Avoidable Contact #98: Suddenly, it’s 1976!
In 1852, a fellow named Karl Marx wrote that history often happens twice: “Das eine Mal als Tragödie, das andere Mal als Farce.” First as tragedy, then as farce. Far be it from me to disagree with Marx, especially as I think it’s growing increasingly unwise to do so in public, but as I look at the automotive landscape of 2021 I think the old man has it backwards. What we are seeing now is the tragic repetition of something that was farcical in, say, 1976. Do you require proof? Why, you need only go as far as your local Cadillac dealer.
The 2022 Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing—I think I have that Alpha-Bits jumble right, it’s the product of an immensely stupid naming convention that just makes Lincoln’s nautical lineup look that much better—will be the most powerful Cadillac in history and perhaps the most powerful volume production sedan ever offered with a standard manual transmission. (If you can think of a stronger one, feel free to leave an appropriately superior-sounding comment in the box below.) I’d like to own a CT5-V Blackwing, even though it’s approximately as handsome as the National Fisheries Development Board Building. There’s something compelling about the way this car blends hideous looks, considerable ability, a complete lack of self-awareness, and an obvious willingness to commit moronic violence at the drop of a hat.
(Or at least that’s the feedback I used to get on OKCupid.)
Would you care to guess how much the CT5-V Blackwing costs? A base CT5 is something like thirty-seven grand before the inevitable cascade of discounts, so I’d figured it would be $75k for the good one. This is a lot of money, particularly for a struggling writer like yours truly, but I’ve spent the pandemic paying off debt and boosting my FICO score to the point where a bank might take a flyer on me without looking too closely. Armed with this complete lack of self-awareness, I went to check out the CT5-V Blackwing pricing.
Turns out it starts at $84,990. Alright, that’s pretty steep, but I hear they are doing seven-year financing now. Unfortunately for me, that base price is very base and it gets you something that doesn’t differ too much in terms of comfort and convenience from the $36,995 base CT5. This won’t do. I don’t expect to match the Genesis G90 in terms of luxury—this is a 668-horsepower four-door Camaro, y’know—but I’m going to have to get some upgrades for the thing.
Well, when you tick all the boxes the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing (I’m already tired of typing that out) lists for a breathtaking $125,980. From what I can see, the interior and equipment you get for that price still won’t raise any particular envy in your average Genesis owner. A fully-equipped AMG E63-S with a bunch of extra packages can be had for ten grand less, and it looks like it’s from a different class entirely, probably because it is.
This is what General Motors should have done: they should have taken the money they put into the Bolt program, which wasted billions of dollars creating heavily subsidized vehicles that nobody wanted at any price above 50% of MSRP, and they should have used it to reduce the price of the CT5-V Blackwing down to, say, $59,999. This would have put blood in the water at showrooms, and GM could have sold 50,000 or more of them at that price before they started to approach the costs of basically giving the Bolt away.
There’s plenty of precedent for dumping totally wonderful luxury cars on the market below cost to drive customers crazy and build momentum for a brand, although it would be stupid of me to make unproven allegations about any particular example.
By the way, you know what was a great car? The 1990 Lexus LS400, which sold for $35,000 base.
The CT5-V Blackwing will be the last of its kind. Cadillac is making the move to electric
showroom anchors luxury cars in the near future. If the people who always seem to get their way end up getting their way again, the automotive future is going to be much worse than the automotive present, or the automotive past.
Man, this is a great time to work in collector and classic stuff.
Cue reverse Marx, however: this tragedy of seeing once-in-a-lifetime stuff like a 668-horse stick-shift Caddy headed for the glue factory has already happened once before, as farce, around 1976. Back then, there was another cost-no-object, big-power Cadillac heading for oblivion: the sloppy, outsized, crass, and thoroughly wonderful Eldorado convertible.
Then, as now, the winds of political change were forcing automakers to build stuff nobody wanted, although the 1980 Citation could only kill the body while the typical modern EV also has the capacity to kill the soul. Power was dropping across the board. The cars were getting uglier and more porcine, cutting features (hello, A-body rear windows!) while raising prices. It’s difficult to explain to younger enthusiasts just how slow the cars of the late ’70s and early ’80s were. Nineteen-second quarter-mile times were commonplace. If you had an automatic transmission Audi 5000, a very common prestige car of the era, you weren’t going to win a stoplight drag race against anything stouter than a VW van. I recall when 60 Minutes ran their hit piece about “unintended acceleration” in the 5000; my first thought was “How could they tell?”
