Both here at CC and at large, is there a GM car in history more crucified than — wait for it — the 1986-1991 Cadillac Eldorado and Seville?
I’m sure many of you have a different GM vehicle in mind for this title, and if so, please feel free to nominate one in the comments. As for the 1986-1991 Cadillac Eldorado coupe and its Seville sedan counterpart, no matter how you look at it, they are cars that can only be described as disappointing at best. Some may be quick to call them horrible, but I’d prefer labeling them as mediocre and disappointing, because in truth, they weren’t entirely horrible cars.
The problem was, the 1986-1991 Eldorados and Sevilles were in so many ways, shadows of their former selves, though I’d strongly argue that their immediate predecessors were no masterpieces either. This generation Seville has been covered significantly before here at CC, so let’s just focus on its two-door Eldorado brethren.
Starting with the obvious, the ninth generation Eldorado looked — and was — significantly smaller than its bulkier, statelier personal luxury coupe predecessor. Riding on an eight-inch shorter 108-inch wheelbase, the 1986 Eldorado was over fourteen inches shorter than the 1985. To make matters worse, the new Eldorado donned forgettable, uninspired 1980s boxy styling, making it blend in with many other cars on the road.
Not only did the Eldorado look generic, more specifically, it looked strikingly similar to many less prestigious GM cars. Historically, the Eldorado was positioned as Cadillac’s halo vehicle. For many years, it was a car purchased by some of the wealthiest GM buyers of all, and Cadillac certainly made no attempts to downplay the car’s prestige, making sure it was always adorned with distinctive, flamboyant styling.
We all like to say that it is what’s on the inside that counts, but the honest truth is that outward appearance is one of the most important factors in choice of just about anything (or anyone) for 99.9% of people. The fact that the new Eldorado looked like almost any other GM coupe of the era was simply tragic for its appeal. To only make matters worse, what was on the inside wasn’t all that spectacular either.
Comprised of a dizzying mix of pod-like styling, excessive small buttons and digital readouts, trimmed in more traditional Cadillac accents such as casket-style door pulls, button-tufted leather, and oddly-placed wood trim.
Under the hood, the Eldo did rather shockingly retain V8 power. However, at the time of its launch, this was solely in the form of Cadillac’s HT-4100 4.1-liter V8, producing an anemic 130 horsepower. Torque was rated at a slightly better 200 lb-ft, identical to that found in the Toronado and Riviera’s smaller 3.8L V6, an engine that actually made 10-20 additional horsepower! Prestige was certainly eroding rather fast.
For once, I’ll spare the comparisons with European and Japanese luxury cars that were indeed better in nearly every aspect, and rapidly eating away at Cadillac’s market share — after all, there’s no sense beating a dead horse. I won’t however give the Eldorado a pass for its lack of competitiveness to what was truly its most direct comparison, the Lincoln Mark VII (which lost its “Continental” prefix for 1986).
Introduced two years prior, the Mark VII boasted highly distinctive styling that was sleek and contemporary, yet stately and formal, and full of character when compared to the Eldorado. It was also over a foot longer, boasted a tighter turning radius, and came with a significantly more powerful base engine, in addition to an immensely more powerful performance-oriented LSC model.
Traditionally, with its larger market share, Cadillac typically sold more vehicles overall and more Eldorados, than Lincoln and its Mark Series. That was still the case for most years of this generation Eldorado, but it was only the Eldorado which saw a decrease in sales from over 75,000 in 1985 to less than 22,000 in 1986. By comparison, Mark VII sales were actually up in 1986 a hair versus 1985 to just over 20,000.
Cadillac, quick to realize its many fatal mistakes, rushed a number of updates into the 1988 models. While at a short glance, the 1988 Eldorado looked no different from the 1986 or 1987, stylists did give the car an all-new hood and grille, sharper front and rear quarter panels, reshaped roofline and rear window treatment, and three-sided taillights, all in attempt to incorporate more prominent traditional Cadillac styling cues.
Mechanically, a new 4.5-liter V8 now was standard. Power was up to 155 horsepower and 240 lb-ft torque, though this still trailed the Mark VII’s 225 horsepower, 300 lb-ft torque from its standard 5.0L. In any event, Eldorado sales did increase some near 15,000 units over 1987 to 33,210 total. However, the Mark VII, despite no major updates, saw its sales increase by an even more dramatic amount in 1988, with 38,259 units sold, versus its 15,286 sold in 1987.
Cadillac would make further refinements and enhancements to the Eldorado on an annual basis, but the writing was already on the wall — the ninth generation Eldorado would never come close to matching its predecessor’s success. While the car itself clearly had many shortcomings, much of this can be attributed to the dramatic mid-to-late-1980s shift in consumer tastes away from coupes in favor of sedans. Could these two have come hand in hand?
Nevertheless, Cadillac continued with small yet meaningful updates and enhancements to the Eldorado, the most significant being the standard addition of the new 4.9-liter V8 making 200 horsepower and 275 lb-ft torque in 1991, and the addition of the optional Eldorado Touring Coupe model in 1990. As the name would suggest, much like the similar Seville Touring Sedan, the Eldorado Touring Coupe was geared more toward the driving enthusiast.
Featuring a retuned firmer touring suspension, larger standard wheels, antilock brakes, the addition of a rear stabilizer bar, more thickly-bolstered seats, and less chrome exterior trim, the Eldorado Touring Coupe was hardly a true competitor to European personal luxury coupes or even the Lincoln Mark VII LSC, but more an Eldorado for Cadillac buyers preferring a tad more road feel.
Planned as a low-production edition from the start, Eldorado Touring Coupe sales were just 1,507 in 1990 and 2,249 in 1991, the last year of the ninth generation Eldorado. Overall Eldorado sales continued declining, with 16,212 rolling out the doors in 1991. An unquestionably better, more substantial Eldorado would arrive in 1992, bringing with it an “ETC” Eldorado Touring Coupe, and though it would soldier on for a decade, the Eldorado’s impending demise was on the wall from the beginning. Could the ninth generation 1986-1991 Eldorado have been the final nail in the coffin?
Photographed: Rockland, Massachusetts – September 2017