There’s a section of Wabash Avenue in downtown Chicago’s “Loop” District that’s referred to as “Jewelers Row”. Over the stretch of two city blocks that run north and south between Washington and Monroe, there are a series of storefronts on the eastern side of Wabash that specialize in selling all kinds of jewelry. Most of these stores close around Five O’Clock in the afternoon, and most merchandise is then taken out of the display cases near the front windows, but passing these storefronts is nevertheless an insightful look into how some of the better-to-do people in this city spend some of their disposable income.
It was against the backdrop of these shops that I spotted our featured car while on the way to a meeting after work. Following its disastrous downsizing for the ’86 model year, the Eldorado’s styling was mildly tweaked for ’88, including an overall three-inch stretch, front fenders that were slightly revised, multidimensional taillamp lenses (instead of the previous, flat units), and a few other external changes. The overall effect may not have gone far enough in restoring the Eldo’s previous visual pomp, but the changes for ’88 (lasting through ’91, after which it was redesigned) were certainly a welcome improvement, no matter how minor. Sales nearly doubled for ’88 over the prior year, to roughly 33,200 units from the previous year’s 17,800 figure.
What crossed my mind when I took this photo was that perhaps this Eldorado was a metaphor for a precious stone here on Jewelers Row. I’ll ask a couple of open-ended questions: Was larger necessarily better, in the case of the personal luxury flagship coupe from GM’s premier division? Or, was this downsized Eldorado intended to be seen more as a little gem by the product planners? (Perhaps like a cubic zirconia – a close enough approximation of a big luxury car, but distilled into a luxo-lite, technologically advanced package?) You’ll notice that this Eldorado is not actually a top-trim Biarritz (which featured a padded vinyl half-roof), but a base car with a very nicely done, aftermarket cloth top.
Cadillac had previously, and successfully, created a luxury car in a smaller package in the first-generation Seville, the above example of which I had photographed (also on Jewelers Row) and posted to the Cohort close to five years ago. Even with everything going on around it, this nominally “compact” Seville looks more than dignified, even within the context of the timeframe in which I had photographed it. (Imagine how small it must have looked relative to the luxo-barges of the mid-’70s with which it had shared roads, garages and showrooms, back in its heyday.)
As for me, I can always appreciate pride of ownership, so I liked that the black Eldorado’s owner parked it proudly curbside in front of one of the larger jewelry stores along this stretch of Wabash. Aftermarket wheels and all, it was in beautiful shape, and its paint and chrome glistened. Even if It didn’t possess but a fraction of the visual gravitas of the above model that had preceded it by less than twenty years (a ’71 Fleetwood Eldorado convertible also photographed on this stretch of Wabash), the newer car still looked shiny and pretty sitting under the L. In the shade of those elevated tracks, your Flint-born, Midwestern author would be hard-pressed to tell a cubic zirconia from a real diamond. In certain circumstances, sometimes even just the illusion of quality can be enough.
Downtown, The Loop, Chicago, Illinois.
Thursday, March 14, 2019.