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the Mink Test

wq59bwq59b Posts: 61
edited March 20 in Cadillac
In the mid-1960s, Cadillac performed testing un-officially described as the mink test. This involved rubbing mink swatches over all new upholstery materials, checking to see if the fur caught, discolored or became unduly worn. Further, mink-clad women were taken for 50-mile rides during which they got in & out, lounged, sat up and 'did all manners of acts' (?!?) to check compatability of materials. Any potential upholstery fabrics that didn't perform perfectly were eliminated.

Also during this period (AT LEAST- probably many years prior, can't say about after), Cadillac performed 23,000 inspection checks per vehicle, 300 as a complete car plus a 'roller test' to assure operational quality.

Any other interesting efforts by manufacturers 'above & beyond' the norm for quality assurance in the vintage years?


  • ndancendance Posts: 323
    I've always wondered why older Caddies have that kind of mink odor.
  • parmparm Posts: 723
    This probably also explains why every Cadillac brochure from the early to mid-1960's includes at least one mink-clad woman. These women also usually have leather gloves that come up past the elbow.

    I show these brochures to the office assistants (formerly known as secretaries) at my office and they just roll their eyes at the attire of the day. Pretty funny.
  • grbeckgrbeck Posts: 2,361
    One of the first automotive books I ever bought (actually, I persuaded my parents to buy it for me) was by the auto journalist Jerry Flint. I think the title was "The Dream Machine - the Golden Age of the American Automobile (1945-1965)." He described the "mink test" and noted that had Ralph Nader found out about it, Detroit might have been "laughed into regulation."

    Taking those mink-clad ladies for 50-mile rides? Well, that would certainly have been an interesting job for the test drivers. I wonder if Cadillac hired models or just used women who worked for the company?

    Another gem was the method used to ship the 1956 Continental Mark II from factory to dealer. To ensure quality, Ford shipped it from the factory in a fleece-lined bag.

    I love looking at old brochures at the Auto Show. Parm, if you really want to get the office ladies all fired up, show them one of the "Dodge Rebellion" brochures from 1966-67 with the sexy blondes lounging all over the cars! I think Gloria Steinem would be speechless...
  • I doubt Gloria would be speechless.

    Well, you can see how this silliness just got worse and worse and ended up in the sorry state of domestic cars in the 1980s.

    It's no wonder the Japanese and Europeans rolled right over us. It must have been as hard as hunting cows for them.
  • wq59bwq59b Posts: 61
    In the '60s the Japanese & Germans were practically non-existant in the US; they 'rolled' over nothing in that era.

    To make a leap of logic that an internal quality test equates to the overall state of a marque 20 years later is unrealistic to the point that I must assume sarcasm. A '60s Mercedes does not compare to a '60s Cadillac in appointments, refinement, styling, roadability, customization, luxury and engineering. 3 decades later it very well may be a completely different story, but when I state 'vintage' I'm not waxing nostolgic over the 1980s...
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,590 all fairness, you really couldn't sprawl sexy models all over the Japanese offerings back then. For one thing, they were too small (the cars, not the models!). Also, the sheetmetal was so thin it probably would've crumpled under their pressure!
  • No, no, you misunderstood my post. These silly goings-on at Cadillac were just the signs of the disease that spelled the company's downfall. While Cadillac was doing mink tests, Mercedes was planning the 1968 models, which were the first onslaught in capturing the luxury car market in America.

    So my point was this--as Mercedes and BMW were on the way up technically and stylistically, Cadillac was already on the skids by 1968, showing heavy dry rot around 1976, and culminating in disaster with the Cimarron a few years later.

    Of course, hindsight is always 20-20, and I will agree that if I were a Cadillac executive looking at one of those clunky tail-finned Mercedes of 1966, I would not have felt very threatened either---Had he driven one however, he might have realized that even in 1966 the Benz could easily outhandle and outbrake a Cadillac. Also, a Cadillac exec could not have helped but notice that these funny looking, too-expensive Benzes were beautifully built inside and out. A Cadillac is somewhat crude by comparison, especially when you get into the "depths" of the car. Externally, the 60s Cads stilll look pretty good.

