White Elephant: 1976 Cadillac Coupe De Ville

By Jeff Bennett

I think I remember a book that started out with the lines “It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.”  For Cadillac in 1976, this line really sums up where they had been and where they were going.  Up to this point, Cadillac was always among the short list of luxury cars that Americans lusted after.  Purchasing a Cadillac meant you had made it to the top tier of American life, and you were a person to be respected.  However, there were dark clouds on the horizon.  Cadillac quality and the public’s respect for the brand began a slow descent that rapidly turned into a free fall which still threatens the brand with extinction to this day.  This 1976 Cadillac Coupe De Ville represents the last of the “big” Cadillacs, and this particular one has just 8,400 miles on the odometer.  This showroom perfect leviathan can be found for sale on Craigslist for $23,000, and is currently hidden away in the town of El Dorado Hills, California.  Our friend Pat L. can be thanked for finding this amazing Cadillac for us.

The fourth generation of Cadillac De Villes were produced from 1971 through 1976.  This was a difficult time for the automobile industry, with increasing demands from the government concerning safety and emissions standards.  To make things worse, OPEC began making life miserable for them as well.  Cadillac found themselves producing huge, heavy automobiles powered by 472 cubic inch engines.  By the time 1975 had rolled around, the engine size had ballooned to 500 cubic inches to somewhat offset the falling horsepower that the emissions equipment robbed from these Cadillac exclusive engines.  Even for the wealthy, feeding one of these beasts became a burden.  Cadillacs after this would have to change to meet the times, but the changes wouldn’t sit well with Cadillac owners.

As mentioned, the engine had grown to 500 cubic inches, but had slipped to just over 200 horsepower.  When you consider that these huge automobiles were pushing up on 5,000 pounds of chrome laden weight, every lost ounce of grunt was sorely missed.  Cadillac’s large displacement engines of the period were no slouches when it came to oomph.  They didn’t unleash horsepower like a cammed up Chevy big block.  They delivered the goods in more of a turbine or electric motor fashion, with gobs of low end torque that pushed you firmly back in the seat.  Coupled with transmissions that had shift points timed to perfectly match the engine’s torque curve, these big Caddys probably surprised a few people playing stoplight drag racing games.  I do remember a story of some kids buying a Cadillac of this era from a junkyard and taking it to their local drag strip.  They got a baseline quarter mile time with it, then started taking parts off and making passes after each forced weight reduction.  I think they ended up making passes in the low 13 second range.  Hopefully a reader can fill in the details on this adventure.

Inside, these cars had seats that would be at home in the finest automobiles of the time.  They were usually made of high grade leather, and had plenty of padding to make your rear end happy.  Combined with Cadillac’s legendary ride quality, you probably couldn’t find a better road car.  This was proven during the November 1971 running of the Cannonball Run.  Three guys driving a 1971 Cadillac that was being delivered across the country, supposedly by responsible drivers, managed to make the trip in 36 hours and 56 minutes.  Factor in that they were stopped by the cops seven times, and that they averaged a little over 8 miles per gallon, and you can see the potential for Cadillacs of this vintage.  For the record, they placed third.  The winning car, which was a Ferrari Daytona coupe driven by Dan Gurney and Brock Yates, made the trip in 35 hours and 54 minutes.

This particular Cadillac is just stunning.  I’d love to know the story behind how it has been preserved so well, but the seller hasn’t offered up any details in the ad.  What is even more amazing than the condition is the complete absence of rust.  This is an event of such rarity that it seems impossible.  GM must have searched the world over in 1976 to find the worst steel being made.  Perhaps they consulted with Fiat in this endeavor.  At any rate, it is hard to find a 1976 GM anything, because they all rusted like they spent the first months of their lives parked next to the Titanic.  While I have no proof to back my theory up, my guess is that the bean counters had achieved full control of GM by this time.  The short sighted stinginess that GM displayed in this era and beyond is why customers left in droves, and they had to rely on a government bailout.  GM owned the car market for many years, but you can argue that 1976 was the year it all began crashing down.  To be honest, they deserved it.

If you purchased this amazing Cadillac, the question you have to ask yourself is obvious.  What would you do with it?  Driving it with regularity would take away why it is special in the first place.  It is not a particularly noteworthy Cadillac, so preserving it as a museum piece is not really a great plan.   I am sure it would be a nice occasional driver, and perhaps that is the best solution.  Cars that aren’t driven tend to have problems, and these are somewhat complicated cars.  If you drove it in moderation, you would understand why Cadillacs were once considered special cars.  Maybe if the current general manager of Cadillac today purchased it and drove it, it might give them a clue as to what they lost on the road to where they are now.

