The fourth (FWD) generation, downsized Cadillac Eldorado has received a lot of attention here at Curbside Classic, mainly because we love to hate it so much. It’s often seen as a distillation of all that GM did wrong in the 80’s into one potent spirit of diminutive luxury. Oblivious to the hate, this one soldiers on and actually looks pretty cool sitting in the Walmart parking lot surrounded by modern rides. I think maybe it’s the light.
I’ve read that professional car photographers call it the “golden hour”, the time just before the sun sets (or just after it rises) when there is still a lot of light, but it has a golden hue that makes cars look their best. Quite a few cars in magazine articles and books are photographed at that time.
I think, too, that life generally seems more special around sunset. Ideas are better, women are more beautiful, friends are more fun, creation is more divine, and downsized old Cadillacs are more likable.
When they were new, I really disliked the baby Eldorados and Sevilles. Maybe it’s the twilight talking, but I have not been holding these cars in nearly as much disdain as I used to. Now I find myself thinking, “they’re really not that bad”. This is about as high praise as these babies ever get!
Sure, they are tiny compared to their predecessors, but a compact luxury car is not a bad thing. The original 1976 Seville was (relatively) compact and it was quite popular. Plenty of European and later Japanese brands have sold premium cars in small sizes. So, you can’t blame Cadillac for wanting to get into that market (at least in a way that wasn’t as embarrassing as the Cimarron), so long as they were willing to lose a certain number of traditional Bigger-Is-Better customers. Transverse-engine, front-wheel-drive chassis seemed like the universal wave of the future at the time, so it’s only natural GM would put that layout under their high-end cars.
The 1986 Eldorados were released with Cadillac’s infamously not-quite-ready-for-prime-time HT4100 V8, a sin that’s hard to forgive but at least at 400lb lighter, they made better use of the 130hp available on tap.
1988 brought both a major facelift and significant improvement in the new 4.5L version of the engine.
Most of the new styling came at the rear, where it was lengthened and gained small fins, losing the stubby butt that was possibly the most egregious element of the original design. The front was altered slightly to give it just a hint of the bladed fenders all FWD Eldorados had through 1985.
From what I have understood, the 4.5L engine shed much of the fragility that the original 4.1L was known for, perhaps evidenced by this car’s continued presence on the road. By 1990, power was up to 180hp, not a bad number in 1990 for a car that had a factory curb weight of 3426lb.
The interior, while not particularly dramatic or distinctive, is a pleasant place even in a well-used example such as this. The standard model seen here had no woodgrain, but the Biarritz and Touring Coupe models had real bird’s eye maple veneer appliques. This was the first year for the driver side airbag. Nine interior color schemes were available, which in most cases meant that everything was the chosen color, from gear shift to steering column to sunvisors. Try finding that level of color choice in any mainstream car line today. There were also 17 exterior colors available!
I don’t think this hood ornament is gold plated, that’s just the setting sun giving it an otherworldly radiance. Its slight patina is well earned as it has been leading out front of this poorly esteemed Eldorado for the last 29 years. My sundown Eldorado encounter left me feeling pretty good about this old Caddy.
photographed July 17, 2019 in Houston, TX
P.S. I borrowed the title from the Kings of Leon album. Like the baby Eldo, it is not highly esteemed. However, it’s my favorite of theirs and I don’t know how much of that is due to the sunset imagery giving an evocative tone to the music in my mind.