    Make no mistake though. Cadillac, in the 1950s, taught Benz that you can mass-produce a quality car. They took the lesson and ran with it.

    Of course, in 1966, most American drivers did not want or even like a firm ride and precise handling. This would become an acquired taste. I distinctly recall many Benz buyers in the late60s/early 70s complaining about the "harsh" ride and "rough shifting" transmission---which are now perceived as "European precision", ironically enough.

    Actually, they were right about the transmissions. They were neck-breakers compared to a Hydramatic, which still impresses me when I drive one from the 60s.
  • wq59bwq59b Posts: 61
    Oh no; I understood you perfectly, Shifty; Domestic = crap, gotcha.

    Never mind that at the same time Cadillac also --among hundreds of other attention-to-detail practices-- used wind tunnel testing to determine optimum HVAC venting locations, used nylon-sealed, double-cardan constant velocity U-joints to eliminate driveshaft speed variations, that the chassis had Teflon inserts at every friction point, used hard gold contact points in the electrical system, accelerator shafts were of stainless steel to eliminate sticking from road salt corrosion, piston wristpin installation was accurate to 5 one-hundred-thousands of an inch, and the engine was so perfectly balanced that it never stopped twice in exactly the same place in its cycle. In fact, Cadillacs have traditionally never required engine 'break-in' periods due to the extreme precision of their manufacture and tolerances. They were the only automotive engines to pass stringent military specifications for aircraft engines as far as manufacturing tolerances were concerned. Mercedes did not match Cadillac's precision up to this point.

    A '66 Mercedes is embarassingly underpowered- a 250 sedan recorded 0-60 in 14.4 sec and the quarter mile in 20 sec @ 70 MPH. Top speed was 82 MPH... that's 3 MPH SLOWER than a '64 VW 1500! Truely- very sporting, that Mercedes. I'll bet you could... eventually... really sling that jalopy thru the corners... sort of... maybe.

    Cadillacs of the same period were capable of 0-60 times in the low 9s and had top speeds in the 120 MPH range. They also had excellent roadability under all but the most severe situations, but in that Cadillac's 'severe situations' sometimes occurred at HALF AGAIN the Mercedes' velocities, I believe that's saying something of considerable note.

    Car & Driver tested 4 new luxury cars side-by-side, including the '77 Coupe deVille & a '77 Mercedes 280E. The Mercedes cost more (C: $13,375, M: $16,290), had worse performance (top speed C: 108, M: 107, 0-80 C: 18.5, M: 22.2) worse braking (70-0 C: 207' M: 223') got worse mileage (C: 16-17.5, M: 15.5-16) was noisier (DB @ 70 C: 67.5, M: 72) and had worse maneuverability (turning circle C: 34', M: 37'). The Mercedes took many more years from the mid-60s than "2" to surpass the performance & engineering of Cadillac. More like 20.

    MY point is not really to knock Mercedes, my point was that one cannot callously dismiss '60s Cadillacs based on '80s Cadillacs- there is no comparison. It's the same thing as proclaiming Mercedes are slower than VWs in the '90s based on the '60s-again: no comparison.

    And there is also no connection between the mink test and the '80s or later. It is no harbinger of future misfortunes. Cadillac did everything right in the 50s & 60s and went the extra distance with such luxury-minded ADDITIONS as the mink test, not in SUBSTITUTION for engineering.

    BTW- care to hear C&D's comments/data of the '81 Cimarron vs. the BMW??
  • Actual performance numbers for a '66 Mercedes 250S are much better than you data suggests. Top speed is about 110 mph (182 kph) with 0-62 in 13 seconds, from a 2.5 liter engine developing 130 HP.

