The Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham may always be remembered as the benchmark for American luxury cars. These cars with their big V-8 engines, soft cushy seats for six full size Americans were the mark of a successful career or an eventful retirement ready to cover mile after mile on the open roads. First introduced to the American public in 1947 it remained in production until 1996.
Throughout its long run Cadillac never failed to meet the expectations of its loyal customers in terms of size, style and comfort. While engineering advances increased the fuel efficiency, improved the handling and increased safety to meet new standards, there was always an eye towards those factors which separated Cadillac from other luxury car makers in terms of comfort and style.
Until the end, the Fleetwood Brougham was most definitely an American luxury car. No firm European sports suspension, this was a vehicle that was built for comfort. The ride was very soft, and occupants are well-insulated from the outside world. Constant advances in engineering led to the development of speed-sensitive power steering making the Fleetwood Brougham easy to maneuver – especially for its size. Also dedicated work on suspension led to advances which allowed this grand vehicle to move smoothly and efficiently down the road with no excessive motion when quickly changing lanes or when traveling on poorly-maintained roads.
Constant care to every detail ensured good sound insulation and low levels of wind noise made the inside of the Fleetwood Brougham luxuriously quiet. This was one vehicle that always epitomized the classic American large luxury sedan.
The first Cadillac to carry the name Fleetwood Brougham was a sedan which was produced in 1947. A coupe and limousine version of this vehicle began appearing shortly afterwards. These vehicles were intended to be the top of the line models and were the most expensive produced by Cadillac. The unmatched attentions to detail, luxurious trimming, leather seats and chrome bows in the headliner made these cars stand out from all others. Cadillac sold over 2,000 in 1947, with sales increasing each year with the largest gains being in 1950, over 4,500 and 1951 with over 9,000 sales. The 1951 models had major style changes. These cars were lower and sleeker in design. The hood was made longer and new one-piece windshields were now being used.
In 1954, the Fleetwood Brougham’s body shell was changed to be more in line with other standard Cadillac’s. These changes allowed GM, the parent company of Cadillac, to lower the cost of production, thus lowering the price of the vehicle. Cadillac was rewarded by these changes with a substantial jump in sales of new Fleetwood Broughams.
1957 marked the most significant design change to the Brougham with the introduction of the Eldorado Brougham. This four-door hardtop with rear opening back doors was the top of the line in luxury cars with a stainless steel roof, air suspension, the first dual headlights, memory power seats and other standard features. While the ultimate in luxury, sales were low and production only lasted for two years.
The size and power of the Fleetwood Brougham continued to grow from 1949 through the early 1970s. By 1973, it had reached its largest size with increases of 4 inches in wheelbase, 17 inches in overall length and more than 900 pounds from the original. The standard V8 engine had also grown from 331 to 472 cubic inches. By 1977, fuel concerns led to GM downsizing their full sized fleet. Decreases were made in the wheel base by 11.5 inches and in the size of the engine to 425 cubic inches.
In the late 1970’s, the Fleetwood Brougham was still considered the top of the line Cadillac but due to cost saving changes was nearly identical to the less expensive Sedan DeVille. Other than the name, the only exterior differences were the hubcaps and the hood ornament, (the Fleetwood had a wreath and crest, the DeVille, just a crest) The interior of the Fleetwood was more plush and offered more features standard.
In 1980, Cadillac gave all its top line cars a new body style with a squarer more formal look. Interior designs remained virtually unchanged as did most other standard features. In 1985, the two-door Fleetwood Brougham coupe was discontinued and in 1986 the engine was replaced with a more dependable 307 cubic inch V8.
The Fleetwood Brougham was given its first noticeable changes in ten years during the 1990 production year. These changes included composite headlights, wrap around front bumper, rocker panel improvements and clear/white tail lamps. It was also available with a larger 350 cubic inch Chevrolet V8. This new design was renamed the Cadillac Brougham in hopes of bringing new customers to the Cadillac brand.
The Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham, along with other full sized vehicles, was retired by General Motors in December of 1996 to make room for the increased production requirement for the Chevy Suburban and the Tahoe lines. This left the Lincoln Town Car to be the only traditional American full-size luxury vehicle on the market.
Throughout production the Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham always led the way in the evolution of luxury. There was never any “Euro-styling” in the design of these vehicles. The notable grille design, the highly chromed bumpers and easily recognizable markings were still the benchmark for high quality. Interior comfort was always a hallmark for Fleetwood Brougham. Few sedans ever had more interior space, with shoulder space being well over 5 feet with the final versions. Advances in comfort were always found first in these luxury cars including individual integrated heating elements, adjustable lumbar support, powered seats, windows, door locks and mirrors. The door panels and dashboard were always top quality and with an eye toward detail, with padded leather and authentic wood trim.