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Cadillac never offered factory station wagons in the classic era.
These cars were about status, luxury and providing the most effortless means of travel modern American automotive technology could conceive: cars that looked – and felt – very much in accordance with what its loyal audience expected.
That was nothing more than a fast and quiet three-box car with a giant engine (at 8.2 litres, the V8s were bigger than ever by the mid-’70s), in which handling prowess (or lack of it) was totally subordinate to a pillow-soft ride. A car for which big was still beautiful.
The Euro-sized Seville was on its way, but the full-sized rear-drive cars in the Calais/De Ville/Fleetwood series were still uncompromisingly huge.
The typical owner – as likely to be lounging on the rear seat with a copy of The Wall Street Journal as driving it themselves – had left the world of estate-car utility motoring behind long ago.
The Cadillac was neither family holdall nor luxury school bus, but a statement of personal achievement, probably a reward for years of toil behind a desk for some giant corporation.
This was the car to take to the golf club, the car with which to retire to Palm Springs or Florida.
The fact that Cadillac could sell every car it could build (1970 and ’73 had both been record-breaking years) proved that its conservative game plan – building sedans, limousines, coupes and convertibles, but absolutely no station wagons – was continuing to work well.
However, there was no ruling to say that you could not have a coachbuilt super-luxury estate car made to order for you, if you were willing to pay for it.
Given that Cadillacs were routinely built as ambulances, hearses and flower cars, the station wagon idea was only a short mental leap.
At $30,000 in 1976, this Cadillac Castilian Estate Wagon was roughly double the price of the well-optioned Fleetwood 60 Special Brougham it was based on.
The shape has its origins in Bill Mitchell’s well-balanced 1971 model-year restyle of Cadillac’s rear-drive cars, but annual styling tweaks had produced, by 1976, a car with squarer bumpers, a shallower grille and rectangular headlights.
Riding on Cadillac’s perimeter frame with a 133in wheelbase, coil springs all round and four-link location for its live rear axle, the Fleetwood featured automatic level control, vented front discs and the widest shoulder room of any car then produced.
As well as being the final year for the factory convertibles, 1976 was also the swansong for the 500cu in V8 as General Motors prepared to slim down even its biggest cars for 1977.
The 8.2-litre powertrain had initially been exclusive to the two-door, front-drive Eldorado from 1970, but in 1975 was standardised across the Cadillac line-up in an effort to counter the effects of emission controls that had dropped its power from 400bhp (gross) to 190bhp (net).
Running a 2.73:1 rear-axle ratio, the huge Fleetwood weighed in at 5600lb when equipped with the d’Elegance package (plusher seats and thicker carpets) that most of the Castilians had.
Traditional Coach Works Ltd, the builder of the Castilian, was founded in 1975 by James Kribbs and Jack Patrick.
Both men had worked for Wilshire Cadillac (Kribbs was a manager), which meant they were well connected with the sort of celebrity owners who might be attracted to an exclusive coachbuilt Cadillac special, and they built up a talented team that included legendary custom builder Gene Winfield.
The conversions were factory-approved, so you could order a Castilian through your local dealer and have it sent straight to Traditional Coach Works.
The firm had its own brochure, where you were also invited to order a Coupe De Roi (based on the front-drive Eldorado) or a Mirage pick-up, an El Camino/Ranchero-style two-seater flatbed also based on a Fleetwood.
More than 200 of the latter were made – the first going to stunt pioneer Evel Knievel – but the Castilians are much rarer: this car is one of 11 converted in 1976, with another 40 believed to have been produced the previous year.
The cars are linked with famous names such as Sammy Davis Jnr, Dean Martin, Elvis Presley and even John Wayne, although some of that celebrity ownership history tends to get tangled up with all the other Cadillac station wagons produced during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s – many of which, inevitably, were commissioned by ‘interesting’ people.
Bespoke Cadillac estates are linked to Coachcraft of North Hollywood, the American Sunroof Company in Michigan, Moloney Coachbuilders of Chicago (formerly Lehmann-Peterson) and, most famously, Hess & Eisenhardt in Ohio, which made the lovely View Master woodies in the mid-’50s (boxer Joe Louis had one). It also built at least one truly spectacular station wagon on a 1960 car.
The eight rather unfortunately named Broadmoor Skyviews by H&E were not strictly estate cars, but rather luxury sightseeing buses commissioned by a hotel in Colorado in 1959.
Other bespoke Cadillac wagons included a squat-roofed three-door based on a 1971 Eldorado (complete with electric tailgate and Gucci luggage) that George Barris built for Dean Martin, and a mysterious 1953 nine-seater design by Brooks Stevens on a Series 62 chassis.
And singer Glen Campbell commissioned an Eldorado-based shooting brake-style three-door as a Christmas present for his wife.
