She still crouches there, deep within my memory banks–all hunkered down in feline repose on those flying buttressed haunches. The Jaguar XJ-S was a coupe that could stand on its own, but to see one of these sandwiched between some battered Oldsmobile Starfire Firenza and an already rusted-out three month-old Chevrolet Citation in the potholed parking lot of the local Montgomery Ward, was to espy something that stood out like a Fabergé egg that had been thoughtlessly discarded onto a pile of yellow-paged Eisenhower-era wrestling magazines.
To have one of these was to have a V-12 tucked under the bonnet and although this engine put out roughly the same amount of brake horsepower as you might find in a modern Hyundai Genesis Coupe sporting eight less cylinders, those were different times, Jim! It was still a V-12–back in the day, that drunk down at the end of the bar bragging about the “monster V8” in his Coupe De Ville was a piker any way you looked at it.
The car was just as special inside as out. The dash and console were furnished in something called “walnut burl” and it was gorgeous. The simple, stark black and white gauges were by Smiths, a company so cool a bunch of geezers from Manchester stole it for the name of their musical group. The cigarette lighter would only light up Dunhills, so you’d best have some matches handy if you were going to persist in favoring Newport Menthols.
Of course, and it was a big of course, Jags of this era were notoriously unreliable. Lots of folks joked about this but it was no laughing matter when the Coventry-bred gremlins that came free of charge with every auto that rolled off the line decided to get wake up and get mischievous just when you were passing through the “bad side of town.” The driver of this car was going to garner very little sympathy when their lovely grand tourer rolled to a stop in the middle of a busy street. Especially if it was in a neighborhood where most of the residents rode the bus.
But that sort of thing is for the sociology professors to discuss. Those who love cars, especially beautiful cars, just look at it and say “Ahhhh!”
By 1982 Cadillac had spent roughly 80 years building and then polishing its brand into one of the most respected around. “The Standard of the World” they called themselves and for a long time they could still utter such lofty proclamations and actually keep a straight face. It was true a few chinks in the ol’ crest and wreath had started to appear during the 70s in regards to that always important little thing called “reliability” but the marque was still producing some larger-than-life, desirable cars in that decade. 70s Eldorado Convertible, anyone? Yes, please–Bum Phillips had six of them. It all went horribly wrong, though, in 1982, when a bunch of automotive apostates at GM decided to urinate on the grave of Antoine Laumet de la Mothe, sieur de Cadillac’s grave by “designing” and then offering for sale an object they called the Cadillac Cimarron. It sounded like something you’d sprinkle on buttered toast, but lots of fine automobiles have had weird names. The only problem was that the Cimarron fell about 100 miles short of being a fine automobile.
Let’s see, a four cylinder engine in a Cadillac? Seems weird. A body that looks distinctly like a Cavalier? Even weirder, huh? Wait a minute, isn’t that…no, it couldn’t be…but shit, look at it. Hell, it IS a Cavalier! For just shy of twice the price of a Cavalier, the lucky consumer would receive pretty much the exact same auto with some pretty badges screwed onto the hood and trunk and leather seats cut from the hides of diseased, USDA Grade Z bovines. Oh, and “courtesy lights”–mustn’t forget those. Not exactly the bargain of the century and even die-hard GM loyalists with questionable taste saw through this little scam. Nobody bought it, and the one guy I used to work with who did, (albeit in used form ten years after the fact) was a total tool and would have still been such even if he had somehow wound up behind the wheel of a 1969 Lamborghini Miura. Water finds its own level, as they say.
The Cimarron helped start a downward spiral for a once venerated brand that’s only been reversed in the last five or ten years, although I must add, GM’s decision to remove the DUCKS (they’re actually called merlettes but no sane person would know that) from the Cadillac crest earlier this year was absolute fucking bullshit. I don’t know any other way to say it.
This coupe tried its best to look sporty, but it pretty much resembled a Fiat X1/9 that had been subsisting on Krispy Kremes and Big Gulps its whole life. The real selling point, or what Buick thought was a selling point, was the car’s “Electronic Control Center.” Touch screens in automobiles these days can be found on entry-level Kias, but in 1989, using an interactive monitor in place of more traditional climate and radio controls was a radical step forward.
The trouble was Buick’s elderly clientele– average age 64 years and 3 months at that time—were not radicals. The typical Buick driver may have seen “video games” in the waiting area of Pizza Hut when they were taking their grandchildren out for a treat, but to have some alien green TRS-80 style interface slapped up inside their dashboard was too much. This age group was already causing major havoc on the motorways–now Buick was asking them to take their eyes off the road for 10, 15, even 25 seconds at a time to muddle about with an interface that was incomprehensible to them. No records were kept, but you can bet that many fatal accidents were caused by this “innovative feature.”
The Reatta drivers who managed to survive overwhelmed their dealers with so much negative feedback that by the time the 1991 model was released the screen had been replaced with more traditional push buttons and analog dials. It was too little, too late and the car was nixed from the Buick lineup the very next year.