    Contrast this with a Cadillac 7 liter engine developing 340 HP and a top speed of 125 mph. So an engine almost 3 times the size and with 210 more horsepower, gives an additional 15 mph. and about 3 seconds 0-60. That's pretty inefficient. Excessive weight is a major reason, as the Cadillac is well over two tons.

    They didn't need "mink tests", they needed engine tests, seems to me.

    But Cadillac fiddled while Rome burned, was the problem.

    As for comparing Mercedes to VW, that is actually a compliment, since any '66 VW owner could tell you that a '66 VW had a fit and finish superior to any Cadillac and the equal of any Benz. Those early VWs were little jewels when it came to paint, sealing, trim fitment, etc. You'd never see orange peel , overspray and mistmatched body panels on a VW or a Benz.

    Foreign cars were FAR from perfect in the 60s but that was the turning point, right about that time. Cadillac's star never shone any brighter after the mid 60s, not even today.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,590
    ...well, actually they had several of them. One of them had to do with the actual quality of the cars, but another had to do with when they finally got bad enough to have serious repercussions. Cadillac was able to cruise on its repuation for awhile.

    I'd say the quality turning point was 1971. The '70 models were good looking, well put-together, quality tanks. In 1971 they got bigger and heavier, without really being any bigger or roomier inside. The quality of the materials seemed to go downhill too, and they were just put together much more sloppily. Even the Eldorado went downhill, magically going from sleek and sporty to pimp-mobile in record time.

    However, their perception with the public really didn't start slipping until 1974, and it took a gas crisis to do that. If it weren't for the oil embargo, Mercedes, BMW, and other luxury imports would have taken years longer to gain a strong foothold in the market.

    Once the fuel started flowing again, Cadillacs started selling again. And the downsized '77-79 models sold in record numbers. For a late 70's car, they were well-built too. Much more solid than the big '71-76 models, better fit-and-finish, better handling, and even better performance, as the cars themselves were downsized further than the engines.

    Then we had another oil embargo, and GM relied a lot of band-aid approaches such as the Olds Diesel, V-8-6-4, Buick 4.1 V-6, their own aluminum 4.1, and the Cimarron to boost CAFE figures. Still, the things sold well, in spite of recession, quality control, horrible engines, etc.

    Ironically, the thing that really bit Cadillac on the butt was when they downsized in 1985 and '86. The DeVille/Fleetwood enjoyed increased sales for a few years, but then slacked off, but the '86 downsizing almost killed the SeVille/Eldorado right then and there. The big Caddies soldiered on, but were sold in fewer numbers, probably moreso because building too many would sink the CAFE numbers, more than any failing of the car itself.

    So Cadillac's downfall, to me, started in 1971, but I guess it should be a compliment that it took two gas shortages, a recession, and GM's bumbling to do it, and even then it still took nearly two decades!

    As for VW quality, well you have to admit that they cheated a little with the Beetle. First off, the fenders and body have an exposed rubber bead running between them. This is going to hide any flaws or variances in the body panels. This would most likely also have been unacceptable to a Cadillac, or even a Chevy owner of the time! So would exposed door hinges. The side panels of the body also look like they tuck up under the roof panel, hiding the weld seam there.

    About the only place left for uneven gaps and poor fit is the trunk, hood, and doors. Every manufacturer gets these areas wrong, even today. VW was no exception.
  • wq59bwq59b Posts: 61
    And the Beetle's trunk & hoods OVERLAPPED the fenders also; no panel-alignment 'fit and finish' there either. I've been in plenty of old Beetles; when you build a car with 1/5th or 1/6th the number of pieces and almost no fitment issues, it's much easier to 'get it right'. And while a VW owner MIGHT claim to have better 'F & F' than a Cadillac, he would be embarassingly over-opininated on his VW.

