(first posted 2/4/2013) Cadillac entered the ’80s in fine shape–at least on the outside. The de Ville series and Fleetwoods were given an attractive facelift, the sharp ’79 Eldo continued on with a bolder eggcrate grille, and the Hooper Rolls-inspired Seville–well, let’s not talk too much about that one, although many folks liked the looks–myself included. But the bread-and-butter de Ville line had it all, enjoying great acceptance at golf clubs and swanky hotels alike (Why didn’t Al Czervik drive one of these in Caddyshack? It would have fit him to a T.); a reliable 368 CID V8 that still had a decent amount of punch; lush interiors; and gadgets galore. And then it all went wrong.
With over 55,000 built, the Coupe de Ville was still Cadillac’s most popular model in 1980. In your author’s opinion, the new styling was an improvement over the already nicely styled 1977-79 model. With better lines than the more shrunken-appearing 1980 Continental and Mark VI, it should have been a great success.
But the 1979 gas crisis adversely affected sales of all cars, and even luxury makes like Cadillac and Lincoln were no exception. Total Cadillac sales were down nearly 40% from 1979; for the Coupe de Ville alone, sales were down by 65,700 units! Still, it was a great success compared with its Lincoln Town Coupe competitor, of which a mere 7,177 were built for 1980. Despite the sales downturn, the ’80 CdV, with style, comfort, and a reliable power plant, was still a good luxury car buy; unfortunately, that soon would change.
First, there was the 1981 V8-6-4: Even though it was still the solid 368 CID engine, its cylinder displacement electronics were totally unreliable. While that could be fixed easily by disconnecting the 8-6-4 components, Cadillac owners–having shelled out for a new luxury car–were, understandably, not thrilled with that solution. Things got even worse with the new HT4100, which debuted for 1982–the same year as the infamous Cimarron. Oh yes, Cadillac was on a roll in the early ’80s: unreliable boat-anchor engines, $12,000 Cavalier look-alikes–who was making these decisions?
On paper, the “High Technology” HT4100 wasn’t a bad idea–aluminum block, better fuel economy and digital fuel injection. But in practice, and as installed in new Cadillacs, the 249 CID V8 produced just 135 horsepower. Acceleration was, uh, stately–and that’s when everything was working properly. When it wasn’t, you could take your pick of potential problems that would end with your new Caddy on the hook of a tow truck, including head gasket failure, oil pump failure, or the head bolts stripping out their threads, which led to its “Hand Tighten” nickname.
Outside the engine compartment, the big Cadillacs carried on with only minor grille and trim changes through 1984. Except for their engine, the cars were well-built and nicely finished. The 1984 model year was the last for the big Sedan and Coupe de Villes. Basically the same as the 1980-83s, they featured gold-color winged Cadillac crests on their front parking lights in honor of Cadillac’s 80th anniversary.
Befitting a Cadillac, the CdV had many standard features, including electronic climate control, power windows, power locks, a six-way power driver’s seat and front and rear center armrests. Even a no-option CdV or SdV was pretty cushy, coming with a standard rear window defroster, power antenna, interior litter container, and Soft-Ray tinted glass. Opera lamps, a Cabriolet landau vinyl roof, and wire wheel discs cost extra.
The standard interior, shown here on our featured CC, was of Heather knit cloth with Dundee cloth inserts. It was available in five different colors–a far cry from today’s lame tan- or gray-only choices. Leather was optional, and available in ten different colors.
Despite all the standard goodies, many of these cars were loaded with extras, just as you’d expect with a luxury make. When you’re spending $17,140 for a car ($39, 510 adjusted), another couple grand’s worth of options wasn’t too big a deal. You could choose such goodies as a power Astroroof, Twilight Sentinel, genuine wire wheels, Firemist paint, two-tone paint, a heavy-duty ride package and Touring Suspension. With the right option boxes checked, there was no problem pushing a CdV’s out-the-door price to twenty grand and above.
