Cadillac knew it had a serious problem with its buyers’ demographics already back in the ’70s; they were well on their way to becoming an old geezer’s car. In other words, terminal decline, as the bitter truth of life is that death is inevitable, and folks over 65 are statistically much more inclined to that affliction than younger ones. But who would have thought that Cadillac would actually embrace death? As in design and build cars specifically targeted to the elderly, as in this Eldorado Touring Coupe? It’s almost as if Cadillac had a death wish. And they executed it perfectly.
Here’s the patient’s chart. 1985 was something of a high water mark for the Eldorado, as it was in its final year of the fairly handsome 1979-1985 incarnation.
The dealers obviously ordered up more than the usual numbers that year, having had a preview of the shrunken-head 1986 version. They knew that wasn’t going to go over well, and it sure didn’t. It was the kiss of death. And I’m shocked to find that we’ve never done a Deadly Sin on that car. Cadillac totally misread its aging buyers with that one; the Greatest Generation weren’t going to enjoy their golden years driving to the all-you-can-eat buffet in an itty-bitty compact Cadillac with a low-calorie engine under the hood.
The 1986 Eldorado (and sister DS Seville) have the dubious distinction of utterly failing with both the younger and older demographic. A remarkable doubly-deadly mistake; if you’re going to go down with your buyers, at least show them a bit of respect. The Eldorado was now in the ICU, well ahead of its intended buyers. That’s not at all good.
The desperately-rushed plastic surgery intervention was to stretch its rear end by three inches for 1988, dome the hood and increase the grille, to make it look more like a real Cadillac. Why didn’t it at the very least look like this in ’86? GM should have known that adding a bit of length invariably improves a car’s aerodynamics, especially a short one to begin with. So it’s not like fuel efficiency had to take a hit.
The result was a dead-cat bounce in sales, up to 33k. But it was all downhill again from there, through 1991, the last year of this (non-greatest) generation.
If it’s convenient, we can blame Irv Rybicki for that anodyne and miniaturized ’86. But whom can we blame for this generation, that was supposed to redeem the Eldorado? It’s stubby, boxy, ill-proportioned, still sitting on that same 108″ wheelbase, and its roof is anything but attractive. None other than the great Chuck Jordan!
The man responsible for so many dynamic designs at Opel and in the US, including this 1971 Opel Rekord D coupe. But then he claims responsibility for the Buick Reatta, another DS. And a few other stinkers or just not-so-sweet-smelling GM cars of the era.
It was a difficult time, and he was forced to make do with what he had, but still, this Eldorado coupe is just sad.
Here’s what the non-Cadillac coupe-buying demographic was snapping up. For obvious reasons.
Here’s another, if they could afford it.
Jordan replaced Rybicki as GM’s design chief in 1986, so pretty much anything that came along in the 1999-2005 period bears his mark. That includes this 1992 Seville, which many find quite attractive. It was certainly a huge improvement over its stubby predecessor, but I was never really a big fan. Something about it is a bit off; it just doesn’t quite all come together for me. But it was still vastly better than the Eldorado. Which of course is pathetic, inasmuch as coupes are supposed to be the more attractive take on their sedan stablemate. But that didn’t happen this time; is this the glaring exception to that rule?
Admittedly, by this time, I was pretty jaded about Cadillac and its constant efforts to rejuvenate itself. It just wasn’t going to happen. The painful reality is that just like humans are destined to die, so are brands. Well, maybe not necessarily die, but at the minimum, to lose their luster of youth and vitality. And no matter what Cadillac has tried since the ’80s, none of it has really worked. If it weren’t for the Escalade, Cadillac would just be a zombie.
Ok; not all buyers of these Eldorados were over the age of 70; there were some exceptions, but they didn’t exactly do much for its image either.
The irony is that Lincoln managed to do with its new 1984 Mark VII what utterly eluded Cadillac: bring in a younger, better educated and more dynamic demographic, thanks in part to plenty of gushing by the buff books. The double irony is that it was cobbled together on the cheap: a stretched 1983 Fox-body Thunderbird. It just goes to show that being very cash-poor—as Ford was at the time—was not only an impediment to designing better cars, it may well have been one of the key ingredients.
There was something honest and relatable about the Mk VII, with the possible exception of its fake conti spare trunk bulge. I would have been quite happy to rock a Mk VII LSC; I would have died of embarrassment to be seen in an Eldorado. And I was just the kind of young but well-heeled customer that both these companies desperately needed in the mid-late ’80s and into the ’90s.
Of course Ford screwed the pooch with its successor, the 1993 Mk VIII. They were rich again by then, and did a GM: went overboard on its development, trying to impress themselves with their ability to cram all the latest hi-tech into it. And the result was that it lost the Mk VII’s honest, down-to-earth hot-rod Lincoln vibe. I was instantly turned off by the Mk VIII, probably because I didn’t trust Ford to execute it properly, which was of course the case. It was practically impossible to screw up a Fox-body car with a pushrod Windsor 5.0, but this was now a moonshot, and it missed. Or at least had a hard landing, on its empty air springs.
But a leaky air suspension is nothing compared to leaky head gaskets, oil seals, valve covers, piston rings…did I forget someone? Oh right, the Torque To Yield head bolts, also called the devil’s bolts. And the finicky oil pressure relief valve. Well, that’s good enough for this exercise.
And of course the irony is that 99% of the Eldo’s demographics never used more than a fraction of the Northstar’s power potential. Cadillac should have kept the by-then reliable 4.9 L pushrod V8 as standard, and made the Northstar highly optional. Actually that was the case in 1993, but by ’94 it was standard. As were its almost-inevitable issues. Death Without Dignity.
We need to point out that this is not just a Plain-Jane Eldorado. This is an Eldorado Touring Coupe.
Otherwise known as an ETC.
Which means it came without all the tacky chrome, gold trim, vinyl roofs, etc. and all the other obvious affectations of Broughamhood. No sir; this was a blue-blood European-style touring machine. Watch out BMW!
The interior, shared with the Seville, was in relative terms the best thing about these. Cadillac finally saw the light and ditched the woefully obsolete and fussy interior design of its predecessors. Instead there was now a decent interpretation of a Mercedes-BMW style interior. Good job! And it only took two decades. Oh well…who’s in a hurry? The Eldorado’s demographic certainly weren’t throwing out their velour Barcaloungers at home at a faster pace.
Unlike the Seville, which got a major refresh in 1998, the Eldorado just soldiered along for eleven years. All of 7,105 were sold in its final year, 2002.
Cadillac had been pursuing gold with its Eldorado for exactly 50 years. The first one made quite a splash when it appeared in 1953. The last one just quietly laid down and died, without as much as a whimper. And nobody cared.