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Comments

  1. Rock On

    This car could be beside the definition of showroom fresh!

    5+
  2. Scott Lewis

    Believe it or not, I learned to parallel park in one of these behemoths. 15 year old me practiced for weeks for my driving test, but when it came time to take the test, I backed in about halfway into the parallel parking rectangle and the testing officer said “that’s good enough”. I was kinda disappointed!

    4+
  3. CJay

    What’s a rust free PA Cadillac doing in CA?
    So many cars in PA started to rust upon arrival in the state.
    Beautiful car!
    I would need documentation to substantiate the low mileage claim.
    It was so easy to disconnect the speedometer cable on GM cars especially the ones that had the cruise control mechanism mounted on the top of the inner fender under the hood.

    6+
  4. SunbeamerStu

    Did a road trip with a friend, from Seattle to Boston, in a Caddy just like this. Couldn’t ask for a more comfortable ride. Zero problems. And it never met a gas station it didn’t like.

    Leather is more Barcalounger then car seat. BarCARloungers?

    No drink holders, but everyone gets an ash tray.

    8+
  5. Jeffro

    I like my cars, like I like my women…with a big behind! Absolutely stunning car!

    8+
    • Sam

      Well stated Sir Mix-alot!

      5+
    • Jay

      Agreed

      0
    • Howard A Member

      You do? Sorry, give me a short trunk any day!!

      1+
  6. Kent

    Beautiful ride… Unfortunately, the submitter of this article is correct in that the quality of Cadillac declined rapidly from its hey day to the mid 70’s! My Dad drove Caddy’s from 66 to 76, trading in/up every other year and the decline of the brand and what it once stood for was particularly noticeable when you experienced first hand.

    3+
    • Pat A

      From what I’ve read, ’64 was the last year that a Caddy was ALL Cadillac. Starting in ’65, GM began to use parts from cheaper brands. My grandfather bought a brand new ’63 convertible. It got handed down through the family, until my uncle traded it for something more economical.

      2+
  7. Mr. TKD

    I’ve always wanted a Coupe de Ville of this vintage. If it were mine, it would be taken out for weekend jaunts and the occasional long-distance Interstate run. 500 miles would just fly by. I’m not really concerned about the miles I’d put on it because I buy cars to drive them

    As tempting as it would be to throw some parts at that engine, I’d probably leave it stock.

    4+
  8. Sam

    Very sharp car. $23 large seems a bit much. This car would be right at home at the Cadillac museum on the grounds at Gilmore.

    One neighbor down the street was a young dentist who had a 76 pillared sedan. Another neighbor had a 74 Sedan Deville….rust stains streaked down the length of the car from behind the chrome spear attachment points within 2 years.

    2+
  9. Marvin Granger

    I think the price is way out of line. Last fall I bought one of these cars with half as many miles for one quarter the money. These guys have been watching the Barett-Jackson auctions.

    2+
  10. Anastos

    This car is about 20 minutes from me and I’m tempted to go check it out in my own Coupe…

    10+
  11. BennyB

    Book: A Tale of Two Cities
    Articles: 1) Ponti-hack, 2) Caddy-hack

    I may have butchered the article titles. As I remember, they were both Hot Rod Magazine articles.

    1+
  12. jw454

    Once again we have a car that, the only thing that makes it worth anything higher than the average market rate is the low mileage. So, if you buy it and start driving it you’re ruining your investment. If you have the mantle to park it on to admire it great. If not, buy a nice one for a quarter of this asking price and a few more miles and drive it till you heart’s content.

    2+
  13. Michael

    I think you are referring to a Hot Rod magazine article called Caddy Hack.

    3+
  14. Peter R

    There is a book called “It was the worst of times It was the best of times” by Harry Gutkin.

    As for the car, it is not worth that kind of money – not impotant for a museum or serious collector. So only good if you intend to drive it. Only worth $10k to me or as already suggested buy one with a little more mileage for under $10k and drive it.

    2+
  15. Marty Wilke Marty Wilke Staff

    Great write-up from someone who obviously “gets it” with regards to what is so appealing about these malaise-era monster Cadillacs.

    4+
  16. Jay

    A tale of two cities

    1+
  17. Dennis M

    That would be Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”

    Opening line “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness …”

    1+
  18. DETROIT LAND YACHT

    If you can get it for 10grand or less…rip the top off and make it a convertible…like The General should’ve done in 1976.(imo)

    *dons catchers equipment…runs for cover*

    0
  19. Pat A

    “It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times?” Stupid monkeys!-Montgomery Burns.

