In the fight to stay relevant against the relentless march of time, many artists and celebrities will adapt their performances and personas to contemporary tastes. Some, however, remain true to their roots, never deviating from their original formula that brought them success. Think of Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald – stars whom delivered time and again the same great enduring performances, even as popular music moved far away from the orchestrated masterpieces they built their fame on.
The 1990 Cadillac Brougham seen here is much like these old performers. When the basic body style first debuted in 1977, the market still believed the full-size luxury sedan was the crème de la crème of automobiles. Cadillac itself was still considered the “Standard of the World.” Across 1977 America, the pinnacle of the American Dream was a Cadillac in the garage. As such, the newly downsized lineup found immediate buyer acceptance. While some traditionalists might have deviated to the still-gargantuan Lincolns whose length could be measured in city blocks, the new Cadillacs were deemed “right-sized” by most. The 425 motor that could be found under the hood provided ample power, offering gobs of torque at low RPMs for effortless acceleration. With their regal styling and real Cadillac big-block motors, these years represented a high watermark for American automotive downsizing.
As the 1980s began, another oil crisis, government mandates and changing times made further downsizing imminent. After playing engine roulette for a number of years in an attempt to meet CAFE requirements, the majority of the lineup was physically downsized a second time, this time losing over 1000 pounds and nearly two feet in length. The one model to escape the corporate liposuction? The venerable Brougham, proudly retaining its long, low and wide proportions and RWD layout. As gas prices stayed low, the big Brougham (which was originally not slated to stay in production) was granted amnesty and continued to be built alongside the smaller and more modern Cadillacs. As the late 1980s dawned, it soon became clear that the market was quickly changing. BMW and Mercedes became the cars to have, and yuppies could care less about the parade floats that Lincoln and Cadillac were peddling. Still, the Brougham lived on, with nary a refresh since 1980. It offered traditional trappings for those afraid of or resistant to change, and its familiar shape was a welcome sight in Cadillac showrooms.
In 1990, Cadillac finally gave the big girl a facelift after she went unchanged for a full decade. The facelift saw the Brougham ditch the quad sealed-beam lamps for euro-style composites, and out back tail lamps now sported with white lenses. Body cladding sprouted along the bottom, and the interior wood trimmings were now a dark burled walnut. More importantly, an optional 5.7 liter, TBI V8 motor hit the option sheet, available with a trailer towing package for civilian buyers. The bigger V8 had 30 more horses and over 50Ib/Ft of torque at hand compared to the base 307, which translated into much improved real-world performance.
Even with this refresh, its old-school size, an interior that had a sell-by date of 1977 and the classic RWD/V8 combo found few takers in 1990. It was simply that fewer and fewer people wanted to purchase a new car that was so obviously a relic from over a decade ago. Indeed, the Brougham stubbornly refused to change with the changing times, instead opting to do what it did best – offer classic, traditional style for the most traditional of Cadillac buyers. The car made no attempts to placate foreign luxury buyers, or try to mislead anyone into thinking it had any of the attributes of a Mercedes or BMW. It stood alone and proud, unchanged in a changing world.
But by the early 1990s, Cadillac could no longer ignore the obvious. The luxury market had moved on, and the time when the biggest and most discerning Cadillac was the sign of success had passed into the rearview mirror. In response, the brand was now pushing the Seville, Eldorado, and the DeVille to try and combat the onslaught of modern luxury cars from both Japan and Germany. Sales for the 1990 Brougham amounted to 33,741 units, and slid down to a paltry 13,761 for 1992, its final year before finally being replaced with a redesigned Fleetwood Brougham.
Over the 15 years that the Brougham lingered around, both it and Cadillac witnessed a shift in the luxury car market of a magnitude never before seen, and not seen since. Acura and Lexus quickly rose to prominence, and Mercedes and BMW became the two luxury giants to beat. Cadillac and Lincoln watched as their clientele aged and their market share slipped. Through it all, the Cadillac Brougham hung around like a venerable grandfather as both the competition and the rest of the Cadillac lineup was continuously updated and modernized, in turn leaving the car further and further in the past.
Today, the 1990-1992 Brougham has aged into an icon, representing the last hurrah of a bygone era. It was the last of the opulent, bejeweled Cadillacs, and the last of the Cadillacs that was reared in a gloriously ignorant time when Mercedes was viewed by the brand as a joke rather than a competitor. In essence, the Brougham represents the last real Cadillac. As contemporary automaker’s ads exalt the sportiness and athleticism of their cars, including Cadillac, cars like the Brougham are becoming more and more a distant memory. Seeing this one today is like hearing an old Sinatra recording – a nostalgic reminder of simpler times, when music and cars were as tasteful as fine wine and the only way to travel was Cadillac Style.