Cadillac Eldorado

The Eldorado model was part of the Cadillac line from 1953 to 2002. The Cadillac Eldorado was the longest running American personal luxury car as it was the only one sold after the 1998 model year. Its main competitors included the Mark Series and the lower-priced Buick Riviera. The name Eldorado was derived from the Spanish words "el dorado", the "gilded one"; the name was given originally to the legendary chief or "cacique" of a S. American Indian tribe. Legend has it that his followers would sprinkle his body with gold dust on ceremonial occasions and he would wash it off again by diving into a lake. The name more frequently refers to a legendary city of fabulous riches, somewhere in S. America, that inspired many European expeditions, including one to the Orinoco by England's Sir Walter Raleigh.

The 1950s

The 1953 Eldorado was a special-bodied, low-production convertible (532 units in total). It was the production version of the 1952 El Dorado "Golden Anniversary" concept car. Available in four unique colors (Aztec Red, Alpine White, Azure Blue and Artisan Ochre - the latter is a yellow hue, although it was shown erroneously as black in the color folder issued on this rare model). Convertible tops were available in either black or white Orlon. There was no special badging on the car, other than the "Eldorado" nameplate, in "gold", in the center of the dash. A hard tonneau cover, flush with the rear deck, hid the top in the open car version. Although it was based on the regular Series 62 convertible and shared its engine, it was nearly twice as expensive at US$7,750.

This first Eldorado had a wraparound windshield and a cut-down beltline, the latter signifying a dip in the sheetmetal at the bottom of the side windows. These two touches were especially beloved by General Motors Styling Chief Harley Earl and subsequently were widely copied by other marques. In fact, throughout the 50s, Eldorado was GM's styling leader, and since GM led the industry, where the Eldorado went, everyone else would tend to follow.

1954 EldoradoIn 1954, Eldorado lost its unique sheet metal, sharing its basic body shell with standard Cadillacs. Distinguished now mainly by trim pieces, this allowed GM to lower the price and they were rewarded with a substantial jump in sales. 1955
For 1955, the Eldorado's body gained its own rear end styling with high, slender, pointed tailfins. These contrasted with the rather thick, bulbous fins which were common at the time and were an example of Eldorado once again pointing the way forward.
Cadillac Eldorado 195 Cadillac Eldorado 1955

For 1956, a two-door hardtop coupe version appeared, called the Eldorado Seville.

1957 saw the Eldorado (both the Biarritz convertible and the Seville hardtop) once again present an innovative rear-end design, a low, downswept fenderline capped by a pointed, in-board fin. The rear fenders were commonly referred to as "chipmunk cheeks". This concept was used for two years, but did not spawn any imitators.

1957 was chiefly notable, though, for the introduction of one of GM's most memorable designs, the Eldorado Brougham. This four-door hardtop with rear-opening rear doors was an ultra-luxury car that cost an astonishing $13,000+, more than the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud of the same year. It featured a stainless steel roof, air suspension, the first dual headlights, the first memory power seats, and every possible kind of appearance and convenience feature that GM's most inventive minds could devise. This design ran for two years and of course sold in very small quantities (704 units in total) owing to the price. It has been estimated that GM lost $10,000 on every one, but these virtually hand-assembled cars are today among the rarest and most collectible of all postwar American models.

A different Eldorado Brougham was sold for 1959 and 1960. These cars were not quite so extravagantly styled but were very unusual pieces in themselves. Priced at $13,075, they cost $1 more, each, than their older siblings. The design was 100% Cadillac but the company contracted out the assembly to Pinin Farina of Italy, with whom the division has had a long-running relationship, and these Eldorados were essentially hand-built in Italy. Their discreet, narrow taillights, nicely integrated into modest tailfins, contrasted sharply with the "rocketship" taillights and massive fins of the standard 1959 Cadillacs and were an indication of where Caddy styling would go in the next few years. However, build quality was not nearly to the standard of the Detroit hand-built 1957–1958s, and the 1959–1960 Broughams are less desirable, it seems, than the 1st generation Broughams, although their value and collectibility remain high.

The last Eldorado Seville was built in 1960. After that, the Eldorado convertible became essentially a trim version of the standard Cadillac convertible. With the end of the importation of the Italian-built Eldorados in 1960, the name entered something of a fallow period.

