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.
I think Cadillac’s problem wasn’t appealing to the older customers – many successful brands, like Mercedes or Lexus, have elderly appeal.
Cadillac’s problem was not making stuff that would appeal to the younger customers.
You can sell a young man’s car etc.
My buddies at work, and I, talked about this posting. I listened to them. They’ve driven Lincolns, Mercedes, Lexus and Infiniti, but none of them ever had an interest in Cadillac. They saw them as old people’s cars.
They couldn’t really say why.
This car lacks anything exceptional, and that is what it needed. It is a Cadillac, not a Chevrolet or a Ford, so it needed to have something exceptional that separated it from other brands.
It failed, not only because it wasn’t a lozenge-shaped Lexus, it failed because it didn’t visually or mechanically separate itself from an average car. Flaws hurt, but as we see with many brands, being exceptional and distinctive can overcome many quality challenges.
This was supposed to be a special car. It wasn’t. There was nothing there that couldn’t be found in other cars. Whatever magic the name Cadillac had wasn’t enough to persuade buyers. Being a Cadillac didn’t hurt, but being a Cadillac is not enough.
When Americans turned away from their local auto market, they did so because foreign cars offered something different. Some said it was “quality”, some said it was “design”, but the bottom line was that foreign cars were at that time, exceptional to what vehicles they grew up with. Even today, we see another generation of Americans turning away from their neighbor’s products and dropping coin on foreign cars that are seen as exceptional – even when they are clearly not. What kept Cadillac alive for decades was that name, until – it no longer did, leaving Cadillac trying to figure out how to get it back.
The engine was exceptional for its day. 295 HP 290 FT LB torque. Back when 4 cylinders were putting out less than 100 hp in some cases and Cadillacs own 4.9 liter V8 only made 200 HP.
A 300 HP car back then was the equivalent of today’s 700-800 Horsepower Hellcats. Cadillac made sure that you knew it too, every advertisement for the first five years the Northstar was released had the words “Drive the all new 300 Horsepower Cadillac Seville STS” or whatever in the voice-over.
I wish the engine was more durable and reliable and the exterior styling less clunky, but as stated, back when these came out and people were still driving and buying NEW K-Cars these 300 HP cars were a revelation.
The Mark VIII’s modular 4.6 DOHC had almost identical output as the Northstar, with exactly none of the issues. That’s exceptional.
As far as I know, the RWD Northstar had non of the issues and was rated at 320 HP.
“A 300 HP car back then was the equivalent of today’s 700-800 Horsepower Hellcats.” Nah, the slighty smaller 4.4 L V8 BWMs of the time had the same numbers. The sligthy bigger ones blew it out of the water.
The first gen Northstars were fine engines, and a commendable effort to cacth up with the Germans after decades of lazyness, but just that.
The Ford Modular was a bit more anaemic in the fist years. The focus was more of “an engine to fit all aplications” than performance.
The Opel Record D coupe to my eyes looks less “dynamic”, more a rip-off of Brooks Stevens’ 1962 prototype for the Studebaker Spectre, just with a more conventional (but still forward-jutting) grille and headlamps.
The 1992 Seville is what the 1980 Seville should have been – a car that builds on the toehold the 75-79 model gained on European imports, going further in the Euro-inspired direction but not so much as to alienate traditional Cadillac buyers who just wanted a smaller car. The Seville they actually did build in 1980 polarized the latter group and completely alienated the former.
As for the Eldorado, did it suffer because big coupes were dwindling in popularity, or did big coupes become unpopular because they became so unappealing? There was just nothing about the last Eldo that had the appeal of the 1979-81 version, and going largely unchanged for so long didn’t help its case. From 1963 to the mid-’80s GM seemed able to throw off stylish, popular big or mid-sized personal luxury coupes in their sleep. What happened?
Also, as the feature car shows, Cadillac may have attempts to build restrained-looking European style cars aimed at younger buyers, but dealers had other ideas. That went double or triple if you were in Florida.
Note to Justy Baum – someone brought up Studebaker in a post about some other car and it *was not* me. 🙂
Great call on the Spectre/Rekord likeness. I knew I’d seen that body before, but couldn’t place it.
It’s been said before, but Studebaker really screwed the pooch when they decided to go all-out with the radical (for the time) Avanti instead of the Sceptre. Would a production Sceptre (with a cleaned-up front-end) have saved Studebaker? No, but it might have bought them a little more time and gotten them into the burgeoning personal luxury market (and maybe even some of that sweet, sweet Mustang demographic that Ford grabbed so well).
