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.
Now this was something. I can still remember the cold November day our class ring sales representative arrived, granted top secret clearance from our school administrators to walk around our building at his leisure, hauling around his cheap attaché case of mesmerizing trinkets. He looked exactly like you’d expect a school ring salesman to look–pale blue “dress slacks,” a crazy plaid sportcoat left over from the 70s, hangdog face, medicine ball-sized paunch, and battered brown shoes that had trudged down thousands of miles of shiny waxed high school hallways.
It was the personalization that made the rings irresistible. You could basically recreate your whole teenage identity with these things. Even if your rural Maine high school happened not to have a rodeo team, if you had always been fascinated by roping calves and riding bulls you could go ahead and get “Rodeo Team” stamped right on the side of your ring. Were you a third-string benchwarmer on the roundball squad? No problem–on your ring you could announce to the world that you were a “Basketball All-Star.” Hell, even the most brain-damaged, perennially-flunked burnout could order a ring that said National Honor Society on it, and Mr. Ring Salesman, even if he may have personally doubted that the bedraggled, pot-reeking punk in front of him was capable of achieving such a thing, wasn’t about to run up his family’s long distance bill to call NHS headquarters and have them confirm or deny it. To him, it was just another nice commission.
I remember badgering my parents into paying something like $143 for the top of the line “gold” version, a bauble probably cast from melted-down tin Burger Chef ashtrays Jostens had nabbed for a song at some franchise liquidation sale. I even insisted on extras like the special textured underside and my very own laser-engraved signature on the inside. Clearly, I believed in the finer things in life. But why spare any expense when I’d be wearing it for a lifetime!!
Jostens manufacturing plant wasn’t the most efficient, I think the turnaround on these things was something like half a year—you ordered it in November and it finally showed up in April or May. But there was no denying it was a special day when our sales rep returned, jacketless now in a nicotine-stained short sleeve dress shirt, to hand out our rings. Students sang and danced in the corridors with such joy it was like Alice Cooper had just arrived to burn the whole school down.
I think I wore it five times.