The 1960s

An Eldorado convertible would remain in the Cadillac line through 1966, but its differences from the rest of the line were generally modest. In 1964, probably the most distinctive year during this period, the main visual cue indicating an Eldorado was simply the lack of fender skirts. 1967 The Eldorado was radically redesigned for 1967. Intended for the burgeoning personal luxury car market, it was a "personal" Cadillac sharing the E-body with the Buick Riviera and Oldsmobile Toronado that had been introduced the previous year. Cadillac adopted the Toronado's unique Unified Powerplant Package and front-wheel drive. Like the Toronado, the Eldorado used a standard Cadillac 429 V8 with a modified Turbo-Hydramatic (THM425, based on the Turbo-Hydramatic 400) with the torque converter mounted next to the planetary gearbox, driving it through a metal chain.
Cadillac Eldorado 1967 Cadillac Eldorado 1967

Despite sharing a body shell with the Toronado and Riviera, the Eldorado's crisp styling, initiated by GM styling chief Bill Mitchell, was distinctive and unique, with hidden headlights and a long-hood, short-deck look. Performance was sprightly, with 0-60 mph (0-96 km/h) in less than nine seconds, although the standard drum brakes were inadequate (disc brakes were optional in 1967 and standard starting in 1968). Sales were excellent despite high list prices.

For 1968 the Eldorado gained slight exterior changes to comply with new federal safety and emissions legislation, and as with the rest of the Cadillac lineup, a new 472 in? (7.7 L) V8 engine rated at 375 hp (sea gross). In 1969 it lost its hidden headlamps and picked up as options a halo vinyl roof and later in the model year a power sunroof option. For the 1970 model year, this body style Eldorado introduced the new 500 in? 8.2 liter V8 engine (rated SAE gross 400 hp/550 ft·lbf in 1970) that would be an Eldorado exclusive until it became standard on all full size Caddies for model year 1975.

The 1970s

When GM's full-size cars were redesigned for 1971, the Eldorado regained both a convertible model and its fender skirts. The hardtop introduced a new styling innovation—the opera window, a fixed rear side window surrounded by the vinyl roof. This was yet another Eldorado touch that would prove popular, appearing in virtually every American car line by the end of the decade. This body ran for eight years, with a substantial facelift in 1975.

The Cadillac Eldorado was chosen as the pace car for the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race in 1973. All in all Cadillac produced 566 of these special pace car convertibles where 33 where used at the track during the race week and the remaining 513 cars were distributed to the U.S. Cadillac dealers (one for each dealership) - these cars were sold to the general public.

In 1976, when all other domestic convertibles had vanished, GM heavily promoted the final year of the topless Eldo as "the last American convertible," and many were bought as investments. Later on, when GM again introduced convertibles, there was an unsuccessful class action lawsuit brought by investor-owners who felt they had been deceived. The Eldorado/Toronado platform became GM's largest car in 1977 and 1978, when the other, rear wheel drive full-size cars were downsized.
Cadillac Eldorado 1976 Cadillac Eldorado 1976

This generation of Eldorados produced between 1971 and 1978 were sometimes customized (as stereotyped "pimpmobiles") and seen in blaxploitation films like Superfly, The Mack, and Willie Dynamite (the pimped-out Eldorado seen in Willie Dynamite is similar to the one seen in Magnum Force). Customizers such as Les Dunham Coachworks have modified brand-new Eldorados with headlight covers (commonly known as Superfly headlights), grille caps, a 1941 goddess hood ornament, lake pipes, and thick-padded vinyl tops, usually with circular porthole windows.

This generation Eldorado also featured the largest V8 ever used in a production car, a 8.2 L (500 in?) behemoth. This engine had been introduced on the 1970 Eldorado, and was unique to this model for several years while the standard Cadillac line continued with the 472 in? (7.7 L) engine introduced in model year 1968.

The 1980s

For 1979, a new, trimmer Eldorado was introduced, and for the first time the car shared its chassis with the Buick Riviera as well as the Toronado. Smaller 350 and 368 in? (5.7 and 6.0 L) V8's replaced the 500 and 425 in? (8.2 and 7.0 L) of the preceding model, giving better fuel efficiency. For 1979, it was offered only with the Oldsmobile 350 as standard, then in 1980 this was replaced with the Cadillac 368 (see below for this engine's origins). For California only, the Olds 350 was retained for 1980. In both the 1980 Seville and Eldorado (which shared their frames), the 368s in 1980 came with DEFI, whereas for the larger RWD Cadillacs, the 368 only came with a 4-barrel Quadrjet carburetor. Independent rear suspension was adopted, helping retain rear-seat and trunk room in the smaller body. The most notable styling touch was an extreme notchback roofline, making the rear window almost vertical. The Eldorado Biarritz model resurrected the stainless-steel roof concept from the first Brougham. Although downsized, these Eldorados were still substantial-sized cars with good room and power.
Cadillac Eldorado 1981 Cadillac Eldorado 1981

