As I pressed the accelerator up to 75 and then close to 80, tempting the fates and the state police, I finally caught up, imagining that I would find someone similar to me driving -- a prosperous-feeling 50-year-old man with Springsteen playing on the stereo. As I sidled up and looked over to get the driver's attention, the tinted window rolled down, and I found myself flashing my thumb up to an 80ish woman hunched over the wheel like it might fall off the car if she let go of it. She looked puzzled, like she thought I was giving her the finger.
No, it's not easy defending my recent used-car purchase to my peers, co-workers and friends. I am a man who gets to drive every new vehicle that comes to market. And some of my favorites of recent years include the Audi S7, Cadillac CTS-V wagon, Mercedes SL 65 AMG Black and BMW M5. So, why then did I just treat myself to a 2003 Cadillac Seville SLS with a faux convertible top -- a car so dowdy by appearance that my friends are asking if I am marking my fiftieth year by auditioning for a revival of the Golden Girls.
A great deal
Let me explain. The first reason is that I love a good deal. This car has had one owner, my older bother and his wife, and they have kept it immaculate. My brother was shedding the car from his fleet and didn't want the hassle of selling it privately, so he offered it to me for the dealer trade-in price of $3,700. Low miles for a ten-year-old car -- 84,000. A V8 Northstar engine. This, despite the slightly geriatric image, is a great machine.
I often extoll the virtues of extended-range electric cars and clean diesels for their high fuel economy. This car, which I am calling "Babs," gets 16 mpg city/25 mpg highway and a combined fuel economy of 19 mpg. So, my friends at the Sierra Club aren't going to be impressed. My friends at Sierra Vista Assisted Living, on the other hand, are a different matter.
And then there is the interior. Beige leather interior. Well done, but -- Gah! -- beige. A nice CD player and speakers. A simple well-laid out console of radio and climate controls. No real guess-work needed here to figure out how to regulate the AC.
And then there is the whole "Caddy" thing. I like saying, "I'm taking the Caddy."
Finding the route
I have observed Cadillac's trials and tribulations over the last 25 years as it has struggled to distance itself from the very old-man image that this 2003 SLS embodies and delivers to its owners. Caddy doesn't want to be known any more for the big, floaty comfortable ride. It began with a half-baked idea to sell a European small car as a Cadillac Catera in the 90s. Then, the beginning of the Art and Science period, ushered in by the CTS with its origami inspired body work. There was an ad campaign featuring Led Zeppelin music. Then a series of campaigns and products like the current XTS sedan and now the ATS to appeal to normal younger, hipper buyers who might otherwise buy a BMW or Audi. There was the one-generation-and-out run of the XLR sports car.
I'm younger than Caddy's previous demographic, but let's be clear--I'm not normal. My friends will back me up on this. I will go to a Springsteen concert one week, and the opera the next. I drink Campari in summer, and single-malt scotch in Fall and Winter. My iTunes shuffle can take me from Van Morrison to Mozart to South Pacific and Eminem during a run to the store. I have sometimes worn an ascot when I'm in the mood. And I recently played Captain Hook in a production of Peter Pan. This is not a normal person. But then again, what's really normal?
I work in a business -- reviewing and writing about cars -- in which my peers often make a statement through the personal car they buy for themselves. One Facebook friend and journalist has offered to set me up with a vintage British Sunbeam. Another has a one-of-a-kind Audi. Others have purchased MINI Coopers. One has restored a 1960s Chevy Corvair, and another an early 1970s Camaro. I'm now the guy with the boaty Caddy with the faux convertible top.
What does this car really have? The Cadillac's Northstar V8 engine produces 275 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 300 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. It's worth noting that the SLS is the "less cool" version of this car. The STS was preferred by my journalist brethren. To quote from AOL Autos: "... the STS is the better choice for drivers who want a high-performance sports sedan, and the SLS better for drivers who prefer quietly cruising in luxury." The verbiage gets better, though, and it is this that I refer my critics to: "Cadillac's four-speed automatic transmission features a Performance Shift Algorithm that analyzes your driving style and adjusts shifting appropriately. Hammer the throttle and it mimics the crisp shifts of a manual transmission. Accelerate gradually and the transmission shifts smoothly. Go through a corner under hard acceleration and the system is smart enough to delay shifting until you are through the turn for improved handling balance."