    Shifty- I DID have 2 things wrong. My data was from 9/68 Motor Trend on a new 1968 Mercedes 250-- not a '66. And in top gear at 5000 RPM they got 82 MPH from it, but I didn't read into it enough; redline was 6300. But at 6300 it was 700 RPM past it's power peak, plus adding in drivetrain slippage and you'll get a top speed well under it's calculated theoretical of a mere 103 MPH. Probably 92 MPH was much more like it. That would be about 30 MPH slower than the Cadillac. 10 years later and the M-B was STILL slower than the much heavier Cadillac.

    The'68 M-B 9:1 152 CI (2.5L) straight 6 developed 146 HP and 161 TRQ. My comparison of Mercedes to VW was in PERFORMANCE, not 'F&F'- nice bait & switch move there.

    BTW- it was in last years auto industry news that Mercedes is still looking to GM for guidance in mass-production- and they freely admit so. See the article at:
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,590
    ...out of a 152 CID still ain't bad, for back in '68. That's comparable to what 225 slant sixes and 250 Chevy inlines were that would do 0-60 in about 13-15 seconds with an automatic, at least according to Consumer Reports.

    The '68 Benz 250 that MotorTrend tested...did that have a manual shift or an automatic? The tranny choice alone could make a few seconds difference in time.
  • lemkolemko Posts: 15,071
    ...I agree that 1971 was the beginning of the end for Cadillac. My then-girlfriend had a mint-condition 1969 Fleetwood Brougham that was so well-made that it would've put a modern Lexus to shame. I later acquired a 1975 Sedan DeVille. It was a beautiful car, but the heavy plastic Mediterranean-theme interior trim and its sloppy body panel tolerances were an embarrassment. The 1977-79 downsized Cadillacs were a quantum leap from the 1971-76 models. They also didn't have the rust issues associated with the 1971-76 generation. There are still plenty of these cars on the road with hundreds of thousands of miles on them. A 1971-76 car, (other than Eldorado) is scarce in comparison.
  • Well Motor Trend is wrong, for two reasons:

    One, I owned a 250 and I can assure you it could easily reach 100 mph and stay there all day. The 84 mph top speed is either a misprint or is based on a theoretical top speed math calculation as if the Benz were an American car, that is, wound out at 4,800 rpm. I suspect this explains their error. They never tried to actually go that fast.

    Two, my data comes from the Nitske book on Mercedes, which is an impeccable source, so between Mr. Nitske and myself, Iyou can accept with assurance that a '66 250S will do what Nitske said it would and a '68 250 would even be faster. These cars were built to go hour after hour at near redline, something a Cadillac simply is not built for., and which many American Mercedes owners simply did not understand, including car magazines of the time. They drove them like Cadillacs, and did not shift the automatics manually, as they were meant to do for maximum performance. Americans were also afraid of the redline on that strange device called a tachometer, which most has never seen before.

    Obviously, anyone interested in a "mink test" is not going to be running through the gears on their automatic floor shift while watching the redline on their tachometers.

    You see the problem?

    ANYWAY, my comments are not meant to degrade 60s Cadillacs, a car I actually do respect for what it was---but only to point out what Andre mentioned--that Cadillac management did not see, until way too late, that they were producing anachronistic cars that would soon be obsolete.

    Personally, I consider the downfall of Cadillac one of the most stupid corporate management debacles ever committed in the American auto industry, right up there with Packard merging with Studebaker, another "american tragedy".
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,590 it possible that Motortrend just got a bum Benz for their test, and that's why theirs didn't perform as well as yours? Or did Benz offer a variety of different ratios like the domestics did back then?

    I've seen variances like that before in other tests. For instance, I have a police car book that lists Michigan State Police testing done from 1979 to 1989 (basically covering the end of an era for the Mopar fleets), and one year, 1985, stuck out as particularly bad for all the cars the MSP tested. For instance, the Mopar M-bodies, which actually got a 10 hp boost that year, saw 0-60 times worsen by about 2 seconds, and 0-100 was even worse. The Fords and Chevies saw a hit too, though. Turns out that particular year, they chose to test during an incredibly hot time of the year, and it was making the cars bog down. The next year, 1986, the performance times were all more or less back in line with what they'd been in 1984.