An unfortunate interlude occurred in 1981, when Cadillac's disastrous V8-6-4 variable displacement engine was installed. This powerplant, controlled by a new and elaborate electronic monitoring system, was supposed to inactivate some cylinders when full power was not needed, helping meet GM's obligations under the government fuel economy standards. Unfortunately it did not work as planned, and sometimes it did not work at all. It was a reduced bore version of the 1968 model-year 472, sharing that engine's stroke and also that of the model-year 1977-1979 425 (note: the new small 1979 Eldorado did not use the 425, only the Oldsmobile-sourced 350). The engine itself was extremely rugged and durable, but the complex electronics were the source of customer complaints. Nevertheless, the Eldorado's reputation was not permanently hurt, and sales rose to unprecedented heights, nearly 100,000 units by 1984, an astonishing volume for one of the most expensive models available.

Another disastrous engine option was the 350 ci Oldsmobile Diesel, first offered in 1979. Designed as a specific block, rather than a sleeved gasoline conversion, the engine was plagued with problems - drivers were unfamiliar with diesel vehicles (e.g. not waiting for glowplug warmup), and the head bolts were inadequate for the 22:1 compression design, leading to frequent head gasket failures. Subsequent revisions to the block and heads improved things, and the engine was de-rated from 120 hp to 105 hp by 1981. The history of these multiple failures frequently resulted in dealer-provided gasoline-conversions of those vehicles, and the option was dropped by 1985.

Of all Eldorados, this generation can claim to be the best suited to the market and the times.

Cadillac Eldorado 1986-1991. For 1986, yet another downsizing occurred, and it was fairly extreme. In fact, the costly Eldorado was now the same size that GM's own compact cars had been only a few years earlier, and much smaller than Lincoln's competing Mark VII. Its styling seemed stubby, and in a final unfortunate flourish, for the first time the Eldorado abandoned its hardtop heritage and had sedan frames around its windows. News reports later indicated that GM had been led astray by a consultant's prediction that gas would be at $3 per US gallon by 1986 and that very small luxury cars would be in demand. In fact, gas prices were less than half that and the market reacted with horror. Seldom has any model experienced a more precipitate fall. Sales were only about a fifth of what they had been two years earlier. Despite some frantic facelifting and a slight sales recovery, this Eldorado never engaged the esteem of buyers or critics and is now generally regarded as a mistake. It staggered on through 1991.
Cadillac Eldorado 1986 Cadillac Eldorado 1986

The chassis and engine of this generation were adapted for use with the Cadillac Allante roadster, another project created with Pininfarina.

The 1990s

Cadillac EldoradoFor 1992, a new Eldorado appeared. It was in fact only slightly bigger than its predecessor, but it was so much more adroitly styled that it seemed greatly so. Window glass was once again frameless, and shortly after introduction Cadillac's excellent new Northstar V8 became available. The combination of sleek styling and increased power seemed more like the great Eldorados of the past, and reviews were generally good. Sales were up, though never again at record heights. Buyers were seemingly turning against two-door bodies, a fact that was illustrated by the fact that the Eldorado's very similar four-door relative, the Cadillac Seville, consistently outsold it. The car continued for the rest of the decade with incremental changes and moderate sales. Its former running mates, Toronado and Riviera, were discontinued during this time, and by the end of the century it was becoming clear that the end of the Eldorado was probably coming as well.

For 1998 the Eldorado received only minor exterior updates as well as a revised interior.

The 2000s

2002 Cadillac Eldorado ETCSure enough, Cadillac soon announced that Eldorado's 49th model year, 2002, would be its last. The Eldorado had one more bow to take, though, as the final ETC model became one of the most powerful front wheel drive cars ever built at 300 hp (224 kW).

Cadillac Eldorado Cadillac Eldorado 2002
To mark the end of this historic name, a limited production run of cars in red and white, the colors of the 1953 convertible, were produced, with exhaust notes tuned to imitate that of their illustrious forerunner. Production ended on April 22, 2003, and was replaced by the Cadillac XLR roadster for 2004.