COAL: 1981 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham D’Elegance – Exceptional, What With RHD and 500 Cubic Inches

Cadillac 1981 COAL fq

(Submitted by Peter Jenkins)   I am a new contributor, from Auckland, New Zealand. This is my 1981 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham D’Elegance, which is much like other Cadillacs of this era on here, except for one aspect which you will soon notice in the pics – it is right hand drive! And one more difference: it just happens to have a blueprinted, ported and polished 500 cubic inch V8 under its hood. It’s quite not your typical ’81 Cadillac. 

Cadillac 1981 COAL rq

At the time I bought this car, in 1995, RHD was a major consideration, as it was going to be my daily driver/ only car. Being right hand drive meant that insuring it cost $600 per year instead of many thousands had it been LHD. This cost difference has largely disappeared over the years, especially for classics, but it is still nice to have the steering on the “right” side.

Cadillac 1981 COAL wipers

The Cadillac has quite an interesting history – it comes from Hong Kong originally, and was assembled there apparently from a CKD kit, the right hand drive conversion being done during assembly. The dealer I bought it from here in Christchurch told me GM had a small plant there doing assembly and conversion for the Asian RHD markets up until the mid 80’s. I would imagine that this was probably little more than just a warehouse / shed behind a local dealer.

Cadillac 1981 COAL dash

The conversion has been done quite well, using aviation derived components apparently and the steering etc is still precise after all these years. The only flaw is that the idiot lights along the strip on top of the dash were never moved over, not a major problem for me as I opted to have gauges installed anyway.

When I got the Caddy it had about 28K miles on it, but the motor in it was the L62 V8-6-4 variable displacement 368 introduced in 1981 as something of an experimental motor. .. and unfortunately it was not a good motor. The variable displacement system had already been disconnected, so I never got to experience all the issues with that. However it was using a lot of oil, and then stripped the timing gear within a couple of years of me buying it, and it wasn’t going to be worth fixing so I told the mechanic to see what else would fit.

Cadillac 1981 COAL engine 500 CID

He had two engines, both which would need a rebuild, a 425, and a 500 cubic inch from an early 70’s Coupe De Ville. I told him if the 500 fit, put it in. It did fit, and he rebuilt it. During the rebuild, he called me asking if I wanted it bored out, blueprinted, ports polished etc.. I figured that while it was apart, might as well, so I said yes each time.

Cadillac 1981 COAL rr

As a result of that, and having no smog gear, it really gets up and goes! I have never had it up on a dyno, but suspect its good for at least a couple of hundred hp. It’s given a few local “rice rockets” an unexpected surprise at the lights….

Handling was much better than I had been led to expect – on my first long trip back to Auckland, I found myself able to keep up with a VW Golf GTI, to my surprise; mind you I expect they were not pushing it to its limits as I was!

Cadillac 1981 COAL door

Mine seems to have had most of the options specified by the original Hong Kong owner (a barrister according to the dealer that sold me the car). Being the d’Elegance it probably had them as part of the package. Apparently there was a choice of leather or velour cloth. Mine has the leather, although I would have preferred cloth – beggars cant be choosers, and out here in NZ when it comes to US cars we are beggars!

Cadillac 1981 COAL side

It only really ceased to be my daily driver in about 2003 or so when I bought a small Japanese wagon. That said, I had always cycled to work anyway, so the gas mileage was never a great concern. I have had it garaged or at least under cover pretty much consistently since around 1996, so the paint is still original, bar a minor accident repair in 2000 or so.