Only the most exclusive Cadillac belongs in the Secret Service
There’s no doubt that Cadillac is a storied brand in the hearts and minds of countless Americans. But a lesser-known truth lies within factory-built limousines wearing the Wreath and Crest: These vehicles dominated the private chauffeur and forthcoming livery market for decades. The limos first made their mark in 1936, when Fleetwood Metal Body turned Cadillacs into the prestigious Fleetwood Series 70 and 75 models. While Cadillac and Fleetwood weren’t the only game in town back then, the integration of Fleetwood into GM’s influential Fisher Body division ensured the flagship limousines outlived their coachbuilt competition, lasting even longer than LeBaron, acquired by Chrysler.
Make no mistake, Fisher Body had an astounding amount of influence within General Motors, embodying the Hold-up Problem and inspiring tattoos of loyalty. Fisher Body did things its own way, and it likely became the driving force behind the longevity of the Fleetwood Series 75. It won market share by attrition: Consolidation ensured almost every limo in popular culture was gonna be a Cadillac by the 1970s. Royalty was shuttled in these Cadillacs for decades, and they were the preferred mode of transport for the likes of TV’s Banacek.
Fisher Body’s formula was simple: start with a Cadillac Coupe DeVille (for that decadent C-pillar), repurpose the Sedan DeVille’s front doors, heavily modify the rear doors, and turn it all into something special for the upper crust of our upper class. While the downsized Cadillacs of 1977 lack the impressive footprints of their elders, they still made for fantastically decadent limousines. Downsizing their core competency paid dividends, as GM added fuel economy while subtracting bulk with precision. The company applied the strategy to everything from the range-topping Fleetwood Series 75 to the downright approachable Chevrolet Impala. The next generation of livery-spec Lincoln Town Car, rear-wheel-drive Chrysler, and GM SUV limos were still but a dream, but that was quickly becoming a reality.
The Fleetwood Series 75 formula that Fisher Body perfected worked quite well … until it didn’t.
Fisher Body bit the dust in 1984, a victim of GM’s need to right-size the organization in the face of a Rude Awakening. Cadillac made one last stab at custom-bodied glory by subcontracting Fleetwood Series 75 production to Hess & Eisenhardt, using the latest platform in GM’s arsenal: the downsized, front-wheel-drive Cadillac DeVille. The new baby ‘Lac promised high technology in an age that demanded it. Somewhat ironically, this progressive platform was also the last home of the wholly traditional Coupe DeVille. The demise of the rear-drive architecture ensured there was no other alternative for a Cadillac limousine. Perhaps the Fleetwood Series 75 should have died along with Fisher Body?
It is likely the outgoing DeVille was the best Fleetwood Series 75 that Cadilac ever made. No matter how you skin it, the demise of this Cadillac is a sad moment in history, one that’s regularly lost in a sea of contemporary success stories (Corvette, Camaro). The fact that the last day of rear-wheel drive, in-house, Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 construction at Fisher Body’s Plant 21 was April Fool’s Day in 1984 is no joke—and neither is the following example from that same year. It is all business, all the time.
While it did not transport presidents (that was the job of the high-roof Caddy), this 1984 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 was used by the U.S. Secret Service as a lead car. Running ahead and clearing paths for Presidents Reagan and Bush was no small feat, and this limo still looks ready for service, even if it will be seeking a new, civilian home at the Mecum Dallas auction.
While we may never know all the modifications the Secret Service made to this particular Fleetwood Series 75, the seller provides documentation proving the original owner was indeed America’s Department of Homeland Security.
The auction description goes further, suggesting this limousine was “utilized in overseas motorcades.” Such usage would be ample reason to add high levels of ballistic protection under the taut, stamped sheetmetal of Cadillac’s exclusive D-body. But that shiny black paint will never tell, and Mecum has no information or photography to help us discern whether Cadillac’s HT4100 engine passed muster with the Secret Service back in 1984 or if a new engine was put in its place. (EDIT: Turns out these Limos still ran the big block, displacement on demand, V8-6-4 engine.)
You never know, this could be is an older Fleetwood Series 75, sporting newer interior/exterior bits to modernize the look. This would not be the first time the Secret Service did such OEM+ modifications to a presidential fleet vehicle. One thing’s very likely, however: The newer Goodyear Regatta whitewalls are unlikely to protect and serve like the original rubber did when in service.
Clearly we must look inside to understand what makes this particular Fleetwood Series 75 so special. There are numerous Presidential Seals embroidered within the Caddy’s blue interior, which omits the (optional) privacy partition between the seats. The folding rear jump seats remain; they likely aided the Secret Service in their activities, much like the microphone on the rear door and CB radio below the climate control unit. Since this is a Cadillac, that HVAC control panel is computer-controlled, with an electronic tape deck perched above it for everyone’s entertainment. When off duty, of course.
Entertaining the right rear passenger was paramount for all Fleetwood Series 75s, as this is (usually?) where redundant controls for the radio, power windows, and HVAC reside. They certainly came in handy when one didn’t feel the need to make conversation/eye contact with the driver, plus most everything was tucked neatly below that Coupe DeVille–derived quarter window in a wood-rimmed nook topped by a sliding door. Odds are the Secret Service retained these factory-bestowed goodies, or at least one can hope: the right rear seating position possesses the most impressive technology one can enjoy in a Cadillac.
This rear-seat climate-control feature stood the test of time: Be it newer Cadillacs or any other luxury vehicle, such as the Lexus above, the handiwork present in Fisher Body’s Fleetwood Series 75 inspired a new generation of luxury motorcar. Which is great, but there’s only one original. And sometimes it is worthy of a presidential motorcade.