Curbside Classic: 1978 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado – The Biggest, Baddest Brougham Of Them All

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(first posted 4/15/2013)     As most of you know, the big, floaty Coupe de Ville, Sedan de Ville and Fleetwood Brougham went on a crash diet for the 1977 model year. While still nice luxury cars in their own right (and much better road cars), the downsizing left only one Cadillac model with truly uncompromising dimensions: The Fleetwood Eldorado.

The original Eldorado (CC here), despite being gigantic and under-braked, was a clean, stylish and–dare I say it–sporty personal luxury coupe. With its razor-edge fenders, close-coupled silhouette and trendy hidden headlights, it was a beaut, and remained so through the 1970 model year, despite having lost its headlamp doors the previous year. Then came the 1971 model, aka the “Gravy Train Eldo” or “Wedding Cake Eldo”, as you prefer.

Now before some of you bring out your poison keyboards, let me be clear: I like these cars. Actually, I pretty much like every Cadillac ever built, including the Cimarron (yes, I know I have a problem, but I don’t care). But come on, the ’71 wasn’t nearly as cleanly styled as the original FWD Eldorado, though I do dig the rear-quarter fender vent nod to ’50s Caddys. The cathedral parking lamps up front were also pretty cool. And the 1971-72 Eldos (CC here) do have their own air of class, though it is more Al Czervik’s style than Judge Smales’s.

But I will always love the 1971 Cadillacs, because one of my first old car brochures was the prestigious 1971 Cadillac brochure, which I got in early 1991. I was 10 years old, and my Dad and I were at a car show at the QCCA Expo Center. There were some vendors and one guy had a bunch of old brochures for sale. Somehow I talked Dad into buying me a couple, and I selected the 1971 Caddy and 1971 Lincoln brochures to take home. That ice-blue Eldo shown in the catalog is permanently etched in my memory: a lovely car, in a lovely color.

But starting in 1973, Big-Bumper Creep began as all new cars now required a battering-ram front bumper. Interestingly, the ’73 Eldo was perhaps the cleanest of the whole 1971-78 era, and might well be my favorite. First, you had the cool, bold eggcrate grille–a nod to legendary Caddys of the past; second, the fake side vent was now gone, which made for much smoother flanks.

Finally, replacing the jewelry box-shaped trunk lid and bladed taillights created a more cohesive theme. Actually, I was a teenager when I saw my first ’73 Eldo. I was riding my bike through the Watch Hill neighborhood when I came upon a bright-red ’70s Eldorado parked in the driveway of a substantial house, but I couldn’t figure out the model year! Stumped, I returned home and eventually ID’d it from my ’70s Time magazine and National Geographic car ad collection. Perhaps that is why I am so enamored of that year…

Just like everything else, the Eldo got restyled haunches in ’74 in order to accommodate a newly mandated big bumper out back. But unlike many other manufacturers (Ford was perhaps the worst at integrating the big-ass Federal bumpers), Cadillac managed to make the new 5-mph units as unobtrusive as possible. A new grille freshened up the front.

The final major refresh for the Parade Float Eldo came in ’75: Upgrades included front fenders with much more prominent blades, yet another new grille and de-skirted rear-wheel openings. The overall effect was rather fresh and sporty–at least when compared with the bigger Coupe de Ville.

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With the exception of Last Convertible Fever, the ’76 Eldo was about the same; the main change was re-positioning the Cadillac script on the grille header to the right. Paul found a Georgian Silver example some time back, but this ’78 I found last September was in a much more spectacular color combination. It literally stopped me in my tracks!

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The 1978 Fleetwood Eldorado was billed as “A car of uncompromising luxury…and impressive roadability. Snow. Sleet. Rain. That’s when you appreciate the pulling action of Front-Wheel Drive–in combination with new Electronic Level Control and Four-Wheel Disc Brakes.”

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Yes, it was a boat–but it was a stout boat, with a 425 CID (7.0-liter) V8 with a 4-BBL Quadrajet carburetor. Although 180- and 195-hp versions of the 425 were offered in ’78, all Eldos came standard with the 195-horse variant. All Eldorados came with a 27-gallon fuel tank, necessitated by its other-than-fuel-sipping characteristics. Hey, if you want economy, what are you doing in a Cadillac showroom, fer cryin’ out loud?

