shot and posted by nifticus
How did this Eldorado slip through our Deadly Sin fingers until now? Because it’s so small, obviously. Rather surprisingly, the double-downsized 1986 Eldo has never had its final judgment here until now. It’s going to be a quick damnation to GM hell, where it so belongs.
In about 1981 or so, a
Tarot card reader pundit that GM consulted with predicted gas could go as high as $3/gallon by 1986, ($8.21 adjusted). That turned out to be wildly wrong; in reality gas prices started falling that same year, and were down some 40% by 1986. But based on WAG, GM hired some Jivorian medicine men (for a few billion dollars) to give the already-downsized flagship Eldorado (and its E-body stablemates) the shrunken head treatment. It came out 188″ long; that’s within striking distance of a Honda Civic.
The results were predictably deadly: sales plunged 72%. Traditional Cadillac buyers shunned it like Ebola. And import buyers weren’t even remotely interested. The Eldorado’s extreme shrinkage became emblematic of the enormous shrinkage of GM’s market share in the eighties; their decade from hell.
I know; it’s tempting to say that GM was doing the right thing. But how come nobody else was doing it too, domestics or imports? Because it wasn’t the right thing; GM was just going overboard on the downsizing kick. They had pioneered it in the 1977-1980 period with phase 1, including the quite successful 1979 Eldorado, and that mostly worked out great (except for the issues with the X-body cars). It boosted GM’s market share to 48% in 1978, the highest it had been in quite some years, and the highest it would ever be, going forward; I mean going downhill.
If downsizing the first time was so good, why not just keep doing it, over and over? Why not indeed? The
more less, the better. GM was working in a vacuum, having lost touch with the realities of what buyers would be willing to accept, and not.
The fact that it looked so much like one of the cheap N-Body compacts only added some of that expensive gas to the funeral pyre. This shot is of a Riviera with a Somerset, from my very first GM Deadly Sin, but then the Eldorado also looked way too much like its E-Body stablemates as well as the N-Bodies.
I could go on; it’s so easy to excoriate this pathetic little mini-me Eldorado. But I’m sitting in our cabin in Port Orford watching the waves roll in at sunset, so I’d rather not waste any more time on this unpleasant subject than necessary. It doesn’t deserve it. You think the Edsel was an expensive mistake? These shrunken E-Bodies destroyed a hugely profitable market niche that GM had been cultivating since the 1963 Riviera. Poof! Up in flames.
Related GM DS reading:
Curbside Classic: 1986 Buick Riviera – GM’s Deadly Sin #1
Curbside Classic: 1986-1991 Seville – GM’s Deadly Sin #21; And To Think That I Had One (Briefly)!
On The Purpose and Nature Of GM’s Deadly Sins – And Links To All Of Them
Yes, very much a low time for Cadillac, but I believe the 1979-85 Eldorado is fast being appreciated for the classic it is.
Perhaps the single and only dislike on 1979-85 Eldorados is the ‘fixed’ non retractable rear seat quarter side windows. Had these windows been operational then 1979-85 Eldorados would have been genuine pillarless hardtops.
Cadillac Eldorado after 1985 in my view simply lacked any degree of real Cadillac style totally.
Even in the Continental Marks the rear windows became fixed starting in ’76. Miserable cost-cutting measure.
GM should have been put in jail for calling this an Eldorado. Shame.
Ford and Chrysler did it also. T-bird,, ltd, and of course nothing but K cars with turbos.. Back then I used to say if Chrysler built shopping carts they would’ve had turbos…!!!
The answer to your question of why nobody else did downsizing so aggressively: Because GM was the only one that could afford to do so. Everyone believed that insanely high gas prices was the future, but when plans for this sort of thing were being hatched in 1981-82, both Chrysler and Ford were in horrible shape and there was no way they could afford such massive retooling. The K car at Chrysler was a happy accident but Ford had to rely on the Fox for this sort of thing because there was no other option.
GM/Cadillac got to do exactly what it wanted to do. Sometimes too much money can be a curse – like when you can afford to jump onto a panic bandwagon.
By 1986 Ford had long since realized their mistake with the first attempt at a Fox T-bird and the 1983 aero Thunderbird showed the way out of the Brougham Era.
