Cadillac Eldorado

From Academic Kids

The Eldorado name was part of the Cadillac line from 1953 to 2003. The name refers to a legendary city of gold and was reputedly suggested by a secretary at Cadillac's home office, who considered it the only name rich enough for such an opulent model. However, Palm Springs Life magazine has attributed the name to a resort destination in California's Coachella Valley that was a favorite of GM executives, the Eldorado Country Club. Although cars bearing the name varied considerably in bodystyle and mechanical layout during this long period, Eldorado was always near the top of the Cadillac line.

Contents

The 1950s

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1953 Cadillac Eldorado

The 1953 Eldorado was a special-bodied, low-production convertible. It was a follow-on to the 1952 El Dorado "Golden Anniversary" concept car. The car was available in four unique colors and featured special badging and a hard tonneau cover over the top. 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 GM 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.

In 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. 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.

For 1956, a two-door hardtop coupe version appeared, called the Eldorado Seville. 1957 saw the base Eldorado and Seville coupe once again present an innovative rear-end design, a low, downswept fenderline capped by a pointed, upswept fin. 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 doors was an ultraluxury car that cost an astonishing $14,000, more than any Rolls Royce of its day. 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 due to the price. It has been estimated that GM lost money on every one, but they are today among the rarest and most collectible of all postwar American models.

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1959 Cadillac Eldorado

A different Eldorado Brougham was sold for 1959 and 1960. These cars were not quite so extravagantly styled and priced but were very unusual pieces in themselves. Cadillac contracted out the assembly to Pininfarina of Italy, with whom the division has had a long-running relationship, and these Eldorados were essentially hand-built Italian exotics with American drivetrains. Their discreet, narrow tailights, nicely integrated into modest tailfins, contrasted sharply with the "rocketship" tailights 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 decisively trail the 1st generation Broughams in value and collectibility.

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

The 1960s

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1967 Cadillac Eldorado

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.

In 1967, though, the situation changed radically. The personal luxury car market, which had begun with the Thunderbird, and arguably the Eldorado itself, in the 1950s, had become large and lucrative. The radical front wheel drive Oldsmobile Toronado had appeared in this segment in 1966, and its chassis was adopted for the Eldorado the following year. The crisp, formal styling of this full-size coupe by GM's Bill Mitchell was widely praised, and sales were excellent. This body ran virtually unchanged for two years. These 1967 and 1968 Eldorados are the only Cadillacs ever to have hidden headlights and are considered fairly collectible today. The same body with some revisions continued for 1969 and 1970.

The 1970s

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1973 Eldorado convertible

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.

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.

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.

This generation Eldorado also featured the largest V8 ever used in a production car, a 8.2 L (500 in³) 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 in³ (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 in³ (5.7 and 6.0 L) V8's replaced the 500 and 425 in³ (8.2 and 7.0 L) of the preceding model, giving far better fuel efficiency. 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.

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

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.

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

The 1990s

For 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.

The 2000s

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2002 Cadillac Eldorado ETC

Sure enough, Cadillac soon announced that Eldorado's 50th model year, 2003, would be its last. The Eldorado had one more bow to take, though, as the final ETC model became the most powerful front wheel drive car ever built at 300 hp (224 kW).

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, 2002.

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