We called it “The Silver Pig.”
What was the most obvious sign of living the American Dream? For immigrant boys from World War II Europe, it was a Cadillac. You had one, you showed ‘em.
Maxy from Frankfurt always wanted one. He came from a country where they make big fancy cars with good reputations. But all they were... were, well, big fancy cars with good reputations. Here in America, you want to show you’d “made it,” you drove a Caddy.
By the time he got to the point of owning one, they’d come a long way down. So what? It was a Cadillac. And it was all his. Bought for cash. No car loan; no monthly payments.
On his first drive from Florida to Long Island, he pulled into the driveway and called the fire department. The fire was under the hood. The re-call letters had gone out too late for the trip. They put out the fire and got the car to a local dealer for warranty repairs.
The thing rode like a living room couch on wheels. And the paint peeled. More than once. The V8 engine was smooth and powerful. But it threw a piston at 80-thousand miles making it useless.
It had a loud and melodious horn. But when the temperature dropped into the low 20s, it would blow continuously on its own, usually in the wee small hours of the morning and awaken neighbors who became wee small enraged. If the door lock wasn’t frozen shut, you had to go into the driver’s position and fist pound the horn button to shut it up. If you couldn’t get in… well. It wouldn’t be that cold forever.
Cadillac has been in deep trouble for years. Its customers are old. Its cars are, um, less than the Cadillac of Cadillacs. Its manufacturer has pulled bone-headed stunts for decades. Maxy’s was a 1978 model. It outlived him, but not by much.
Among those bone-headed moves? Slapping its nameplate on what was essentially a Chevy when compact cars were new. Making a whole line of sedans when no one was buying sedans. Customers, such as there are of them, are still awaiting an up-to-date SUV. It’s coming, says GM. So is Christmas. Christmas will arrive first.
The most bone-headed stunt of all was moving its headquarters from Michigan to lower Manhattan. The office. The design studio. But not the factory. Why? Well, they wanted to be in SoHo where “the action is,” where cool young people gather to work and play.” Maybe some of that “cool” would rub off. It didn’t.
They made a big splash about the move. Then they returned -- quietly -- to Detroit with their tailfins between their legs.
Now, comes new leadership. New models. New high tech things. So, what else is new? Well, the new division president, Steve Carlisle, had been running GM Canada. He says “We’ve stopped trying to out-German the Germans,” meaning he realizes the Escalade is no Benz. (Actually, today’s Benz is no Benz either. But that’s another story.)
At least you can pronounce his name. His predecessor was Johann DeNysschen. Try saying that three times in a row. In fact, try saying that at all.
The basic issue in carmaking is getting the tin off the lot. The newer ones still have that couch-on-wheels ride. And the soon-to-be standard Almost Self Driving system works like a charm. Really. And this machinery hasn’t killed anyone. Yet.
The current models are flashy, though they don’t score as well as most of their foreign competitors in predicted reliability.
But president Carlisle should take a listen to one of the last Actual Car Guys of the late 20th Century, Lee Iacocca who created the Ford Mustang and then saved Chrysler for a time.
Iacocca said you can’t be successful if you’re shipping crap.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2019