GM held on to too many styling cues that were too old and already dated for too long. It was one thing for Eldorado Man’s car to look so much like his secretary’s Cutlass Calais (or more likely Grand Am), it was quite another that it was loaded with the same malaise styling cues as his caddy’s beater Monza Towne Coupe.
Look on the bright side. It’s a ‘Biarritz!” The High Roads store sign in the background is significant. We cannot however take the high road on this Caddy.
I’ve shared this story before, but looking at this Eldorado, I can’t help but share it again.
My great uncle was a long-time Cadillac owner, who bought a new Cadillac every few years. In 1985 he bought an Eldorado Biarritz, but was involved in a serious accident that totaled the car the next year. Knowing what the ’86 Eldorado had become, instead of getting a new one, he bought his old car back from the insurance company and had it repaired instead. He kept that car until his passing about decade later.
(Incidentally, he cheaped out on the repairs and had the bodywork done by the lowest bidder – that car looked awful, like it had been painted with he brush.)
Anyone who has read my comments will not be surprised to read this. This car (and similar Seville) were just another step downward in Cadillacs descent from The Standard of the WORLD. When I first saw this car, I renamed it the CADILLACKING Eldo Oh NO. But at least it was a car as opposed to the vans and SUVS (not to mention imports) flooding the market. As I look at the photos, I recall a Lincoln Town Car commercial with folks at an upscale event being confused by similar appearance of downsized FWD Cadillacs, Buicks, and Oldsmobiles. Town Car of course was not to be confused with any of these! Lincoln wisely did not show a FLEETWOOD. But even then FLEETWOODS and TOWN CARS would not be confused. Each was distinctive, on the GRAND scale! 😎
Rick W: I remember that exact commercial. Loved it.
Good call, fellas. Here you go…
I have always wondered if the 1986 E/K platform was either based upon or completely different from the 1985/6 C/H platform. I have also wondered if the 1995 G platform was all new or just an improved version of either 1985/6 C/H or 1986 E/K.
In retrospect, GM should have just restyled the 1979/80 E/K for 1986 and probably restyled the RWD G body coupes for 1988 instead of spending all those billions on the new E/K and W body platforms.
One of my pet peeves the GM downsizing. In owning and working on the 79-85 Eldorado or Seville, the layout of the longitudinal engine makes for easy service. Then working on a later model with the transverse engine, everything is difficult, a nutty waterpump, difficult to see or reach plugs on the back. While studying this situation, GM twisted and struggled and manipulated to install the V-8 transverse, and what did they gain? Maybe 6-12 inches of a shorter hood? For what? I don’t see a weight savings, it’s the same engine. For a slightly shorter hood, and an uglier stubby style, they now made life horrible for the mechanic, and they gained nothing good in my opinion. I would love to hear the rational for this stupidity from a GM engineer who participated in this crummy design.
Answer: so they could brag they had the first transverse mounted V-8.
Didn’t they have to go transverse in order to gain a FWD layout? FWD was all the rage back then. I know GM had previously done FWD with a longitudinal layout, but that setup just takes up too much space.
The longitudinal version raised the engine. Even the 70s Eldoradoes had a squashed air cleaner and intake manifold. A smaller car would still have to have a high hood and cowl, which would have “ruined” its proportions in GM’s eyes.
Short answer, no. Toronado 1966-1985 Cadillac 1967-1985 all FWD with longitudinal engine. Flipping the engine sideways gave them maybe 8-12 inches more room for shorter hood. Not worth it.
Cadillac sold a lot of cars in 1985. The economy was recovering strongly, and it was a good time to be in the luxury car business. Cadillac was setting sales records even though their main model was a caricature of its predecessor and almost every Cadillac had a terrible engine. Then they released this Eldorado, and 25% of their customers decided that Cadillac wasn’t the only game in town overnight. Was it because of this Cutlass Calais imposter, or was it because most Cadillac buyers had owned at least one car since they stopped offering good engines in 1979? Some people claim it was a cultural change, but I tend to think it had something to do with product.
Good point. Pathetic power and unreliable V8-6-4, Olds Diesel, Buick V-6, and HT4100 killed a lot of Cadillac loyalty before anyone saw the new small Eldo.
