Curbside Classic: 1986 Cadillac Sedan de Ville – Resplendent In Sunburst Yellow!

(first posted 1/12/2015)   Here we go again. You know the drill. If there’s a Cadillac out there in that classic light yellow paint and matching Sierra grain leather, I will be all over it. Doesn’t matter if it’s a Chris-Craft sized ’70s Eldorado Biarritz, a Mini-Me Seville, or even a Cimarron (yes, they came in this color too!), I will immediately love it. I’m funny that way.

You may recall seeing this car on Paul’s Car2Go post. How bad does Klockau have it for cheesecake-colored Caddys? Well, I had to email Paul and see if he had more pictures of this car. He did not (let’s just say he is not as enamored of ’80s Cadillacs as I) but offered to get some shots the next time he was out for a walk. Cool! I was so excited, as this one appeared showroom new, and most of the 1985-88 Cadillacs have disappeared from my part of the world.

1985 was the year Cadillac put it all on the line. No longer would a yachting cap be necessary for ownership of one of GM’s finest, as the 1985 Sedan de Ville, Coupe de Ville and FWD Fleetwoods (the RWD Fleetwood Brougham carried on in Bristol fashion) were remarkably shorter and lighter, but still with Cadillac-sized room and comfort. The only thing I don’t really care for on the ’85s is the narrow little strip of chrome on the rocker panels.

It seemed chintzy for a Cadillac in my eyes, especially when its cousin, the Buick Electra Park Avenue, got nice wide chrome moldings. The FWD Fleetwoods did get a proper broad chrome molding, however.

The 1985 Cadillac de Villes sold too. The last of the “biggies,” the 1984s, sold 68,270 Sedan de Villes and 46,340 Coupe de Villes. Not bad for a big, imposing luxury car. But to correct those who like to re-write history and say the ’85 C-bodies were a failure, that is a bit out of left field, for the ’85s sold to the tune of 101,366 Sedans and 39,500 Coupes. Now, that figure DOES include the FWD Fleetwood Coupe and Sedan, but still, it is pretty clear that these cars found buyers. They certainly didn’t languish in the showroom.

For 1986, much was the same. The 4.1L V8 gained ten horsepower, to 135, and the 85-hp diesel available for 1985 was dropped. Sedan de Villes and Coupe de Villes did gain a proper wide chrome side molding, however. So much better looking–the ’85 version looked like a Calais or Series 62 to me, with its lame chrome trim! Production (again including the FWD Fleetwood) came to 129,857 Sedans and 36,350 Coupes. I imagine most of those were De Villes as folks wanting a Fleetwood probably went for the big RWD Brougham.

A 1986 Sedan de Ville weighed 3,378 pounds and had an MSRP of $19,990. I think the ’86 got it just right. Enough chrome to not be mistaken for a Chevrolet Biscayne, but still remarkably clean and modern. The fine mesh grille, simple vertical taillights with inset Cadillac emblem, and plush interiors were “just right.”

Well, except for one thing. That pesky 4.1L “High Technology” V8 engine. Yes, it was a Cadillac engine, not shared with lesser GM marques, but it had a problem with something one who purchases a luxury car shouldn’t have to deal with: an unreliable slug of an engine. While it undoubtedly was sprightlier in the smaller 1985-87 FWD Cadillacs (it first appeared in 1982 on the land-yacht De Villes and Fleetwoods, along with the Seville and Eldorado), it still had a problem with running when its owner wanted it to.

What kind of problems, you say? You could take your pick of oil pump failure, blown head gaskets, or the head bolts stripping out at most inopportune times, like when going 70 mph on Interstate 80. This led to terms such as “hand tighten” for the HT4100. Supposedly the engine was much improved around 1985, but I have heard of engine troubles with the engine on Cadillacs right up through 1987, its last year in the De Ville.

To me, this color always said “Cadillac.” I was in kindergarten when these cars debuted, and I do recall seeing them when they were new. The prominent use of one in the 1988 movie “Twins” also cemented these cars into my childhood memories. The only problem was many of these cars also sported hideous fake Rolls-Royce grilles, carriage roofs or–worst of all!–fake continental kits. Fortunately, this example has suffered no such dealer-installed abuse! Slick top, factory wheel covers and factory grille–just the way I like it.

Apparently I am not the only fan of these cars.

Even the driver’s seat is pristine–no wear on the driver’s bolster at all. Only some wear to the door armrest keeps it from near-mint condition. While the exterior of these cars changed a bit between 1985 and 1993, the interior stayed largely the same. I have driven a number of 1989-93 Sedan de Villes and can tell you they have not only excellent visibility, but tons of stretch-out room and extremely comfy seats!

And look at all that legroom out back. This has to be one of the last cars that really could seat six people comfortably. Yes, the Panthers technically do too, but with their RWD, the center-front passenger is not going to be the happiest camper in a contemporary Town Car or Grand Marquis–there is a rather prominent hump for the transmission on them. These C-bodies had remarkable room, and of course a nice flat floor up front.

And yet, on the outside, they were remarkably trim. That Taurus in the background looks bigger than the Caddy, but I know which one has more room inside!

You have to remember that when the 1985 FWD Cadillacs were being designed, GM was freaking out over a future of $6 a gallon gas, fuel rationing and other things that appeared to spell the end for the giant luxury car. They were not alone; pretty much all the car companies were figuring on Gas Crisis III by 1985-87, when no one would buy anything approaching gas-guzzler status. They were wrong, and so these cars get knocked on by folks who weren’t yet born when these cars were being designed.

Of course, said gas crisis never appeared, so GM looked stupid. But if it had happened, today auto blogs would be blasting Lincoln for the gigantic Town Cars they had in the ’80s, instead of Cadillac with their mini-Broughams.

Cadillac did address the, ahem, compactness of their bread and butter De Villes, however, starting in 1987. A new eggcrate grille and composite headlights appeared up front.


While out back, the rear fenders were extended by a couple of inches, and the taillamps now wrapped around a mini “fin.” It did improve the looks, but wasn’t quite as clean as the 1985-86 model. This 1987 was on eBay last year. This was the last year for the 4.1L V8; 1988 models would receive a heavily reworked version of the V8, now bumped up to 4.5 liters–and much more reliable to boot.


This one was interesting in that it had the yellow interior in cloth! Never saw that before. I like the two different types of cloth used. Also note the vintage lace-up steering wheel cover. Guess they didn’t have one in light yellow

The FWD Sedan de Ville was the future of Cadillac when it debuted, but nearly 30 years later only the XTS, the spiritual successor to the Sedan de Ville, remains with front wheel drive. And most of Cadillac sales are now SUVs and crossovers. No, Cadillac is very different from the ones in my childhood, but I will always have a soft spot for these downsized ’80s Sedan de Villes and Coupe de Villes. We grew up together!

Related: 1985 Buick Electra Park Avenue  1988 Cadillac Coupe de Ville  1990 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Regency Brougham