The difficulty with the Spectre would have been they’d likely need a steel body if made in higher volumes, and they still needed a modern frame (or unibody) that didn’t block the footwell space. And they’d still have to move their image upscale with little money spent on marketing.
I should have posted a Spectre photo taken at the same angle as the Opel Rekord shown – the body shapes are soooo similar, yet the Opel is from almost a decade later.
I was going to argue that you picked a particularly horrid looking version, and that in the right (dark) color these were reasonably attractive. Then I went and looked at a bunch of pictures online. Nope. Can’t do it. These were just ungainly cars, a mishmash of sleek modern and retro upright styling that didn’t mesh well. That rectangular rear quarter window is just all wrong for the rest of the car.
Your point on the Mark VII and VIII is a good one. When has Lincoln ever been successful when it was trying to act like Cadillac? Lincolns successes have only been when they have done their own thing. Sadly, Cadillac doing its own thing has been a big disaster. Which has been going on for 35 years now.
Even 20 years later and in an Oregon rainstorm the Eldorado still looks a bit clumsy. Even when painted Black.
Cadillac’s deadlier sin during these years (1990’s) was the Catera. If you thought the Northstar ate through head gaskets quickly the Catera’s V6 shouted “hold my beer” and died a smoky death just after 36,000 miles but while you were still making payments. What a way to introduce a younger generation to the Cadillac family. No wonder the advertisement encouraged you to “Lisa Catera” and not “Purchase A. Catera.”
If you were the “younger, better educated and more dynamic demographic” and still had to have a GM “luxury” coupe, you probably worked or had family that worked for GM and you knew how to use RPO codes at your Buick or Olds dealer to special order loaded Riviera’s, Regal’s, or Toronado’s with the 3800. Most of the “younger generation” that wanted a GM coupe back then wanted the “Knight Rider” Trans Am anyway and purchased the Pontiac accordingly. Perhaps GM should have given Hasselhoff a black Cadillac ETC for a “Knight Rider” re-boot?
The reason the typical original owners of the ETC (as pictured above) ended up with these is sort of self-evident, they were the only types rich enough to afford it and still educated enough to want it.
I am not going to lie though, if I was in the market back then and GM offered a smoking hot lease deal on an ETC, I would have bit too. It was stately “large and in-charge” compared to the various J-Bodys, K-cars, Tauruses, and Caravan’s that dotted the landscape back then though I agree that it has not aged well.
I get the comparison between the Eldorado and the Mark VIII, but the 1989-1997 Thunderbird and especially Cougar “Bostonian” Editions (here in New England at least) were everywhere in the suburban retirement communities until “Cash For Clunkers” and the fallout of the recession washed them all away. They were reliable, easy to work on, RWD, and available with a V8. Everything the “Greatest Generation” wanted without all of the fragile “new technology” on the Cadillacs and Lincolns.
Cougar/T-Bird were also the choice of people with disabilities, I saw one person in a wheelchair open the driver side door on his 1990’s T-Bird all the way in the handicapped parking area. Slide off the wheelchair into the driver seat, pivot around, fold the wheelchair into the back seat, close the door and drive off. Perhaps he may be able to still do this with a Dodge Challenger or used Accord coupe. But that’s about it for anything approaching an “affordable” coupe today.
The vinyl roof looks like an afterthought, the whole car looks too round-y, and the whole design doesn’t seem to come together at all. It looks like a car the designers tried to pack on twenty pounds of heft, when instead it needed to get trimmer. The colour also detracts from the car, making it look more bulbous somehow.
To the contrary, the 1953 pictured above look spectacular. A work of beauty. I can learn to live with the knobby taillights pretty quickly.
Somehow it’s surprising with this 1995 effort, that Cadillac managed to survive this long, and not join Olds and Pontiac on the sidelines.
The vinyl roof was an afterthought. It was not a factory option on the ETC. So it was either a dealer add-on or third-party. Either way, somebody actually paid extra for it to be there.
Etcetera is one of the dumbest names ever applied to a car.
And the car is one of Chuck Jordan’s weakest designs (down there with the ’92 Skylark, Achieva, etc.).
And the whole “Eurosport” phenomenon on traditional American cars in the ’80s and ’90s (Olds 98 Touring Sedan, Buick T-Types, etc.) was a bust. Pretending to be something you’re not never works well, and Cadillac was (is) particularly miserable at presenting itself as sporty and hip.
The list of misses with this car just goes on and on. ETC indeed.