I could envision an owner of a ’79 Eldo walking into a Cadillac showroom and after being shown an ’86 Eldorado, wondering what the Mercedes dealer down the street would give him for his trade-in.
It’s not just that they downsized, but they downsized in a way that makes the car look even smaller than it is. When you look at it, you cannot conceive how anyone fits in the back seat. But that’s an optical illusion created by the length of the door and the configuration of the side windows, along with the thick C-pillar. So instead of thinking “wow, the car is smaller, but look at all the room inside”, you think “wow, clown-car”.
Success caused this. The GM leaders won plaudits and profits with their downsizing through the second half of the 1970s. They were trendsetters, prophets and got paid well for creating a full sized car with a smaller more efficient exterior, a larger, more comfortable interior, and full window sticker price sales.
They went from new Impala/Caprice, Delta/98, LeSabre/Park Avenue, Catalina/Bonneville and Sedan DeVille, right onto a successful downsizing of their intermediate car line. Today we still recognize how well done the GM intermediate and personal luxury coupes were manufactured. GM sold smaller Cutlass, Monte Carlo, Gran Prix as well as smaller four door intermediates by the millions. Big win.
As JP said, GM had the loot to downsize again. The team with the chest full of awards and medals, took that downsizing hammer and did it again. They gave us even smaller cars with FWD and smalller engines. Then they sat back and waiting for the roar of applause from the buying public.
They got crickets. They jumped the shark. The jig was up and the fat lady sang.
Oops. While Ford and Chrysler were making gold mountains out of clay molehills because they had no cash, GM had it and used their cash to go where no customers would ever spend money to go.
They could have designed it in a way that works for the shorter car. There were plenty of smaller cars which looked great. But why they tried to retain so many of the old design aspects – that roof line, very long doors, very long deck? One can argue that they were uncertain about the downsizing effort. If they were sure about it, they would have designed it in a way that suits the car length.
I do love my Cadillac cars, and for some reason (maybe because it’s the decade I began to sell them??) I really like the 80’s and early 90’s cars. In fact, my favorite years are 1975 to 1993. So this poor Eldo falls right into the thick of that time for me. And, I am a proud owner of a 1986 Seville with 22K and mint condition. Yet, I find it difficult to show any love to the 1986 and 1987 Eldo due to the true lack of looking like a real Cadillac.
I began my sales career in February of 1988 and as many on here probably know, that was the year Cadillac revised the front end/fenders, rear and taillights on the Eldo. What a difference that made. Of course, that was also the year they moved from the 4.1 to the 4.5L engine, giving the car much better performance. The 1988 was just a much better looking and better car. However, the old car optimist in me needs to say that driving a 1986/87 Eldo (Seville too) is something that could easily change the minds of many. Did they need more power? Absolutely yes. But they really did (do) drive quite well. The 4.1L engine was much improved from the 1982 intro year and the cars were quite sophisticated for the time.
I’m not asking people on here to go from hating on these cars to loving them. But if you ever get a chance to drive a nice clean one, do so and look it over very well. You may just be surprised in a good way.
It is very likely the dimensions of the car – or more likely the proportions really helped this car along to its dismal fate. However, we must also look inside the car. I have seen these cars in both 2 and 4 door form (Seville?) and the fit and finish is nowwhere close to what Mercedes and BMW and Saab offered and not close to European GM standards either – the leather and faux wood notwithstanding. It´s worse than that though. Anyone who saw a late 70s Cadillac or Buick interior would also not be impressed. Like Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Lancia, GM did not handled the evoltion from hard and shiny interors to integrated ones made of softer, moulded ones. Why did GM USA not look at Opel? Their Ascona, Rekord and Senator interiors are really nice (especially given the price). I wonder what GMers said when using Opels on trips to Russelshiem and vice versa. “Um, is this a mid-market car, Gerhard? It´s nicer than a Cadillac in here…”
These small Edlos have inexplicably grown on me over the years.
I liked these too.
That GM flubbed this is indisputable. It makes you wonder what else may have been considered before this was green lighted? It’s entirely possible that what became the 1992 Eldorado was sketched as an alternative, and it certainly would have been much better.
