As I turn 39 in a few months, I realize I’m a simple man. Foreign whips don’t faze me like they do a lot of other millennials. I was born in December 1981 and from a young age I always have liked American luxury cars. My grandfather had an 84 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme followed by an 87 Olds Ninety Eight Regency before buying a new 1999 Mercury Sable.
While BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi continue to light up the sales charts these days, there’s something that they lack and that’s emotional cache. Presence. You see all the German cars in the same black, gray, silver, white, and an occasional red here and there. However, when’s the last time you saw an Audi and it didn’t look like any other Audi from 10-15 years ago. The same can’t be said for American Luxury. There was a time growing up in the Midwest not all that long ago that you saw Cadillacs and Lincolns everywhere even some Chryslers. They might not have handled worth a squat but you definitely saw them coming from a mile away.
While Cadillac and Lincoln are the only two American marques still doing luxury cars as Chrysler stopped playing seriously a long time ago, you know what you are looking at the moment you see one. I’ve been a Lincoln man for some time now but GM cars in general have always been my background until I met Mr Lincoln Zephyr in 2009.
I suspect that I would have been an Oldsmobile fan since I’ve always loved the Aurora, Cutlass Convertible with the Twin cam 3.4 and especially the seldom seen LSS with the 3.8 v6 Supercharger but Oldsmobile went the way of the dodo bird in 2004.
Cadillac released the twelfth generation Eldorado in 1992 to compete with the best of the best for the personal luxury car segment although that segment had already been declining over the years. Its main rivals were the Lincoln Mark VIII and Lexus SC and one could argue GM cousins; the Oldsmobile Toronado and Buick Riviera.
The Toronado would bow out at the end of 1992 and the Riviera would be gone by 1993 but return for 1995. Even with all that was changing in the automotive world, the Eldorado which looked similar to the Seville, was the true luxoboat. Competing head to head with the Mark VIII who itself debuted in 1993 with a dohc 32 valve v8 dubbed “InTech” exclusive to the Mark VIII, Cadillac introduced the world to NorthStar.
Bow your head in reverence please. This engine was very advanced for the time and was similar to Lincoln but one thing Cadillac promoted with the Northstar was the ability the to run without coolant for up to 50 miles in the event of a coolant leak or overheating occurred. While remarkable in theory it proved to be futile in the long run. The Eldorado would be graced with this engine in 1993 as an option to the standard 4.9 v8 which garnered 200hp compared to the Northstar which had 275hp in Eldorado ESC and 295hp in the Touring Coupe. The Eldorado sold well enough. It outsold both the Mark VIII and Lexus SC every single year and although by the late 90s it was getting long in the tooth it outlasted every other personal luxury coupe it competed with.
I had been toying with the idea of getting another car maybe the new Lincoln Continental but I didn’t want to pay that eye-watering car note it would bring. I thought about a car that I’ve always wanted and this time it wasn’t a Lincoln. It was a Cadillac, more specifically the last generation Eldorado. My aunt had a 1984 Eldorado Biarritz back when I was a kid and then my mom’s best friend who’s like an aunt to me had a 96 Eldorado brand new off the showroom floor. I remember riding in it while in high school and thinking Cadillac made nice cars. My aunt and her boyfriend were only in their 20s when they purchased the 96. They were definitely not in the normal demographics for an Eldorado buyer but I’m sure Cadillac was happy to court her a new one nonetheless. Her Eldorado was Pearl White so it’s ironic that 24 years later I would purchase the same car in the same color.
I had been scanning listings for a El-Dog (which is what I often call an Eldorado) for the last year just browsing when I saw a 96 ETC in Crimson Red. It was located in Springfield, Missouri, however. I spoke with the seller several times who advised it was in excellent running condition had been religiously maintained and had a mountain of service records. He told me it had a slight oil leak which is common and notorious on the Northstar engines and most buyers or owners just live with them especially at this age and add oil when needed. He was asking $3800 for and it had 89k miles on it. It had a small crease on the passenger quarter panel. Red is my favorite color so this was my obvious choice. However, the seller stopped communicating with me after I gave him the estimate of an oil leak repair that he told me it had and to call around to a Cadillac dealer for a quote on repair as he figured it was only a few hundred dollars. Not hardly!
