I recently had the chance to drive a 1989 Cadillac Brougham that’s been owned by one family since it was purchased new on September 22, 1988, more than 30 years ago. It was quite a time capsule, and it was quite entertaining and interesting to see what Cadillac’s best efforts looked like back in 1989.
To start, a brief overview: the Brougham I drove used a 5.0-liter V8, as you’d expect of a full-size luxury sedan from this era, except that it had only 140 horsepower. Yes, it has less power than a Chevrolet Sonic. This is in spite of the fact that the Brougham is actually two feet longer than a Range Rover. Clearly, I was not expecting a thrilling machine.
And yet, the Brougham is rewarding in other ways — specifically, with its tremendously classic look and feel. When people say "they don’t make ’em like this anymore," they’re referring to cars like the Brougham, which is a huge, rear-wheel-drive, body-on-frame, old-school sedan. The seats are not designed to offer regenerative properties for your back, or whatever modern seats claim to do. They’re designed to feel like pillows that you sink into when you sit down.
And, indeed, this translates to just about every aspect of the Brougham — like, for instance, the steering: it’s almost laughably vague and indirect, but that’s sort of the point. This is a car you were intended to be able to steer with your pinky, using as little effort as possible, because this was a true, old-school luxury vehicle, rather than a modern luxury vehicle that combines performance and sport and luxury and family practicality and blah blah blah. The Brougham had one purpose: unashamed luxury.
This is proven when you mash the throttle. This is undoubtedly one of the slowest cars I’ve driven in the last 12 months, which is funny because you’d think I’d be saying that about a small 4-cylinder economy car, not a RWD vehicle with a V8. But, indeed, this particular RWD vehicle with a V8 is insanely slow, almost as if they didn’t want any setting — including mashing your foot to the floor — to interrupt the serene luxury atmosphere.
Of course, this is all surprising to hear by modern standards, as today’s Cadillac is very different from the Cadillac of older times. Now the brand is aimed at young shoppers and full of edgy styling, technology and SUVs. But back in 1989, Cadillac was primarily catering to elderly drivers still clinging to the massive, boat-sized cars of the 1960s and 1970s, and the driving experience that went along with them. This car certainly feels like the end of the line in "old school" Cadillac.
The styling, too, has that appearance. The Brougham looks like the car you’d see in mobster movies set in the 1980s, which, of course, is because this is what all the 1980s mobsters drove. When the Brougham ended production in 1992, Cadillac switched to the Fleetwood — and when that went out of production in 1996, it was the true end of an era: the boxy, 90-degree-angle-in-back, old-school Cadillac. It’s a total relic.
And yet, it’s a charming relic. The Brougham is slow, it doesn’t handle well and the features are laughable by modern standards. But this car is loaded with character, and it’s tremendously interesting to get an insight into what Cadillac was doing just 30 years ago — and how massively different this Cadillac is than modern models. Mostly, it was just fun to drive down the street and pretend I was a 1980s industrial tycoon, who walked into the Cadillac dealership and ordered "the best one ya got."