Of course, today’s “compliance cars” and electric vehicles are just as fast, if not faster, than conventional gasoline-powered cars. They just don’t go very far before requiring a nice long chat with a charging device. At least you could drive an Audi 5000 from New York to Los Angeles without ever stopping more than a few minutes at a time, assuming you didn’t tug the doorhandles too sharply during any of those stops, because they tended to disintegrate. Oh, and you’ll want to check your brake accumulator before you go, unless you have the legs of Nelson Vails.
Back in 1976, it was widely supposed that the end of great cars was just around the corner. Yet the much-feared event never truly happened. Even in the auto industry’s darkest hours you had lively, fun-loving options like the Civic 1500S or Dodge Charger 2.2. There was about a three-year period during the Carter Administration where you couldn’t buy anything that ran a 13-second quarter-mile at any price, but that was as bad as it got.
Some of my readers will bristle at this, but I think the “Malaise Era” ended up producing some great vehicles. They weren’t always well-built or reliable, but I defy you to tell me that a 1977 Cutlass Supreme or Monte Carlo doesn’t have more style than, say, a current Rolls-Royce or Bentley. The Lincoln Mark V and the aforementioned Eldorado were rolling sculptures with a sense of visual harmony you can’t get in a modern luxury crossover.
In short, the much-predicted death of the personally-owned automobile turned out to be nothing more than a farce. If you were unlucky, you did a couple of years’ penance driving a K-car before you got a 1988 Maxima or something similarly wonderful. If you had a shark’s sense of the market, you never had to drive a boring car at all. There was always something out there that stirred the soul. It’s true that very few people will ever esteem the 1980 Olds 4-4-2 the way they do the 1968 model, but that’s a matter of degree only.
The CT5-V Blackwing is a far, far better vehicle than the 1976 Eldorado ever pretended to be. Very few factory muscle cars of the Woodstock era would have been able to stay with it in a straight line. On a road course, it wouldn’t be a contest worth having. The Blackwing will probably start in sub-zero temperatures without complaint and immediately produce 70-degree cabin temps in Death Valley. You can hunt for Huracans and then you can idle in Manhattan traffic for hours. It is priced beyond all reason but if you ever need an example of how General Motors was not completely and totally degraded by the Barra regency then here you go.
Which makes its short-lived turn on the stage, along with the similarly truncated lifespans of everything from the rear-wheel-drive BMW M5 to the Durango Hellcat, all the more tragic. We will miss this Cadillac, and its contemporaries, when they are gone. There is a genuine tragedy heading our way. No innumerable flood of “iPhones on wheels” will cure the gnawing gap in our souls that will appear when you can no longer buy something with this kind of spirit, on a whim, and in an American showroom.
Yes, I know some of you like your Teslas. I can sympathize. I like playing Fortnite, too, but it’s not a real substitute for putting on a stylish fursuit, parachuting onto a distant island, bashing open a couple of golden treasure chests, and using a rocket launcher to blow up someone’s hastily-constructed wooden shack. Human beings are designed to love fire, to enjoy a rough and animal kind of noise, to take raw pleasure in certain actions that are in no way improved with the addition of batteries.
Of course, we could stop it. We could stop this pseudo-mandatory electrification dead in its tracks. It would be easier than winning a World War, easier than creating the TVA, easier than getting to the moon… in short, easier than many other things we no longer have the national will or heart to accomplish. Oh well. Wooden ships and iron men, you know the drill.
In the meantime, I’d like to suggest that some of our more fortunate members and readers out there in the Hagerty universe take a serious look at reserving a CT5-V Blackwing. Think of it as a one-man stand against mediocrity, cowardice, me-too-iguana thinking. If you’re going to ride off into the sunset someday, this is the way to do it. I’m reminded of a quote in a car magazine a long time ago, from a rural dealer who sold Crown Victoria “police interceptors” to the general public:
“Ford don’t like it, but boy, I do.”
I doubt Karl Marx would approve of the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing, nor would he endorse your decision to purchase one. But he doesn’t get to win every single time. Marx don’t like it, but boy, I do. Now put that in your textbook and repeat it.