I was up late one night, and I saw an ad for a 1998 Cadillac ETC that was local to me and it looked MINT in every aspect of the word.
Without hesitation, I reached out to the seller and told them I was interested as she couldn’t have had this ad up for even 2 hours. She reached out to me next day and said the car was indeed available, but she would be out of town and was able to show it the following week. The price she was asking was fair and I knew by the next day or so she would have many interested parties. I sent her another message and said that I was indeed serious and to NOT sell the car to anyone without me seeing it first. She was true to her word and I was on my way to look at it the following Wednesday. My homie rode with me out there, and when we got to the parking lot, an excited feeling came over me.
She was beautiful!!! It was a done deal in my mind before I even stepped out of my Lincoln MKT. The car was every bit as described and the seller who was a middle age woman was very nice and accommodating. She had her son with her, and they proceeded to talk to my friend while I checked out the car.
This was a cream puff indeed. It was a Pearl White, although Cadillac used the official name as White Diamond, a name that is often associated with Elizabeth Taylor’s perfume that catered to the blue haired ladies who probably were Cadillac’s intended buying audience. I digress though.
This also came with the Gold Package that featured the emblems, pinstriping, license plate surround, chrome wheels and hood ornament all decked in gold. It was the ETC which is the one since it was the top of the line and had mostly everything Cadillac offered at the time as standard. It also had the grand touring suspension and more horsepower. Some of those options included the optional moonroof, spoiler, and Bose sound system with cd changer in trunk. From the look of the interior, it was obvious that this Eldorado was indeed her baby.
The back seats looked almost new. The instrument panel was in mint condition with no fading or cracking and all the buttons worked. This was further reiterated when I fired up the engine and saw 78k original miles on the dash. One thing that made a Cadillac a Cadillac was the way it made you feel when you got behind the wheel. You knew without a doubt you were driving a Cadillac. As I sat behind the wheel for the very first time, I imagined what it would be like taking delivery of a new Cadillac Eldorado for near $50,000 back in 1998.
That Northstar has an engine note that growls and purrs almost at the same time when you step on it. The 4.6 v8 burbles like it has some big Kahunas; something missing from today’s Cadillacs even though they have more power. One thing I immediately noticed was how whisper quiet it was at idle. There were no needles bouncing back and forth indicating the idle was off or another emissions issue. The owner was very cool and told us to go take the car on a test drive and she would wait in the parking lot of the restaurant we had met them at.
My friend, eager to sit behind the wheel and no stranger to Cadillac as he currently is on his 3rd, which is a 1994 Fleetwood Brougham, decided he would test drive it while I rode shotgun. As we took off down 79th Street in Bridgeview and was only a quarter mile into the test drive, he said, “if you don’t buy it, I will”. Nothing else needed to be said. There were no warning lights on the dash so it was a pretty smooth ride back to the parking lot. She gave me three service records in the last 4 years that she had spent over $4k at an independent auto shop getting brand new tires, water pump, full tune up, battery and belts replaced and the antenna replaced. I had gone to the bank earlier that day just in case I decided to buy it on the spot. She mentioned that she had several interested parties but since I had called first and was adamant on seeing it before everyone else, she would give me first dibs. I made an offer upon returning and I was shocked she accepted it off the bat. She explained that she wanted to see it go to a good home more than anything and my character showed that I was honest and genuinely liked the car. That was almost too quick I thought. I hoped I would not immediately regret it later. But she said that people were trying to low ball her over the internet offering under $1500 for a car that had been very well maintained.
She then handed me the original set of 24k gold plated keys.
