrinking numbers of traditional large Cadillacs, the pickings were becoming slimmer with each passing model year. The Brougham’s large size made it a popular limousine choice, as the domestic auto makers were increasingly moving away from large rear wheel drive cars. The Fleetwood Brougham with its 15’ wire wheels, big trunk and long hood represented the last of a dying breed. A few coupes were made called the Fleetwood Brougham De Elegance Coupe, but their production numbers were small and were only available from 1980 to 85. Some early coupes were saddled with the troubled “8-6-4” V8 engine.
The Brougham sedan was produced in one of two locations; Detroit and Arlington Texas. It would seem fitting that the most powerful versions came from the Texas factory. Despite the Brougham’s heft (over 4,000lbs.) it was not particularly powerful, especially if equipped with the base 5.0L 140hp V8. A step up V8 offered 170hp, but the most powerful and perhaps rare engine option was a Chevrolet built 5.7L that made 175 to 185hp. Bigger was not always mean quick as the 5.7L could only manage to move a big 93’ Caddy to 60mph in 9.1 seconds. Although not drag race material, there was sufficient torque for highway passing.
Transmission options were limited to a choice of two 4 speed automatics; the trusty Turbo-Hydromatic or a Chevy built unit matched with to cars equipped with the 5.7L. Like the Lincoln Town Car or Chrysler Imperial, the Brougham was a very profitable car to sell. Its tooling had long paid for itself and the gradual changes were cost-effective and proved to be extremely reliable. The glacial pace of change was possible because the Brougham was very good at its core mission to start with – at least its owners thought so. The traditional Cadillac buyer wanted what they were accustomed to – big cars that were softly sprung with plenty of comfort and noise isolation. This is what the Brougham excelled at, more than any new age looking little front wheeler of the time. The big bold angularity was enhanced with an added touch of baroque style when equipped with the full vinyl Premiere Roof option.
In a final concession to modernism, the Brougham received a substantial makeover in 1990. Special options like the Premiere Roof from earlier cars became a standard feature. New composite headlamps were similar to those seen on the Caprice, while streamlined bumpers and updated tail lights rounded out the external appearance changes. The biggest changes were inside with a new digital dashboard, but the big Caddy was a holdout safety wise with its door mounted seat belts. In fact the Brougham was the last Cadillac not to have air bags. Sales had been good in the first few years since 1986, reaching a peak of over 65,000 units in 1987 and dropping (almost in half) every year after that.
By the 1992 less than 14,000 units were sold. By the end of the line in 1992, the Brougham had been part of one of the longest running production streaks in GM history, starting in 1977. In 1993 the Brougham once again became a trim level on a newly redesigned front wheel drive car based on the C-body platform. Rear wheel drive would not return in Cadillac sedans until the CTS in 2003. Ironically the very reason the big rear drive cars were abandoned (poor gas mileage) seems to be lost on today’s Escalade SUV drivers who don’t seem to mind the bigger engines, heavier weight and lower fuel economy.