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Great green giant gas-guzzling car just fine with her

- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mrs. J. Craig Smith, a diminutive woman, could barely be seen behind the three-spoke steering wheel of the 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special Brougham she drove on the streets of Sylacauga, Ala.

Cadillac manufactured a record-setting 309,139 cars during the 1976 model year but only 24,500 of them were the special broughams. The base price of the almost 20-foot-long, 5,213-pound Cadillac was $10,935, which works out to be approximately $2 a pound.

This was the sixth and final year that Cadillac would produce the luxurious model that cushioned the ride for the occupants on a 133-inch wheelbase.

The oil embargo of 1973/1974 doomed the car because of the 500-cubic-inch V-8 engine beneath the hood. Federal government regulations had choked the output of the mighty engine to 215 horsepower. The displacement rating of the engine is equivalent to 8.2 liters.

Eventually Mrs. Smith resigned from driving her beloved Cadillac and gave it to her daughter, Mignon C. Smith, who happily assumed the reins to the 215 horses under the hood.

"She always liked power steering and power brakes," Miss Smith says of her late mother. The power assist has been a welcome accessory for Miss Smith in Washington traffic since she brought the car here.

Mother and daughter shared the same taste in colors. The mother chose an all-green Cadillac inside and out while the daughter, who races horses, has the same shade of green for her racing colors.

Miss Smith has bestowed the name "Gigi" on her Cadillac because she uses the letter "G" so many times in her nickname for the car "Great Green Giant Gas Guzzler." She reports that her lengthy Cadillac seems to function quite nicely when she fills the gasoline tank with 2 dozen gallons of medium-grade fuel.

Although the car has seen regular usage since it was new, at the same time it has always been garaged and maintained on the schedule recommended by the owner's manual. Miss Smith often drives her distinctive car to race tracks where her horses are running. The car once made the trip to Saratoga, N.Y., and last July she drove to Colonial Downs outside Richmond. On the return trip, a broken fan belt disabled the car but the owner took the misfortune in stride. When a rollback truck came to the rescue, Miss Smith and her companion rode home in the Cadillac as it was secured on the truck. "We rode in the car on a JerrDan," she says.

There have been a few nicks and dings that have been repaired with appropriate touchups. Probably the most serious damage required the replacement of the driver's door.

Thoughtful touches are plentiful everywhere on the big Cadillac from the fendertop turn-signal warning lights at the front to the elegant opera lights on the sail panels at the rear that emit an aura of soft light into which the rear-seat passengers can alight at night. How very gracious.

"It does have a very soft ride," Miss Smith says.

If there were one detail on the car that she could change, it would be to restore the small wing vent windows that virtually all automobile manufacturers were eliminating in the late 1970s. She still laments their demise. Most of the General Motors lineup of automobiles dropped the wing vent windows when the "pillared" hardtop style was introduced, which eliminated the door frame around the window.

When Miss Smith raises the windows in her Cadillac, the glass fits snugly against a rubber gasket.

With the odometer now having passed 153,000 miles, the remarkable Cadillac shows few signs of aging and no hint of slowing.

How is this possible? The answer lies in Miss Smith's practice of treating her car as she would treat one of her horses.

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