This car is like Roseanne Barr. Big and proud of it.
But this is the Cadillac Fleetwood, an automotive dinosaur on its way to the tar pits, among the last of Autobilius Giaganticus (a large type of automobile produced by Detroit, usually rear-wheel drive).
The test car was dressed to the nines. Or even the tens. Take the paint. It was gold. With a matching gold vinyl roof.
The rear wheels are tucked inside the fenders, making the car look even longer than it is. It doesn’t need the visual help. After all, here is a 121-1/2-inch wheelbase and a car that measures an astounding 225 inches long and 78 inches wide.
Needless to say, one feels less like a driver and more like the captain of a very large vessel.
Power comes from Chevrolet’s 5.7-liter V-8. With 260 horsepower and a whopping 335 pound-feet of torque, the classic small block will motivate this barge to 60 mph in 8-1/2 seconds. The engine is hooked to a four-speed automatic transmission. It’s also hooked to the rest of the car, although the steering feel, pedal effort and ride are so insulated you’ll wonder what’s going on.
But that’s the way this car’s audience wants it. The ride is floaty and disconnected, so removed from the road you don’t know you’re in trouble till the tail starts to slide. It will slide, too. A bumpy, rain-soaked corner will make the rear-drive Caddy’s tail come around despite all that road-hugging weight.
But the type of guy who wears his pants high on his chest appreciates all this. They’re at a stage of life where they don’t want to be bothered with what’s going on in the real world.
That’s the only thing that could explain the instrument gathering (it’s tough to call it a “cluster”): an odometer, speedometer and fuel gauge. Everything else is covered by idiot lights.
One of those lights covers the traction control, which, when activated, shoves the accelerator back at you to signal it’s working. “Disconcerting” is a mild understatement.
Automatic climate control is standard, with big buttons that are easy to understand and operate. Ditto the AM/FM cassette-CD player, which seemed at its best playing oldies. Somehow, it fits the car.(But then so does driving to Florida come November — you could hold a party in the 21-cubic-foot trunk.)
All of this is housed in a horizontal dash with a shelf so deep and flat it gives the impression that this car is every bit as big as it is. If it had a bathroom, you could park it on a street in Manhattan and rent it for $1,600 a month.
There’s a stand-up ornament at the end of the hood. For those of you who have never driven a car this big, it is functional — it shows you where the hood ends. (Sometimes it’s hard to tell).
But this is a Cadillac. That means luxury, but it depends on which luxuries you appreciate. There are no power moonroof or memory seat settings. But a CD changer is available, even if steering-wheel-mounted radio controls (available in Pontiacs) aren’t. A built-in garage door opener is standard. And what Caddy would be complete without a Twilight Sentinel?
This car is for the contrarian. Like Roseanne Barr, it is unashamed of its identity, no matter how much of the sun it blocks from the concrete.
In many ways, the concept of the Fleetwood dates from a time when Cadillac truly was The Standard of the World. But the car is passing into history, as did the Berks County coachworks for which it is named. GM is putting its big-car heritage out to pasture, so this whaler is headed out to sea for the last time, to be replaced by the more sanely sized, but still large, Sedan DeVille.
Ironically, the test car was damaged on its way to being delivered. The famous Cadillac crest was cockeyed at the end of the hood. Somehow, that seemed symbolic of how today’s car buyer views these rear-drive behemoths: out of step, out of time.
But it sure was fun while it lasted.
Standard: 5.7-liter OHV V-8, four-speed automatic transmission, power steering, electronic level control, dual stainless steel exhaust, cruise control, cast aluminum wheels, dual airbags, antilock brakes, daytime running lamps, automatic door locks, powerheated outside mirrors, Twilight Sentinel, power trunk lid pulldown, trunk convenience net, power front seats, electronic climate control, compact spare tire, AM/FM cassette stereo Optional: Security Package (theft deterrent system, auto lock/unlock fuel filler door), leather seating area, chrome wheels, AM/FM-cassette-CD. Base price: $36,995 As tested: $41,855 EPA rating: 17 mpg city, 26 mpg highway