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.

1984 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 secret service reagan bush

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.




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    Civilian versions-typically livery service-were spot-on for reliability. Even the (mostly horror) storied V/8-6-4s were great once you threw in the towel and deactivated the system. We serviced one of them at the service station at which I worked. 300K miles on no motor work (thank you Mobil 1), with one trans rebuild, and then by some fluke the block cracked down the back, at the bellhousing. I never saw that before or since on a Cadillac motor but it was a shame-that car would almost certainly by a half-million miler otherwise.

    I remember as a kid I got to go to the White House and we rolled up to the gate in a Fleetwood 75 back when it was a monster in the early 70’s.

    We were there during storm and not many people were around but my mother and I got out and just walked right in like you could back then for the tour.

    I went back years later and had to go through all the security and though how easy as a kid it was then.

    We later went to dinner on Pennsylvania ave and was walking back to the hotel. We stopped at the National Archives that were still oven and then came out to find the street close.

    Not long after there was many sirens and lights. Then I spotted a low top Cadillac coming by. I looked and about 7 feet away from us was Bill Clinton. He waived as he went by. I did look for a lady in a blue dress but he was alone this time.

    I had some other brushes with the limos over the years. Here in Akron I was on a freeway and found my self along. All of a sudden a helicopter came over the road and here came President Bush. #1. He was with the gov and could clearly be seen in the high top Caddy.

    Year before that at Akron Canton Airport Richard Nixon came and as he was leaving the Lincoln Continental was pulled over to the passenger gates of the small airport in the late 60’s. The limo was there to where I could go up and put my nose on the glass to look in as a small kid. The Secret Service just watched and smiled.

    My final close brush was with the car Regan was shot in. The Towncar was on display in San Diego and the rear bumper folds down for the Secret Service as a step. Well my shoe was untied so I sat down and tied it on the bumper.

    A few years later we saw it again at the Henry Ford Museum. We saw it the car Kennedy was shot in and the Chair Lincoln was shot in. My buddy then saw a tube with Edison’s last breath and stated this is a gruesome place. Then is has to speculate on how they got the last breath. Did they push down on his stomach? LOL!

    FYI I also was at the home of a GM designer who oversaw the limo program. He had a plaque with a piece of glass from the limo with a bullet hole. It was the rest shot the Service did to test the glass. They gave him the award for the work he did on the car. GM was very involved as they are today in the limo program.

    There are very few Cadillacs that in my opinion that are good-looking, but the early 80s model years are among them. I think the 1980 model year is great looking, that’s when the taillights were squared off at the top, and they appeared to be a little wider. One of my favorites were the 65 and 66 models. They had very straight lines from front to rear, and the stacked, thin, headlights. The bold, pointed grill looked massive and powerful. I liked the 72s, too, but from 73 to 76 they were just big and boring, the rear end had no style at all. The horizontal taillights were too thin and the plastic filler between the bumper and rear fenders did not accept the paint the same as the metal, and on top of that, the plastic didn’t age well so the filler was a different color than the rest of the car. The interior was even more boring than the exterior, no style with nothing but a speedometer and a row of idiot lights. The entire car was an example of typical GM lack of commitment in building cars at the time. On the other hand, the same era Lincolns were beautiful, it too was big and boxy, but the Lincoln Town Car had nice styling details. The large vertical grill, hidden headlights, and side turn indicators with chrome bezels had a presence of traditional American luxury. The taillights, with the reflective panel spanning the full width of the car, is very Lincolnesck, and the red reflective Lincoln star covering the trunk key hole added nice detail to the rear of the car. The B piller coach lamps and textured half vinyl top added luxurious detail to the side view. The interior was gorgeous, with full gauges and horizontal bar speedometer matched the detail of the exterior. All this blew the boring Cadillac away. What’s really sad is neither Ford or GM even build full-size sedans that can be modified to a presidential car. Instead SUVs would need to be used, and I think that’s just wrong. In the 80s I worked in West Los Angeles, when President Reagan came to town, Air Force One would land at the Santa Monica Airport and he stayed at the Century Plaza Hotel. He was in a Lincoln that headed up his entourage. We would stand on the streets waiting for the entourage to pass.

    I don’t care if this isn’t a high-top or if certain things are deleted from original (for instance, I don’t need bullet-proof tires) – I would still feel like the Prez riding around in it. However, I think it’s more probable that Mrs. DUB6 would feel like the first female Prez while I would feel like the first female Prez’s chauffer. Either way, Sajeev’s liberal use of the word “decadent” in the article surely fits the bill!

    About those modifications for the Secret Service — in the 1990’s I worked for a large testing lab.
    We had two of theirs in, primarily for testing against EMI & RFI.

    It was noted that, at least for that time period, the cars all had carbureted fuel systems, rather than electronic fuel injection. Tamperproof!
    Run-flat tires too, of course.