    3+
  20. Pete in PA

    In the late 70s/early 80s I worked part time at a small salvage yard near Reading, PA. The owner of that yard always drove Cadillacs and one of those was a coupe very much like this BF.

    His was a 74 or 75 (square headlights), red with a red and white interior. The key feature of that car was the huge factory-installed sunroof. A quick look at the door jambs revealed that it was originally a white car, making it very much indeed like this offering. I drove that huge barge several times and it ran very, very well. No lack of power as far as I was concerned and I dearly loved that sunroof.

    I don’t remember what happened to that big red Caddy but I do know that it was replaced by a dark blue Eldorado of similar vintage.

    I agree that this coupe is very overpriced but if it had a sunroof I’d be tempted to make an offer. It would look good next to my 75 Imperial LeBaron!

    0
    • Anastos

      My ’75 Eldorado has that very same sunroof. Hard to find and even harder to find operational.

      0
  21. Howard A Member

    My old man liked BIG cars. After his Lincoln ( that I took my road test on) he did the Caddy thing, and had a car just like this, only blue. It was a total barge, and I think was the car responsible for me never wanting to own something like this. Fantastic car, probably the best, but my mom made the old man get something smaller ( he had no choice, really, things were headed that way anyway) because she had a hard time closing the doors, they weighed a ton. Is it worth the asking price? Well, that depends. Where you gonna find a magnificent car like this in today’s world? You can’t, so, that makes the price somewhat justified, it seems.

    0
  22. jerry

    My Dad bought Mom an identical Cadillac in Sept of 1975..White/White..Red.. I borrowed it for my honeymoon in Feb/1976…

    0
  23. Jamhess

    Had a 1974 Coupe, white, low miler, had to have the bottom and rear fenders painted every year as they rusted so bad and look terrible on a white car.
    Also my bro had a 74 Impala, same thing, the tin was bad, “LTD”.

    0
  24. Graham

    Let me start by saying that I love Caddys (well, most of them) and I love most American cars – with a particular crush on 1964-1970 era. I’m an Aussie and I don’t want to insult the many US fans of this site, but it was ALL the US manufacturers that lost the plot from the early 70’s onwards. I was in the US not long ago (mainly W & E coast, so mid-west may be different) and I reflected that the CEOs of the Big 3 must weep every night; so many European and Japanese brands, so few US ones…….the US consumers are changing; the manufacturers…….?

    0
  25. JagManBill

    Long story so sorry…
    We owned a 71 CdV we bought in 81 till 87. Bought the car from an estate for $3,000 with only 6,700 miles showing. Still had the original tires on it and the bottom looked like brand new. It sat in the garage so much that there were two sunburn marks on the trunk lid from the garage windows.
    My wife hated it.
    We (ok I) sold our 77 T-Bird to get it and she didn’t like the long hood of the ‘Bird so the carrier-deck hood of the CdV just made her mad. Well, she was mad till she had a wheel come of a semi trailer in front of her at 65 mph and the Caddy bounced it off the bumper like it was a ping pong ball. The Toyota that was next to her in the next lane on the other hand was totaled when the tire hit it. She liked the “big banana” as she called it after that. Took me about 2 hours with a razor-blade to scrape the rubber off and 1/2 a bottle of chrome polish to have the bumper looking good as new.
    Nothing beat it for a road car. We took 6 trips between Dallas and Colorado to my wife’s folks in it. Once to Georgia. Gas mileage was around 10 mpg on these runs which for its size wasn’t bad. Course, I couldn’t keep my foot out of it so that didn’t help. The only way to shorten the trip between Dallas and Denver was time so running 80 made the trip a lot quicker than running 55…

    In 87 when we bought our first new car, I wasn’t sure I wanted to sell the 71. That changed a few weeks later. A guy that worked for my Dad was a very good painter on the side and took the banana for a weekend and re-shot the car its original Bamboo Cream for $500. It was absolutely stunning…much like our subject car. Well, later that week one evening we drove it to the mall and found a right-at-the-front parking space. It looked like a magazine add parked there.
    As we came out to leave a guy was standing there next to the car. He wanted to buy it. He hadn’t driven it, he hadn’t sat in it, but he had to have it. Well, we exchanged phone numbers and the next day he still wanted it. The car was 16 years old and had 70,000 miles on it at that point. That night it was his…for $3,000

    0
  26. jps311

    My dad had a 74 pillar less sedan Deville back in 77 i watched him from a 10mph roll he put his foot it in and left a 15 foot stripe. And mid range like you wouldn’t believe. If i had space and money id duplicate what he had thru the years 68,74,79 and yes even the 84.

    1+
  27. JD

    Creampuff!

    0

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