For decades, no other car has presented quality like Cadillac…. and among Cadillacs, few were as luxurious as the Cadillac Eldorado. In fact, it was the Eldorado that most people pictured in their minds when they thought of a Cadillac. Lasting for about half a century, the Eldorado’s lifeline went from 1953 to 2002. It was about that time that gas prices started hovering around and exceeding $3.00 per gallon, and when people started putting their car-driving habits on a budget.
The Eldorado was named for a mythical South American kingdom – El Dorado – alleged to have great wealth. It was Sir Walter Raleigh who, four centuries ago, went in search of the land, but came back disappointed. But the name lived on in the Cadillac brand when the Cadillac corporation needed a name that signified the wealth and quality they intended for this model.
There were two different versions of the Cadillac Eldorado, from two distinct eras. The first era was marked by a variation of the standard rear-drive Cadillac. Many consider it to have been the greatest in terms of style and power. However, the second era and model proved be the one that ‘caught on’ with the public. This was a front-drive coupe and convertible that defined the Cadillac image for most of the rest of its lifespan.
Over its 50-year history, the Eldorado existed in two distinct forms. The first was the most stylish and often most powerful Cadillac available, but it still was a variation upon the standard rear-drive Cadillac. The second was its own unique model: a front-drive coupe and convertible that defined the idea of a personal Cadillac. While there are many Caddy enthusiasts who argue that the greatest Eldorado came from that first era, most concede that the Eldorado didn’t come into its own until the second. Let’s take a brief look at the history of Cadillac’s chief luxury vehicle.
The very first Eldorado was actually a convertible. Introduced in 1953, it was somewhat overshadowed by another convertible of the time, the Corvette convertible. It didn’t help that just over 500 of the Cadillac convertibles were produced that year. Nonetheless, this first Eldorado came in four colors: Aztec Red, Azure Blue, Artisan Ochre, and Alpine White. The top on the car came in black or white.
The Eldorado defined convertible styles for years, with its wrap-around windshield and overall look. Cost for the 1953 model: a hefty (for the time) $7,750. Cosmetic changes were made to the car throughout the ’50s, including a new rear fascia, thinner tailfins, and offering a two-door hard top coupe called the Eldorado Seville. Then in 1957, they introduced the Eldorado Brougham, a 4-door hardtop car with rear opening doors, stainless steel roof, powered seats, and more. This one carried a price of over 13 grand – a small fortune in the 1950s.
The biggest change to the Eldorado in the 1960s was the introduction of a vehicle based on the “E” body platform, with front-wheel drive. The engine powering this new version was a Cadillac 429 V8, and was coupled with a Turbo Hydra-matic and torque converter. Then in 1968, the engine was improved now, featuring a 7.7 litre 375 horsepower engine.
In the 1970s, engine modifications again marked the Eldorado line, as they went to an 8.2 litre V8. The new engine offered 400 hp. In 1971, Cadillac offered a convertible model Eldorado. They also added fender skirts and a new hardtop with an “opera window” – which was a fixed rear-side window.
Starting in the 80s, Cadillac utilized a V8-6-4 variable displacement engine. It was a novel idea, but proved to be a mistake, as customers complained frequently that the system didn’t work properly. Add to this increasing competition in the luxury-car segment, and Cadillac began seeing its first real signs of danger with its Eldorado line. Sales stagnated through most of this decade. As a result, for a few years, Cadillac let the entire Eldorado line rest before introducing a new model.
The new Eldorado came in 1992. It had several clever features, including a frameless window glass and a styling that customers loved. Sales improved but never really skyrocketed. As a result, there were minor tweaks in the line throughout the decade, but never anything major.
In 2002 we saw the last Cadillac Eldorado… One year short of its 50-year anniversary. The Eldorado ETC had a high-powered front wheel drive Northstar engine with 300 hp. Many Cadillac enthusiasts look to the new concept CTS Coupe for their personal luxury coupe desires. If it ever does come to fruition, it’s going to be a hot seller.