This Castilian, in Innsbruck blue with Ivory leather, was sold new by a Cadillac dealer in Denver and spent most of its life in that area.
It is a highly optioned former Cadillac & LaSalle Club show-winner that has covered only 20,000 miles, and may be the best in existence.
Current owner Danny Donovan had been looking for a ‘long roof’ for years, but had struggled find one in the really sharp condition he prefers.
The sheer scale of this Cadillac gives it a rakish, tapering profile somewhat akin to a giant XJ-S Lynx Eventer.
Most North American factory wagons had two-piece tailgates, but this one is hinged at the top like a European estate car, giving access to an enormous expanse of load area.
It is trimmed in the sort of opulent carpet you imagine Elvis had in his bathroom.
Traditional Coachworks boasted that the Castilian was ‘built to Cadillac standards’ and there is nothing to suggest otherwise; the stainless-steel trim that covers the join between the C-pillars and the third set of side windows is particularly neatly done.
The wind deflector on the tailgate is standard and flows with the styling, but the jury is out on the thick band of chrome above the grille on this car, likewise the big Lalique-style hood ornament.
A Cadillac engine just had to be powerful and unobtrusive: it didn’t need to look good or encourage pride of ownership.
Sure enough, when you open the vast bonnet the engine bay is an uninviting viper’s nest of black pipes, tubes and wiring, below which you can just make out the shape of an engine that in this case has the optional fuel injection first offered in 1975.
The overtones of ‘Castilian’ as a name for this conversion were right on the money in a period when American image-makers were summoning up all things Spanish to suggest elegant sophistication: this, after all, was the era of the Chrysler Cordoba with its infamous Corinthian fake leather.
The leather in here, on the ‘contoured, pillow-style seating’, is real enough.
Not so the synthetic rosewood used sparingly on the dashboard, doors and the surprisingly small steering wheel.
The latter telescopes and tilts so, combined with six-way power adjustment for the bench seat and the complicated ‘Comfort Zone’ climate control, there is no excuse for not getting comfortable.
Driver information is reduced to gauges for fuel and temperature, plus a bank of warning lights and a 100mph speedometer.
A command module for the windows and locks sits in the driver’s door armrest, with cruise and climate controls to the right of the steering column.
GM’s ‘Twilight Sentinel’ system takes care of headlight dipping at night.
The rear seat folds forward, but you get the feeling this one has spent most of its life in the upright position, when there is generous legroom and built-in footrests.
On selecting ‘Drive’, all four doors lock automatically – a new Cadillac feature for 1976 – and the Castilian pulls away with a sigh.
The automatic ’box is completely unobtrusive, as is the ride with a sense of detachment from the surface and isolation from road noise that gives total comfort.
Although 190bhp sounds unimpressive, with 360lb ft of torque at 2000rpm the Cadillac at least feels brisk and smooth in traffic.
Cornering at anything above 25mph results in understeer and gently howling front tyres, but the inert steering is fairly high-geared so this massive machine doesn’t feel unwieldy: you soon acclimatise to the size, and after a while don’t even think about it.
The brakes are progressive, a far cry from the grabby drums found in older ‘full-size’ Yanks.
If you wanted a really good estate car in the 1960s and ’70s it had to be American.
The large engines and rugged construction of Detroit’s ultra-conservative body-on-frame engineering sat easily with the practicalities of family-hauling duties.
With the right options – big-block V8s and power everything – in many ways these wagons were the cars America did best in its golden age of excess.
Where the Cadillac Castilian fits into that story I’m not quite sure, but as a car to illustrate the links between US coachbuilding and old-style Hollywood celebrity customers it must be one of the last of its kind.
It at least proves that not everything that emerged from the so-called ‘Malaise Era’ was rubbish.
Images: Will Williams
Thanks to DD Classics
Cadillac Castilian Fleetwood Estate Wagon
- Sold/number built 1976/11
- Construction steel perimeter-frame chassis, steel body
- Engine all-iron, ohv 8194cc V8, with fuel injection
- Max power 190bhp @ 3600rpm
- Max torque 360Ib ft @ 2000rpm
- Transmission three-speed auto, RWD
- Suspension: front wishbones, anti-roll bar rear live axle, four links; coil springs, telescopic dampers f/r
- Steering power-assisted worm and peg
- Brakes discs front, drums rear, with servo
- Length 19ft 4in (5893mm)
- Width 6ft 6in (1981mm)
- Height 4ft 9in (1448mm)
- Wheelbase 11ft (3353mm)
- Weight 5600Ib (2540kg)
- Mpg 10
- 0-60mph 11 secs
- Top speed 110mph
- Price new $30,000
- Price now £30-50,000*
*Price correct at date of original publication