Ricky or Fred?
See, that sounds a little more Ricky Ricardo and a little less Fred Mertz, don't you think? Baba-Lu, I say. And this is my favorite from the AOL Autos listing: "... the Cadillac Seville delivers the refinement, performance and handling expected from a BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus or Infiniti. The Seville is a sedan that truly loves to be driven."
I'm not sure what I am saying about myself with the purchase of a car that Fred Mertz and my late Aunt Lettie would have loved. I know I love driving it, though.
Cadillac discontinued the Seville after 2003. This car along with the Cadillac DTS have been replaced by the new XTS, a car that rides nice and looks modern, but which has, for me, a dashboard and instrument cluster that is kind of busy and over-done. I like knobs. And the new Caddies don't have them.
What is a Cadillac?
The advertising account for Cadillac is now under review. A new ad agency is going to try and figure out how to pitch the new Cadillacs. It is always tempting to try and mine what was good about the older ones, and re-interpret it for the new ones. But there is a conflict between looking backward and looking forward. Its a tough assignment to get it right.
In a previous job I worked briefly on Cadillac advertising. I was surrounded by kids in their 20s, people who owned Porsches and BMWs and an Australian guy who thoroughly confused me whenever he presented any idea.
Cadillac for me is about a proposition about America that I am admittedly sentimental about, especially as I cross over the age of 50, the same age my dad was when I was born. I feel like a lot of our country's virtues are being run under the wheels of greed and self-centeredness. One day on the Cadillac job I wrote an essay about what I think the essence of the Cadillac brand was. I thought it might help the team figure out hat to say about Cadillac, the brand. Here is what I wrote, as it pretty much sums up why I have a soft spot for this car.
Cadillac is a brand that America and the new General Motors needs to get off the bench, come into the game and lift the spirits of the fans, the public who is weary of watching American business and the American economy falter and trip.
Cadillac can be the brand that poetically and inspirationally reminds people of what America was built on, and what makes us go as a country, and as a people. It's about earning your way to the top.
Responsible Capitalism is a good thing. But it has to be responsible to work, and to be fair. Cadillac should always represent fairness and accountability.
Motor cars can be beautiful, fast, innovative and comfortable. Great motor cars make sense. And Cadillac knows how to make ones that make us proud of what we drive.
Cadillac is Roy Hobbs in The Natural. Cadillac is the balls it took for the head coach of the New Orleans Saints to order an on-side kick to start the second half of the game; something no coach had ever done in anyone's memory. Cadillac is Kirk Gibson coming off the bench in 1988 with crippled knees to hit a game winning home run.
Who is Cadillac for? Cadillac is for the guy who quits his job at the big company and starts his own, and doesn't want to blow his capital on a pricey European car he doesn't need. He needs a car he can trust. Cadillac is for the woman who gets downsized out of a job, pulls herself up, starts her own business and never looks back. Cadillac is the car for the former NFL player with money in the bank who now coaches high school football.
Cadillac is for people who do for themselves, and do for one another.
It's for people who don't wait for the other people to show up to get it done, or solve the problem, or make a decision. Cadillac is for those who get it done before the other people finish the meeting where they plan when they are going to show up.
Cadillac is old school, the way a 25-year old can appreciate and the way a 30-year old knows now that his Dad was probably more right than he was wrong.
It's for smart people who clip coupons because they don't want to spend more than they have to, not because they have to. It's for people who don't run up their credit cards because they know paying interest to the banks on a Whopper is for chumps.
Cadillac is for the independent thinker who roots for the best ideas, not a political party.
Cadillac is what drives the American Spirit.
Cadillac is at the heart of what will remind America that its the best place on earth when it wants to be.