    Another example I can think of is in 1979, Consumer Reports tested a '79 St. Regis, and got 0-60 in about 15.9 seconds. Now I had a '79 Newport with the same exact setup (318 2bbl, 2.45:1 rear end), and I'd timed it myself with a stopwatch a few times, and 0-60 was more like 12 seconds, maybe 13 on a bad day. I think CR just got a bum one!
  • argentargent Posts: 176
    In the late 60s, a lot of the contemporary road tests I've read (including those from CAR AND DRIVER and CAR LIFE, which were VERY critical of the poor handling of most American cars) rated the overall handling of Cadillacs of that vintage as relatively good. Their biggest consistent criticism was shock damping. C&D did a particularly illuminating comparison of the Cadillac De Ville with a Mercedes 600 (the big daddy with everything including air suspension), an Imperial, a Lincoln Continental, a Rolls Royce, and a Jaguar. They put the Cadillac second, and said they had to admit for all their prejudices it handled relatively well overall, and felt that with firmer shocks to remove the sea-sick response to bumps, it would be not far behind the Benz without seriously hurting its ride quality. They felt the steering (GM's then-new variable-ratio box) was rather numb, but not inappropriately given its mission. And of course there was some frowning at the Cadillac's mediocre braking power. But they felt it compared surprisingly well to Mercedes' most-expensive model, and ahead of all the other foreign and domestic competitors.
    One Mercedes characteristic on 60s cars was the automatic transmission behavior. From '62-'70 Mercedes' automatics were much like the old GM Hydra-Matic: four speeds, but with a straight fluid coupling, no torque converter. Like the old HM they shifted pretty firmly, which was jerky compared to a Turbo Hydramatic or a Torqueflite. The advantage was that the transmission didn't cut into performance as much as some slushier autoboxes, although most testers seemed to find it irritatingly jerky in casual driving. In the 70s Mercedes went from the four-speed to a three-speed torque converter box, just as GM did earlier.
  • Yes, early Benz automatics were annoying. They shifted harshy by American standards, and many Americans, new to European cars, didn't care for that one bit. Lots of complaints, which were slowly rectified.

    I can't believe for a minute that any magazine would even use the word "handling" to describe a 60s Cadillac. "Plush", "smooth", "pillowy" "comfortable", no problem, but a high speed turn in a 60s Cadillac is a scary thing to contemplate. My god, the unsprung weight alone would kill you, as would the bias ply tires, the brake dive, etc. I'm sure a pro driver "could" get around a test track, but it wouldn't be pleasant.

    I think the reason 60s road tests of European cars are so laughably wrong is that the American testers didn't know how to drive them. Remember you were being written to by rubes like Tom McCahill (funny as he was). I remember very distinctly how the German technicians would drive American customers cars during servicing, and the owners would freak out, literally. The Germans would look so puzzled "What? What?! This is the way we drive in Germany. This is how you drive a Benz!" Like talking to a wall.

    Aside from complaints about the harsh shifting (though efficient) automatics, there were lots of complaints with spark plug fouling among American drivers, again because they simply would not rev the cars up.

    This is one reason Benz came out with V8s in the late 60s. They did so a bit reluctantly because it really upped the price of the car.

    Anyway, in any "real world" test, a 60s Benz, say on a 500 mile trip, would leave a 60s Cadillac far far behind for any number of reasons. One, legal speed limits make the 110 mph vs. 125 mph situation irrelevant; two, the Cadillac, at say at speeds of 80 mph+, would have to stop for gas at least twice as often as a Benz; three, if there were any mountain roads either up or down, the Benz would walk away from the Cadillac, and four, driver fatigue would overtake the Cadillac driver as he would be pretty sick of swaying left right up and down all day, and have to use his back and leg muscles to compensate for the car's cushy ride.