Talk about Wow! Back then when money wasn’t an object, Cadillac provided all new owners with not only luxury service but they had Gold Key Service as well. One of the perks, or rather gimmicks, of the Gold Key Service was that Cadillac gave new owners a set of “cut” or “uncut” gold plated keys. It was a nice touch at personalizing the dealership service to keep customers coming back. The original set of keys that she handed off had a bronze Cadillac Medallion and a dealer keychain most likely given at the time of purchase to her mom.
She explained that the car had been in the family since brand new and her mom could no longer drive due to health and age. She also gave me a car cover that was used to cover the car up in the garage as well as a brand-new set of floor mats she was going to put down when she got the interior detailed. I was grateful at how open she seemed and pleasant demeanor. I exchanged money and we both signed the title and she handed over the few maintenance records available and I was off.
It was a pretty warm day in the low to mid 80s and I turned on the A/C but it wasn’t blowing very cool. Odd considered that she had just told me she had it charged up when the summer began. I suspect there may be a leak somewhere. I had my friend follow behind me in my Lincoln MKT since I didn’t have any plates and just in case it overheated or something. I was praying that it did not. I brought alone a few cds so I could test out the Bose sound system and there was also a 12-disc changer in the trunk. I turned off the A/C since it wasn’t helping cool the air and was only annoying me and I hit the 294 Tri-State Tollway towards home. I put in a cd from a group called Guy who pioneered the New Jack Swing sound from the late 80s and early 90s. The Eldorado rode so smooth and glided down the interstate.
It literally felt like I was riding on a cloud and it’s a feeling that Cadillacs of today lack from a ride and handling standpoint. This is the feeling I want to feel as I ride down a highway. Bumps were damped and the construction zone I rode through with the rough pavement was a non-issue. The Northstar has great power and at 300 for the ETC version, it hauls ass. The sound system also sounds pretty good but I can already tell the speakers will be blown in short order since I like to play my music pretty loud.
As I pulled up to the crib, I parked her in the back off the alley since there were no plates and she wasn’t registered. I sat in the car for a few moments just checking out the layout of the dash.
I loved how Cadillac did the interior with the Zebrano wood inserts. I wish they had of offered the wood applique on the steering wheel as well for the ETC models for all years. Cadillac would later offer this for the 2000-2002 model years. I had planned on not registering the car until October, but sitting in it and having that taste of how she rides, I knew that was not going to be the case.
My neighbor, eager to be nosy, came over the very next day and asked me did I get a new car. I smiled and gave him the keys. He popped the hood while I started the car and called his wife on his cell phone for her to come outside. When she saw it she said it looks well preserved. I replied “it is” and showed off my latest baby to the family. This Eldorado was already a favorite and I had not even had her 24 hours.
On Friday I went to register the car and to my surprise most of the DMVs were closed and when I went to the local currency exchange to switch over the car it cost almost $500. Illinois went up on the registration fees January 1, 2020. It was $311 just last year. Pissed off, I paid the money and I was on my way with the plates. I took her to the local car wash and everyone was staring at her. The guy who normally washes my car immediately asked to buy her for $3000 to which I promptly replied not hardly. He settled for a picture by the car which I was fine with.
I rode around all weekend in the Eldorado and found myself bored looking for things to get into just so that I can drive there. I rode all the way downtown on Saturday night and to the south side of Chicago just to see a friend for all of five minutes. The ride with the air shocks and Load Leveling Suspension is what a Cadillac should ride like…Then and Now!
I’m a month in, and so far no major complaints with the Eldorado. A check engine light came on for several days for a throttle position sensor but since has went back off. Also I seem to have a bad pulley either from the water pump or serpentine belt. I will get around to checking on those along with the suspension sooner than later. Right now I’m just enjoying the ride. I have driven it almost every day since I had her. She has been my daily since she rides so good. I took her on a 45 minute drive and I had no issues. The Cadillac Eldorado of this vintage does what she was born to do and that’s serenading the owner with miles of carefree driving in a luxurious way and with presence. Time is the only true luxury we can’t afford to waste.
If you’re going to be spending a lot of time behind the wheels of a car, why not drive something as iconic as this Eldorado? Afterall, It’s the American Way a ‘la Cadillac Style.