Cars like THIS are what contributed to Cadillac`s downfall. Pathetic, a joke on wheels.
One of the worst aspects of GMs downsizing kick was there seemed to be zero thought of consolidating model lines as the sizes all got mostly squeezed together; subcompact-compact-midsize-full size didn’t make much sense when they were all under 200” long. I said it in the tempo topic, but it’s actually more pertinent in the case of GM but the only explanation I can muster is to keep up appearances, and not look like they’re retreating in the face of adversity(be it the energy crisis or foreign competition). These jumbled together model lineups combined with their about face wishy washy keeping of legacy rear drive G, B and C bodies when they realized their overcorrection created a bewilderingly confusing line of cars.
Salt in the wound is these weren’t even that fuel efficient – 15/24, vs the 85s 15/21. 3 mpg highway hardly seems worth the sacrifice, especially for a Cadillac buyer. Just improving the aerodynamics with a restyle of the old 85 chassis probably would have gotten it there.
“… as the sizes all got mostly squeezed together;”
Agree, and makers are doing it now with xUV’s. Like inches of difference, but ads scream “look at all our SUV’s!”
Back then, complaints about ‘cookie cutter cars’. Now, just make an SUV 2 box shape, and people sign up for 96 month loans to impress neighbors.
The ’79 looked the part of a Cadillac. The ’86 went more Euro-inspired which wasn’t a bad idea until all the Cadillac Glam was applied. The vinyl roof and Biarritz treatment for example didn’t translate well for this design if you want euro-inspired. The vehicle needs more substance as well to be taken seriously. The design was too close to the lessor Buick/ Pontiac/ Olds N-body.
My go-to in situations like this is now thinking “Assuming I were GM, in that same time period, with the same knowledge and resources, what would I do differently?”
I can’t really say the E-bodies weren’t necessarily bad cars as there were loads of QC issues. My take on this would instead have been to brand the C-Body coupe as the Eldorado so you still have size going on, and assuming the Cimarron could hit pause for a couple of years I’d have aimed THIS vehicle (The “Cadillac TC” for Touring Coupe – Chrysler hadn’t sullied those initials as of yet) less at the old-folks crowd and more as a shot as capturing some of the Euro-intenders. If the J-Car Cimarron was too far along I’d have positioned this as the eventual replacement. Sure, there’s a striking similarity with the N-bodies here, but troweling wire-hubcaps and vinyl tops (or worse – carriage roofs) on along with that handicap – yuck!!
This car with less jewely-chromey-cheap-n-blingy styling, with a wreath-and-crest on the grille instead of as a hood ornament, with what became the STS suspension and without the old-stool wafty-caddy softness, standing on its own trying to carve out a new niche instead of inheriting the mantle of what had been decades a Very Very Big Car – might’ve stood a chance and might’ve worked better than what actually happened. It would’ve been better pitched at someone eyeing a C-Class or Audi 4000 and would’ve been a better-targeted step up for someone with a Grand Am who didn’t want styling that reeked of mothballs, vinyl-covered-sofas and cough drops.
I was going to post something similar. The price shouldn’t have been the top of their line, and the names should have been new.
Their ’92 replacements were so much better looking, inside and out, you wonder how the same company did both just a few years apart.
My Dad fortunately didn’t go for this model. He did have the smaller FWD DeVille and this Armbruster-Stageway limousine on a Fleetwood chassis. This was his last part time job
“… But how come nobody else was doing it [downsizing] too, domestics or imports?”
Chrysler’s FWD K car based New Yorker/Imperial? Lincoln’s mid size Continental?
Imports kept upsizing, BMW 3 series now is bigger than old 5/7.
Car experts demanded ‘smaller’, careful what you wish for, 😉
I give Chrysler a pass since they simply had nowhere else to go but to produce Omni and K car variants. They did it for way too long, but in the pre-Caravan/post-bailout period the K cars served their purposes, not like they were any worse than the R and F bodies of the late 70s like the GMs and Ford’s of that period arguably were. The Continental could be accused of name debasement but in execution what it really was was a Versailles successor with a much more thurough(if derivative) redesign from the Fairmont than the Versailles was from the Granada
I agree though, look what BMW and Mercedes Benz were doing in the late 70s and 80s and what they were not doing was downsizing. Instead they were using engineering and technology to eek out efficiency, rather than go GMs route of an anorexic starve and purge diet.