In a vacuum (and without the tacky vinyl opera roof) I’ve never thought this was an ugly car. But it’s not a vacuum, and Paul’s right – there were so many other choices that looked better.
Mechanically… there was someone at the top who must have insisted the a Cadillac simply must have a V-8 so they put the money into the horrid Northstar and the not-much-better HT 4100. I’m pretty sure this Eldo would have been a much better car with the Buick supercharged 3800.
I don’t remember who said “GM is not in the business of making cars. GM is in the business of making profits.” (Anybody? A little help here?) This and all the other Deadly Sins prove that GM wasn’t much good at either of those things.
The one I heard is GM is a private insurance, retirement, and public finance and former mortgage company that manufactures and sells vehicles to pay for the overhead.
It’s gawdawful and I’ve seen one in the metal who thought that toupee was a good idea without it the car is almost passable but that just draws attention to the hideous design, it didn’t sell well not shit colour me unsurprised
I think Evan is referring to Roger Smith.
Actually this little bit of notoriety predates ol’ Roger.
It was actually his predecessor, Tom Murphy, who said in 1978:
“General Motors is not in the business of making cars. It is in the business of making money.”
Oh, a final generation Eldorado. I’m sure that it was inevitable before the guy who wrote a COAL about them would chime up.
Well, ever since My COAL, here’s what’s happened.
-The radiator clogged up and overheated the car when I was with a friend. Got that replaced.
Two months later, leaky headgasket thanks to those damn head-bolts popped up. Two choices were fix it or stuff a rebuilt engine in it. I wanted neither since I knew this was going to happen. Dad forced me to choose one because in his words “I put money into the car already, I don’t want it to go to waste” (Sunk cost Fallacy: Wonderful ain’t it) 7600 later, new engine.
After new engine is installed, two weeks later, accidentally run into best friend’s Ford Focus and damage both our cars. His rear axle is bent, my car has to go to a body shop. More money down the drain.
Starter motor craps out one day.
Go to Arizona for school, while there I try and flush out my brake system and rotate tires by myself. Result? Managed to screw up one of the aluminum wheels and have to get it replaced with a steel wheel and later on have the wheel hub bolts break off on the other side while driving, nearly killing me.
A/C goes out numerous times. Finally get it fixed for good when the car comes back to California.
Now my sister drives it, on a steel wheel, with clearcoat coming off the spoiler, and thanks to my sister’s messy habits, an interior that’s been trashed. I drive something else.
In hindsight, it was clear it was a poor first choice, you can blame me being only 18 and not thinking right, but it was apropos I bought it on Halloween because it felt like a trick. I think if I were smarter, I would’ve done things differently, or at least did my research much more (Like adding a stud kit to the engine to prevent the inevitable head bolt issue), but that’s how it goes.
Of course it also didn’t help that the engine and accident went down in early 2017 which became my worst year and led to a lot of personal issues and problems so the car got linked to that in plenty of ways and my feelings, but that’s something I won’t go into there.
I don’t know, in hindsight it was a good car for the first two years I had it, and if it wasn’t for my dad’s stubbornness about turning it into a money pit rather than scrapping it, I could’ve had more positive views on it. But it is what it is.
My direct, personal experience is that a GM car of this era does not make a good classic daily driver. Like you describe, they have very expensive mechanical issues and cost way too much to keep running.
However, if one wants a classic that can be reliably driven, there are lots of 1977-1979 Cadillacs available for less than $5000, and that is for a good one.
You are absolutely right about the Mk. VII being an aspirational car. Riding in luxury with a hot for the time 5.0 under the hood in the bad old days of the 55mph speed limit where it takes you two days to cross Texas? Sign me up! But the ETC? No. Just No. The last Cadillac I would have possibly liked was the ’80-81 Seville for the weirdness of the trunk and the 368 V-8 under the hood. The Catera? Meh. The Escalade? A flossy Suburban that you pay extra for. I’m 55 and I have no desire to ever own a Cadillac.
My uncle was just the kind of buyer Cadillac was after. He owned his own business and both could afford a flashy car and felt he needed one to keep up his image. He regularly traded in for a new car when his 3-year loan (remember those?) was paid off.
The earliest car I remember him driving was a Ford XL convertible. After that it was an early 70s Toronado. I remember an aero Audi 5000 (which he hated) and a Mark VII (which he loved).
He would not have been caught dead in an ETC.
I’m not sure this is one of the more egregious GM Deadly Sins. Domestic personal luxury coupes, in general, had been dying out for a while. GM’s miserably styled, downsized cars probably just hastened their demise as more and more buyers switched back to traditional luxury sedans.
