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Cadillac Dad

Posted March 05, 2009 3:16 PM by april05

Overcoming cultural inertia can take a long time, for a country that recovered from that last Great Depression partly from jobs created by World War II and a booming post-war auto industry.


1982 was my second year of high school at Guilderland Central, located in an Albany, New York area suburban school district. Still four years to go before the Pet Shop Boys would go on to make their pop-music commentary on suburbs like mine in their catchy New Wave pop tune, "Suburbia".

At right: "Second Generation" Honda Civic (looked much nicer back in '82). All photos courtesy Wikipedia. -->

Often I'd see a movie, go ice skating, or do what suburban teens typically do, with a group of high school friends I was close to, driving to activities in a compact car borrowed by my friend's mom – an early 1980's Honda Civic. The driver among us, my friend "Sheila" – I'm faking the name here to protect the innocent – borrowed it from her mom. Sheila had a license, I didn't, and neither did most of the other "Dutchmen" (our school mascot) who spent time together.

< --1960 Cadillac "El Dorado Biarritz" convertible from General Motors. It was popular for its massive tail-fins, inspired by the P-38, a plane that helped the U.S. to several victories in the Pacific during World War II.


Meanwhile on the home front, my dad, a life-long Elvis Presley fan who was a teenager and young adult during the "Happy Days" culture of 1950's Poughkeepsie, New York, and a bit older than most of my friends' dads, would more often than not be driving a General Motors product, usually a Cadillac. This was a pattern that he, and many Americans of his generation, adopted at the height of post-war GM sales in the U.S.

Now to my "cognitive dissonance":

  • Fuel economy for a 1981 Honda Civic, manual transmission, like the 3-door model pictured here that I drove in with my friends, was 41 miles per gallon city, 55 miles per gallon highway.
  • Fuel economy for a 1979 Cadillac Fleetwood V8 – much like the model my dad drove - was 17 miles per gallon city, 26 miles per gallon highway.


Often I would ask my dad to consider buying a Honda or similar vehicle. At the time, I admit, it was primarily for vanity reasons, and less for fuel economy – all my friends' dads drove Hondas. It seemed at the time like he was stuck in a past that had ended long before Ronald Reagan took office.

But my dad was inflexible, and continued buying, driving and "selling" me on Cadillac culture right up until recently, when he sold his last one. In my Mechanical Engineering career, I've met others – a sales manager in the Robotics Industry from the Albany area for example – who had the same enthusiasm for Cadillac-culture, not to mention Elvis.


My dad finally saw the light – from my perspective - after almost thirty years of my pleading. I'm not sure it was the recent $4.00 gas spike that finally got to him, or if he's finally succumb to a larger cultural shift going on here in Upstate New York. He now drives a mid-nineties model Toyota Camry, getting well over 30 miles to the gallon in the city.

At right: Painted Trabants used by U2 during their Zoo TV Tour, which passed through Albany in the early 1990's. -->

He's been an incredible grandfather to a little girl my wife and I adopted from China, and even met us when we got off the plane from our adoption trip in Albany. I became a dad for the first time at 38 years of age.

With reference to current events, my hope is, moving into the future, that GM products do not become a symbolic prop at a rock concert, like East Germany's Trabant came to be after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I don't think The King would have ever wanted to drive a Trabi.

- Larry Kelley



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Hobbies - Car Customizing - Dances with Trees Canada - Member - because I can Hobbies - CNC - too much fun Hobbies - Target Shooting - paper shreader

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Re: Cadillac Dad

03/09/2009 11:23 AM

Interesting observation of the cultural differences between the 50s and the 80s in he automotive community. Having lived an automotive life as it were, the changes where very interesting during that time. Many of us had 'big' iron from Detroit, while others had imports, Honda was the most favored. Looking back on the era, I can now see many good reasons. Detroit Iron was still quite costly to purchase used as compared to the imports during that time. Honda still being a relativity new on the market, acceptance take up was still developing and used vehicles had low resale value. There is also the rebelliousness of the generation of the day, not that it is any different today, driving an import was one of the ways to be different.

I can't remember the price of petrol being any concern at the time, still isn't, just a cost of operating our favorite toys. That may be indeed be the difference, gear heads simply don't care how much our lifestyle costs us, and there is a difference between the gear head and those who are enthusiasts. The gear head lives the life, the enthusiast appreciates it. The third group are those who simply don't understand, it can be explained to them, but they will never really get it. Speaking from experience on this one, I AM a gear head, my wife is half and half enthusiast and the third group.

Kevin "Dances with Trees" Willey
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