    I have only owned 2 Cadillacs, the first was a 1947 Sedan, Series 62 I think it was which I bought for next to nothing on a South African auction floor because nobody knew anything about working on a Caddy, well, neither did I but I took a chance, it was a great car and after a re paint it sold a few months later for five times what I paid for it. The second was a 1972 Limo that had been the SA President P.W. Botha’s State Limo. It was beautiful and once I took 9 friends to a dinner / dance restaurant where the entrance was roped off but when they saw the Cadillac approaching they indicated where I was to park, right in front of the main entrance. They must have thought that we were somebody very important!

    Once Cadillac switched to the HT 4100 engine sales tell the story. What a piece of underpowered junk. I worked for Lincoln Mercury in the 70′ and 80’s. Cadillac outsold Lincoln 6 to 1 in the 60’s and 70’s. After the 4100 Lincoln Continental 4 door outsold Cadillac. That’s all you have to know about the Cadillac and how far they fell. In mid 80’s I opened my own shop which I still have . The DA6 a/c compressor on these cars would tear up and contaminate the whole system. I can’t count the number of camshafts I put in 4100s.

    I took a part time job as chauffeur to the very rich and famous in DC in the ’80s and drove these fine Cadillac limos. These factory made were outstanding – powerful, smooth, easy, and so beautiful. A good driver never tells but my clients were and remain worldwide household names. And yes, they are normal people.

    One drive stands out above all others. My client came out of the US Capitol late afternoon with others filling the Cadillac. He was due at State Dept within 5 minutes 23 blocks away. I floored the V-8 out the Capitol grounds and managed the yellow light at the bottom of Capitol Hill barely, then hit green or yellow lights the entire way through traffic, carb and mufflers rumbling loudly all the way. Conversation stopped behind as I progressed through each light in turn one after another at speed the entire 23 blocks. Ex-Secret Service agent bodyguard next to me was aghast pressing his feet against the floorboards, staring at me. No one could said a word. When I pulled up to State Dept front entrance, never once having to stop, everyone fell out of the limo white faced, except my client who nodded to me as I held his door open. It was epic, and I doubt can ever be repeated. That’s one of those great Cadillac moments of the ’80’s for me I’ll always remember. Great limo.

    In the fall of 1960 I was in the 6th grade in Humboldt, Tn. My class walked several blocks to the highway to the county seat of Trenton, TN. We did this because former President Truman was driving thru to campaign for John Kennedy in Trenton. I remember Truman waving to us but most of all I remember he was in a black very early 50s Cadillac 75 Limo. As a car geek even then I was astonished. Believe you me in rural West Tennessee Cadillac limos were never seen. Great memory. The small town of Humboldt did for some reason have a Cadillac dealership. Was Couch Motor Company. They were a Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Rambler dealership. After Olds introduced the “compact” F-85, they company dropped Rambler. Oh, by the way Kennedy did not carry Tennessee in 1960.

    I have seen one of these presidential duty cars back when Bush was vice president. It’s a big boat.

    Great article. It would be interesting if the new owner were to out that limo on a scale. Then compare that number with the factory weight spec. That would give a bit of info as to how much armor was added. Also check the cyl. head part numbers to see what “juiced” engine was installed post factory

    The Prime Minister of Israel’s “state car” in the early 60’s was a stretched Studebaker. Israeli governments at the time were notoriously economical, so the car is widely believed to have been used up entirely and scrapped — but it remains near the top of every Stude owner’s dream list.

    I once restored and owned a ’72 Fleetwood 75 Limousine. If you are considering one of these, you should know that there are two versions of the Fleetwood 75 with important differences. There is the “Sedan” and the “Limousine “. The one shown here is the Sedan. You can see it has full luxury and comfort for all, including the driver. They were used by people on the same team, wealthy families, Secret Service, Funeral Homes so families could have extra seats that face each other. The Limousine however, was a partitioned formal car and is extra special to own. They were built for heads of state and the extremely rich. Cool to own but be warned. It’s not a driver’s car. The rear compartment has the same colours and comfort as the Sedan. The front does not. The entire front compartment comes in one colour. Black. You get an upright, flat leather bench seat with very little fore and aft adjustment. No recline. No tilt or telescopic steering. Even getting in or out of the car is not so easy. That’s because it’s a chauffeur’s car. You are a servant. Nothing more. It’s an idea that dates back to the 1930s cars. They never stopped making them that way, even up to 1984. There is also a second air conditioner in the trunk behind the rear seat. It’s a massive and complex machine. Good luck fixing it. I showed mine to an A/C shop. They were speechless. So I had no A/C in my Cadillac. Get one but choose your version wisely.

    Very good point, as I owned one of these and it was also a Limo, with the partition. Luckily I had no problem being comfortable behind the wheel, but that might be because it was a 1986 model with the more spacious front wheel drive floorpan. And the partitions on those were scooped out a little to ensure the seat could move back a bit more.

    The engine the 1984 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 used was a 6.0L, 368 cid V8-6-4 with fuel injection & 3 speed automatic transmission.

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