While it was an improvement over the 1986 models, I agree that something was just ‘off’ about the 4th & 5th generation Seville & last generation Eldorado. GM really lost their way in the 1980’s, was it karma from the “Roger & me” era of profits before all else? You also have a point about the Mark VII Fox based Lincoln vs the Mark VIII; like many Hollywood movies just because you have a multi million dollar budget doesn’t ensure that the end result will be any good.
I think had this Eldorado not been preceded by the 86 generation they’d be more attractive by lack of association, it’s a fairly attractive enough design, it actually resembles the Mark VII a little bit, but it’s roots definitely show if you look at it long enough and notice its proportions hadn’t really changed. The SeVille succeeds(to me) because it doesn’t look like a rebody of its predecessor, it truly looks all new.
It needs to be stated that the Mark VIII was a stylistic failure more than anything, they directly previewed the ovoid language of the 96 Taurus/Sable. Under the skin however they were a much better chassis, and Mark VIIs suffered just as much from bad air springs and had just about as much tech gimmicks that carried directly over to the new platform. And unlike Cadillac’s Northstar, the Modular 4.6 DOHC was as rock solid reliable as the 5.0 Windsor of the Mark VII.
It’s my understanding that problems with the air springs on the Mark VII and Mark VIII are fairly easy to repair. With the Mark VIII, the main area of concern is the headlights. They are very expensive to replace.
Yeah, 9 times out of 10 it’s just the O rings in the air lines that need to be replaced to solve the sagging issue.
The HID headlights on the 96-98 models are the expensive ones, replacements plain don’t exist outside of NOS inventory. 93-95s used conventional halogen bulbs, but they’re woefully inadequate at night.
Howdy Folks…its been quite a while since I last made a comment but I’ve been lurking and will write my own CC or COAL soon. Anyway it seems that most folks hate GM from the 90s…
I’m different and being only 10 when these debuted in ’92 I love this Eldorado. My aunts boyfriend and her purchased a Pearl White one in 97 also a ETC brand new from Heritage Cadillac In Lombard, IL….no fake top or nothing and it turned heads everywhere in the city and western suburbs. They brought a house in Westchester which she still lives in today and man everyone wanted it. Had a moonroof and Bose sound system. These were quite popular here in the Chi. My aunt and her boyfriend were in their early 20s and just the customers Cadillac would have loved to have as repeat customers.
Certainly a more attractive car than that sawn-off runt that preceded it. But that wouldn’t be hard. To my mind the shape has two flaws.
First is that square rear quarter window. The rest of the shape flows nicely. The vee-d rear screen a nice nod to the first-gen Eldorado. But that window shape is an abomination. Surely only GM would couple a bolt-upright rear line to the window with a semi-fastback roofline. Maybe there’s some school of art that celebrates the incongruous, the cognitive dissonance of juxtaposing unrelated shapes, and maybe that’s who the designer was trying to please? Or maybe it was the dealers wanting the bolt-upright chrome accented line as a visual link to the outgoing model – though why you’d want to recall that thing I can’t imagine. Maybe it was some particularly powerful but aesthetically-challenged high-up in management. ‘Cause we all know Chuck Jordan could do better. It needed some angle, some slope.
The other flaw? The shape of the lower rear guard. It looks heavy, like the car’s wet its pants or something. That full-diaper look, you know?
The original 67 had a bolt upright quarter window and a generously sloped roofline too, but its greenhouse proportions are entirely different
The final generation Eldorado is a bold design, evocative of the 1967-70 models. I like being different, and the car has grown on me.
I’m reminded of a Seinfeld episode in which Jerry buys his parents a 90s Cadillac that they don’t seem to appreciate. “But it has the Northstar system!,” Jerry says, and his dad replies “I don’t think we even use that.”
I think they copied too much from the Allante, meaning taking anything at all. They should have ignored aerodynamics and leveled the hood instead of sloping it. That would balance the high tail and big C pillar. They did this somewhat to the Deville in ’98. With a wider rear track and full wheel openings, it was a big improvement of the ’94 bloatmobile. The new CT4 & 5 are also less wedgy than their predecessors.
Remember, when the ’85 and ’86 shrinkings were planned, gas was relatively very expensive and the ’79 gas lines a recent memory. Reagan’s deregulations helped a little, but the big price drop happened after he persuaded the Saudis to open the spigots in ’85 in order to squeeze the Soviets financially.