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No, the Fleetwood Eldorado was all about gadgets, presence and a cosseting ride. To compare one of these beauties to a 911 or E30 Bimmer is an exercise in futility; they are cars with different purposes, and this car’s is traditional luxury.

As was proven when perusing the 1978 brochure: Three different interiors were available: Halifax knit cloth in four colors; Random velour in three colors; and of course, Sierra-grain leather in no less than twelve color combinations, plus three two-tone leather options. No pick-black-or-tan-and-you’re-done, as with today’s cars.

There was also a long list of standard features–at least by late ’70s standards–that included power steering, electronic level control, automatic climate control, AM/FM stereo with power antenna, power door locks, power windows, cornering lights, Soft-Ray tinted glass, digital clock and an automatic parking brake release.

If that wasn’t enough, you could step up to the Custom Biarritz (introduced in mid-1976, ’77 shown above), which added leather pillow-top seating, a Cabriolet Elk Grain vinyl landau roof, stainless steel belt moldings, 50/50 Dual Comfort front seat and other refinements. It was available only in Mediterranean Blue Firemist, Cotillion White, Carmine Red, Colonial Yellow and Ruidoso Saddle.

But that’s not all, folks! An even more limited-edition Custom Biarritz Classic was available in ’78 only. As you would expect for MY 1978, it was available only in two-tone tan and brown, inside and out. The package alone cost $2,466, and only 2,000 Custom Biarritz Classics were built.


Of course, the most prominent feature of the 1971-78 Eldo was those bladed fenders which, as previously noted, became even more pronounced for 1975. At that point they became part of the bumper, extending all the way down the front end. Also note the numerous bumper guards up front: three per side, for a total of six on the nose.

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Out of all these choices, our featured CC has my first choice of interiors: White Sierra-grain leather. The red dash, seat belts and carpeting only add to its appeal, though the white seats would also look great with green or blue trim–with an appropriate exterior color, of course!

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I found this Broughamiest Brougham in a mall parking lot, across the street from where a car show was being held. It was clearly a pampered original, with its unmarred leather and beautiful paint. I imagine the consumption of Coca-Cola and Big Macs is expressly forbidden. Can’t have this primo ’70s luxury car smelling like a fast food restaurant, don’t you know!

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Like Jim Grey’s CC on the green ’75 Ninety-Eight Regency, this car’s sheer presence rendered all the blah crossovers and sedans in the lot invisible. No Witness Protection Program for this baby! It clearly says, “I am a Cadillac, I am a Brougham, and I don’t care what you think!”

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While the Eldorado may have looked relatively svelte next to the 1971-76 standard Cadillacs, that all changed when the ’77s debuted. At that point, the beefy, 4,906-lb. luxury coupe was showing every bit of its 224 inches. Its wheelbase alone was 4.8 inches longer than both the ’77 four-door de Ville and Fleetwood Brougham.

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Despite it clearly having become a dinosaur by the late ’70s–compare one of these to a Fairmont, Volvo 240 or first-gen Accord, for crying out loud–sales marched smartly along. In 1976 35,184 coupes came off the line, along with 14K final-year convertibles. Despite being reduced to the single coupe body style in 1977, total Eldo sales were down by just a couple of thousand units, to 47,344.

The 1977s also got a minor trim reshuffle, with taillights relocated from below the trunk lid to the bumper end caps. A new grille, “Eldorado” lettering on the hood panel and some new colors rounded out most of the changes. The ’77 Eldo brochure is one of my favorite vintage Cadillac brochures, especially since it features a stunning Frost Orange Firemist coupe. Add white leather with orange trim, and it would be my dream Eldo!

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But that’s not meant to discredit the lovely ’78 example I found at the North Park Mall, in Davenport.  Indeed, the deep red with white Cabriolet roof and red-and-white interior were a most excellent combination. There were a lot of cool Cadillac colors back in the ’70s, and Crystal Blue Firemist and Jasper Green Firemist also would have been quite sharp.

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Brash, bold, gigantic and thristy–there is no doubt this is an American luxury car. Whether you love or hate these land yachts, there is no denying their presence. If I had the disposable income to feed one of these monsters, I would have left a note under the wiper of this one!

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