On the plus side, at least they didn’t make the Eldo, Riv, and Toro all use the same panels just with different front and rears, like with the X, A, and others. They’re all distinct, but none of them are what you would call lookers, especially compared with their predecessors.
While the size is an understandable mistake in market reasearch (Cadillac builds a Honda Prelude?), the style could have been handled a lot better. A lot better. They paid guys to do that sort of thing; I think they spent too much of their budget on incidentals this time and not enough on the core business of getting the look right.
This triple-grey one seems to minimize the awkwardness somehow – or maybe nifticus is a better photographer than those GM employed.
I think the problem is where the formal roofline was just a part of the whole on the 79-85s, the downsized proportions of the 86 made the roofline a prominent feature. Even with the sheetmetal below the beltline being distinct you don’t really notice it at first glance, your mind first goes “was that a Calais?” Followed by “Oh wait, those are Cadillac taillights”
That’s where the design falls so short, Lincoln had a similar problem with the 1980 Mark VI, where the body was simply downsized without changing anything from the Mark Vs styling, and a big reason its regarded as unattractive is the more upright greenhouse looks like it’s dwarfing the downsized body below. Ford learned from that costly mistake which applied to the 80 Thunderbird and Cougar as well, and started fresh with the aero look, GM should have taken heed right then in 1980, but of course they had a corporate yes man heading the design studios so they just downsized the sheer look
Yes Matt, that’s just it; with the previous design the roofline belonged. It was an integral part of the overall look. I’ve been somewhat outspoken before about GM’s formal-roofline fetish, so I didn’t single it out this time. There was nothing wrong with the overall size, so a bit more slope to the rear window, and thinner pillars – it wasn’t written in stone that Cadillacs had to be formal. They used to be style leaders. They never used to look like Oldsmobiles. Or like used cars when they were showroom-fresh.
And that Lincoln was a disaster. GM didn’t have a copyright on getting style wrong. I guess we had higher expectations because they were the market leader.
The times, they were a-changing, but GM didn’t seem to be looking.
An absolute travesty.
A Dodge Aries coupe had better proportions, than this styling embarrassment.
The excuse used that high gas prices created this embarrassment of a car doesn’t add up for 3 reasons. Gas peaked in 1981 and showed no real spikes the next few years. This means GM could have refreshed the ’79 while developing something more like the ’92 and they would have gotten away with it into ’88-’89. The second point is that these weren’t that efficient anyway and thirdly the C and H Body cars looked far better and were generally a success.
That Eldo really isn’t that small a car, it’s the same size as an ’05-09 Mustang. (approx. 188 inches) The Mustang looks even bigger than it is, unlike the Cadillac.
I had a lot of older co workers who had the earlier ’79 -85 Eldos and Sevilles. Those that had the regular iron V8s were satisfied with their cars, those that had the HT4100s weren’t. Besides engine problems, they were very under powered. One of the guys traded in his earlier model Eldo for an ’86 or ’87, he kept the car for at least ten years when he retired. He said that he loved the car, it was going to be his “forever” car.
The first round of down sizing was successful, but they couldn’t continue the traditional design cues with a smaller car. It’s not like GM couldn’t design a good looking smaller car, think about the Corvette and Camaro, but these weren’t shrunken bigger designs.
The grey car in the factory photo looks pretty good to me, unlike the tarted up subject car.
The funny thing is that even though the small Eldos looked like a Cutlass, they were on different body platforms, I agree with the comment that having a big line of cars that varies only by inches, makes everything get lost in the herd. These Cadillacs were the only models with the transverse V8, though later other GM cars would share that feature.
I think that the ’92 Eldos and Sevilles (as well as the ’89 DeVilles) finally broke out of the shrunken car look. Just in time for sedans in general to fade into irrelevance. Though I give props to Cadillac, that still fields a line of different sedans.
GM should had restyled the previous Eldorado and released this completely new experience as something with a new name, maybe this one should be the real Cimarron.