Monday, January 18, 2016

What is a "Brougham"

Here is one of the best definitions we've found lately . . . from Richard Bennett, Founder of The Brougham Society.

"Brougham" is a style that we most likely will never see again. I suspect that the combination of stately, elegant styling and luxurious, over-the-top interiors, combined with the smooth, quiet ride still speaks to many today. I know that's why I love them so much!  A look through our membership ranks will show quite a large number of members that are in their teens, twenties, and thirties.  This is encouraging to me, in that it ensures that TBS has staying power.  Broughams are beginning to increase in value, but compared to the average muscle car they are still bargains.

A lot of magazines/shows/blogs speak negatively of American auto industry from 1975-1985, going so far as to even call it "The Malaise Era."  Yet, this seems to be a golden age for brougham cars. How do you reconcile that?  Some of these cars had some pretty serious flaws.

It's true that quality control took a dive during those years.  The reason for much of that I feel is a combination of government regulations forcing the automakers to have to develop cars that were cleaner, more fuel efficient, and safer, all at the same time. It was a massive undertaking for the Big Three.  Combine that with record sales, and the need to produce more cars faster caused the quality control to lapse in many cases.

Now, the reason Brougham took off then?  It is believed that as members of the Greatest Generation were hitting middle age, they wanted something that coddled them during their commute and truly showed that they had "made it", as they were well within their prime earning years.  What better way than to drive a big, stately automobile!

Why did cars like this fall out of style in the U.S.?

There are a number of reasons.  One, like most generations, the Boomers by and large didn't want to be seen driving the same thing as their parents.  The gas crisis of the 1970's caused larger cars to become undesirable.  Adding the quality problems that caused many to flock to cars from Japan and Europe, the damage was done and there was no going back.

People love to say that "if they still built cars like this, I'd buy one!" but how true is that? It seems like America has moved on.

There are some signs that touches of Brougham are returning, but they are mainly found in high-end luxury cars from Europe, of all places!  But when it comes to seeing Ford, GM or Chrysler build a traditional "Brougham", it's not going to happen.  Sure, there are a few that would snap up a new, rear wheel drive, body on frame, V8 Lincoln Town Car or Cadillac Fleetwood, but the numbers would be so small that they would be massive money losers for the manufacturers.  As much as we like to think otherwise, automakers are in the business of making money, and their research shows that currently it's all about the SUV and pickup truck.

Another interesting thing about The Brougham Society is the emphasis on keeping automobiles “stock.” While TBS is very friendly, they don't seem to take kindly to a lot of car modding.

During the past decade, many sub-cultures have beginning to take an interest in Broughams, but instead of seeing them as the stately, upscale cars they are, they have began turning them into rolling caricatures, complete with giant, oversized wheels, garish paint jobs, and obnoxious stereo systems.  This concerns me in that I am seeing clean, original Broughams becoming more and more extinct as they are being transformed into these things!  Because of that, a main goal of The Brougham Society to share and show how the designers intended for these cars to look, and hopefully many will see the true beauty of them and leave them the way they were meant to be.

I think that's something a lot of classic car groups face—the conflict over how much modification can be done before it becomes tasteless. You and I both seem to be fairly conservative; although I'm all for things that increase drivability, like radial tires and aftermarket fuel injection, which still preserve most of the original car's intentions.

A number of purists would cry blasphemy over the idea of changing so much as fan belt, but this is where I will differ slightly. There are cases where some cars were known to have drivability issues or were problem plagued, so in order to keep them on the road a mechanical modification would be appropriate, such as a new engine or better tires.  In these instances I don't see it a problem, so long as "the look" is kept intact.

Actually, I have several cars that could considered my "favorites".  But for the sake of our time here, I will select the one that has been my dream car since I was a young kid, the 1980's Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Brougham Coupe!  I was blessed to have a 1987 model when I was in my early twenties, and it was my ultimate inspiration behind TBS.

A beautiful example of this "brougham" business. These models, regardless of make, usually were priced at a premium. True broughams of this modern American automobile sported a full or partially padded roof. We drove a 1983 Olds 98 Regency Brougham for a few years we found in a service bay at an Olds dealership. Had a slushed transmission but with a full padded roof. Wonderful ride in matching tan leather superior to a Cadillac we also owned a few years ago. Wish we'd held on to that one.

Strictly speaking, broughams had a cab or driver's section outside of the passenger compartment and open to the weather. So another term misapplied over the years and as auto language has changed. But, hey, we who belong to the Society don't care. We just like the looks and the term adds a nice accent. Consider joining Richard's The Brougham Society if you value classic style and a bygone era of American or European auto design.

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