    I will say though that a '66 Cadillac was a lot better than a '76 Cadillac for handling.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,590
    ...wouldn't mountainous driving tend to favor the bigger car in terms of fuel efifciency? At least that was my experience when I brought my '79 New Yorker home from West VA. There were plenty of mountain grades between home and there, and the NYer took them with ease, practically coasting up the grades, and then gaining speed on the downhill slopes (THAT part could be scary!). On the other hand, my buddy who drove my '00 'Trep back home had to struggle to keep up. On the up-grades, it would downshift to 3rd or even 2nd, and even on the downhill runs you needed to give it some gas to keep up.

    In the long run, the 'Trep got about 25 mpg on that trip, whereas the NYer got about 22.5. The real kicker though, is that the 'Trep is EPA-rated at 29 highway! What would a '79 NYer be rated? Maybe 16 or so?
  • argentargent Posts: 176
    Mercedes power in the sixties also has to be considered in light of the market. Mercedes' main market was still Europe, not the U.S. -- I think their highest annual sales in America in the 60s ran to about 12,000 units (whereas Cadillac started the decade at more than 10 times that and improved almost every year). In Europe, where many countries levied car taxes based on displacement, fuel quality was poor, and fuel was expensive, the performance of the Benz 220 and 250 sedans was a decent compromise between power and cost. Sales in the U.S. weren't yet high enough to have a big influence on their product planning.
    It should also be remembered that by the standards of the middle 60s, 0-60 in 13 seconds or so with a top speed a bit over 100 mph was by no means bad. Muscle car nostalgia tends to obscure the fact that bread-and-butter American cars were not especially fast. An American compact or intermediate with a big six and automatic took around 15 seconds 0-60 and might hit 95 or so with patience. A big car with a small V-8 and automatic was usually in the 11-12 second range, and a biggie with a non-performance big block (a Chevy 396/325, for example, or a Ford 390-22bl) anywhere from 9-11 seconds 0-60.

    Mid-60s Caddys were among the quickest luxury cars around. Contemporary road tests of '64 and '65 models with the new Turbo Hydramatic ran 0-60 in 8.5-9.0 seconds, which was exceptionally good (especially since even a Coupe De Ville was pushing 5,000 lbs). By comparison an Imperial or Lincoln Continental took 11-12 seconds.

    So a Benz 250 was a _little_ sluggish by luxury standards, but not hideously underpowered based on what most drivers were expecting in the U.S., let alone in Europe.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 21,590
    ...Consumer Reports would usually pit a Catalina up against an Impala, a Galaxie, and a Fury or Polara. Now for the most part, they'd pick base V-8's, which meant a 389/400 for the Catalina, a 318 for the Mopar, a 289/302 for the Ford, and a 283/307 for the Chevy. The Pontiac was always the quickest, sometimes actually breaking below the 10 second barrier in 0-60. Ford and Mopar usually ran mid-pack, but some years the Chevy got pretty bad. I think their '68 Impala with a 307/Powerglide did 0-60 in about 14.5 seconds!

    For their midsized sedan tests, I think one of the quickest cars they tested was a '68 intermediate Mopar with a 318-2bbl/TF/2.76:1 gearing. 0-60 in 10 seconds flat. They did test a '68 Charger though and got 7 seconds out of it. They also hated it, IIRC!

    I think one of the most pathetic tests I read in Consumer Reports was of a '77 Cutlass sedan with a 260 V-8. 0-60 took a bit over 20 seconds. They were comparing it to a downsized Impala with a 305, a Monaco/Fury (probably with a 318) and an LTD-II (prob a 351?) I think they had a Matador in there, too. I forget how the others did, but that sad 20-second 0-60 time just stuck in my head!
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