For that kind of money, it would have been nice if the bumper fillers had been a little more robust. Granted, this is a 29-year-old car, but the plastic used for these trim pieces became brittle awfully fast. I have seen plenty of ’70s and ’80s Cadillacs, both online and in person, that were in fine shape except for those fillers, which ranged from having minor hairline cracks to the total annihilation on this example. And consider our recent ’78 New Yorker Brougham CC: No missing or perished filler panels on that one.
Actually, the fillers were a minor issue compared with other early-’80s Caddy troubles; besides, they weren’t a problem for the typical Cadillac buyer, who traded for a new one every two or three years. But no matter how much equipment you added or how nice the car looked, there was still that pesky HT4100 engine to contend with. Oh, you could specify the 350 diesel V8 instead, but picking between the two was kind of like deciding on whether to be pushed off a cliff or hit by a bus. Neither choice was very palatable.
Our featured Coupe, in almond with a brown interior, is a bit drab-looking. There were so many cool colors available on these back in the ’80s–a wealth of greens, reds, and blues, not to mention the ultra-metallic Firemist paints.
I would have much rather have had one in wine red, midnight blue or triple light yellow, like this Sedan de Ville that was on eBay a while back–and with leather, of course. Oh, and I’ll take mine in an ’80 model, please–I don’t want any 8-6-4 or HT4100 nonsense on mine!
Check out that cheerful yellow leather interior on the above 1980 model. I love it! Plus, I am an ’80 model myself so it works out great!
Or perhaps you’d prefer one in Pepper Green with white leather–also a stunner! Finding one in this hue will be a challenge though, as it was a 1981-only color.
I am always a sucker for a Cadillac with white leather, too. This one would look perfect next to Chris Green’s 1976 Monte Carlo, wouldn’t you say? A lot has changed in the car business since then, that’s for sure.
Okay, I changed my mind: Give me the green one instead of the yellow one. I’ll just clip the cylinder displacement wires and this ’81 will be good to go! As many of these cars were pampered by well-to-do owners, plenty of nice ones survive. Just make sure you get a 1980-81 model with the 368.
It was pretty embarrassing for Cadillac owners to have so much trouble from the HT4100s in their cars. Meanwhile, Olds Ninety-Eight and Buick Electra drivers had all the room and comfort, plus reliability, because their cars didn’t share the Caddy engine. This aluminum clunk of an engine in the prestige GM make? What an utter black eye for GM.
There were, however, recalls and TSBs involving the HT4100, so perhaps later examples were a bit better. I’m not sure, since I have no experience with these Cadillacs other than admiring their lines when I was a little kid. Our elderly next-door neighbors, the Ohlweilers (if you’re interested, they had a beige, Fox-body Ford LTD sedan), had a weekly bridge game; one of the couples, the Hesemans, had a 1982-84 Sedan de Ville, in black with a dark red interior and the standard wheel discs.
As a five-year-old, I always had to wander over to that car and give it a good look-see when it was parked at the curb. That car, along with the other neighbors’ light metallic-green 1980 Continental Town Car and midnight blue 1984 Olds Ninety-Eight Regency, are probably responsible for my love of 1980s luxury cars, an affliction which I’m proud to have carried into adulthood. Of course, as I child I knew nothing of the HT4100’s issues–I just liked the way the car looked. Sadly, they wouldn’t look that way for much longer, as the ’85 models, except for the Fleetwood Brougham, would be very different.
With the shrunken, FWD ’85 model waiting in the wings, the ’84 model was last call for the big Coupe de Ville. Sadly, one thing that did carry over was the infernal HT4100–the bane of every 1980s Cadillac owner’s existence. That situation finally was corrected by the 4.5 V8 in 1988, but it was too late for the “biggie” Coupe. I really like the looks of these cars, but there’s a reason I saw so many more 5.0 Town Cars as a kid in the ’80s. As for the Hesemans, they traded in their black Sedan de Ville for a circa-1988 Park Avenue, which Betty drove well into the late ’90s. It’s all about timing, and for Cadillac in the ’80s, this was a swing and a miss, all thanks to a half-baked engine.