Curbside Classic: 1983 Cadillac Eldorado – The Last Truly Impressive Eldorado

Incredible. What are the odds of finding two well-used survivors in the same parking space? A few weeks ago, I encountered a 1987 Oldsmobile Calais Supreme sitting in the exact same space as this Eldorado. Is it merely coincidence or a gym rat with an affinity for old front-wheel drive General Motors metal? Although suffering from the same faded paint and brittle trim that plagues most cars in the Southwest, this Eldorado seems to be holding its own: a perfect microcosm of the 1979-85 Eldorado’s many ups and downs. But it’s the fundamentals behind our subject car that make it stand out. Later Eldorados may be great, but they lack the first impression that this grandiose coupe is just so good at leaving behind.

Although it was the last of the Cadillac lineup to trim off the excess of the seventies, the newly downsized Eldorado was by no means late to the party, arriving dressed in its best for the 1979 model year. And to say that it was a sales success would be an understatement: all of the Eldo’s seven best years occurred in its eighth generation, with only 1973 even coming close.

Yes, General Motors found a consistent sales success for Cadillac during a volatile time for the industry. But numbers alone can’t put the excitement surrounding the new Eldorado in context. Although its first generation as a “personal” car–really its sixth generation–has been rightfully hailed as one of the best-looking cars of the sixties, the 1971-78 redesign was less well received. From a modern perspective, they’re excessive at best and grotesque at worst; and to think they shared the showroom floor with the crisp 1977 C-Bodies for two whole years! General Motors’ paradigm shift after the crises of the seventies was on full display.

That’s not to say that the eighth generation Eldorado was perfect, not in the slightest. It’s easy to lambast General Motors for the catastrophic failure of the HT4100, but at the time, the future of the automobile was up in the air after multiple fuel shortages and volatile oil prices. Chasing efficiency just seemed like the safest bet against a future crisis. And, being only the third generation of overhead valve Cadillac V8, the project had some big shoes to fill. Its 135 hp @4100 rpm and 190 lb-ft of torque didn’t deliver the same magnitude of power that traditional Cadillac buyers expected, and although the ideal fuel economy rating of 20 miles per gallon was enticing, reliability issues soon soured public perception of the entire Cadillac marque.

The HT4100 was rushed into production too quickly to hammer out the issues with developing untested technology, leaving the customer to bear the brunt of the service bills. Sound familiar? General Motors could do aluminum V8 engines and they could do fuel injection. They just couldn’t do both on the same car.

There are many reasons why this particular car looks tired and worn out: thirty-five of them, to be exact. But, looking back at my shock and awe at seeing an Eldorado of this vintage in person, au naturale, there are two possibilities: either the pictures washed out or this car has a presence that you just can’t capture. Take your pick. All I’ll say is that, as someone who wasn’t alive for the eighties, this car is a lot to take in. It has a personality to it that I still can’t put my finger on, even after close to a month of sitting on these photos. If nothing else, it’s a car that makes you feel something.

It must be that crisp, clean profile at work. Ignore the missing wire wheel cover and the faded paint. Those are crow’s feet, laugh lines, beauty marks. American cars of this vintage are scarcer than ever, and now’s not the time to pick apart the ones that are left. It’d be easy to criticize that blunt, upright front end, especially compared to other cars on the market in 1983, but the popularity of the “aero look” wasn’t a foregone conclusion quite yet.

That’s not to say the design is without fault: although it looks distinctive from the front, from the side it’s just a little too anonymous for such an imposing car. Despite being such a large vehicle, its flaws are measured by degrees: a C-pillar that’s just a little too thick, side trim that’s a little too tacky.

There’s no question that this car is worthy of the vaunted Eldorado name, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. The less said about what succeeded it, of course, the better, and the same goes for the finicky engine under the hood. Regardless, the little plastic trim pieces that so often end up missing on a 35-year-old car are all still there. They even brought along a friend, too. The plastichrome addition onto the decklid is enough to incite existential dread: What purpose does it serve? Who put it there? Why?

It’s certainly enough to spoil what would otherwise be a rather nice view. Ignore it and the car seems to step out of the screen: this is certainly one of its better angles. The squat, rectilinear profile has just enough creases and curves to leave you speechless, a far cry from anything else on the road today. And the two-tone paint is the icing on the cake, doing more for the car’s visual unity than any vinyl roof could.

But there’s still plenty of Brougham to go around. Thankfully, this time I was able to take a decent photo of this car’s interior. Look at all that blue! It may be faded, but it’s all there. What an experience. The same word keeps popping out at me here: unity. From a contemporary standpoint, this was high style; and, in a way, it still is. Why, you can buy a brand new Lincoln Continental with an interior in almost this exact shade of blue! And a contemporary Mercedes could be ordered in a similar hue. Not so dated now, is it?

It’s easy to malign any aging car for its aesthetic shortcomings thanks to the gift of hindsight, just as it’d be easy to criticize the eighth generation Eldorado for not keeping the rest of the Cadillac brand afloat. The previous generation was rendered obsolete by the gas crisis; the two that succeeded it could never capture the public’s eye as easily as the Eldos of yore. But, for seven short years, Cadillac once again had a flagship in tune with the times–a design that still holds up nicely almost four decades after its triumphant debut. Cadillac style, it seems, is still alive and well.