Cadillac had a tough task in replacing its first front-wheel-drive Eldorado, the Bill Mitchell-designed model of 1967-70. Although gigantic, this first-gen front-driver was, like its stablemate the Oldsmobile Toronado, quite beautiful. Its successor, built from 1971 to 1978, was simply large. But the second-gen did have one advantage over its predecessor- it was available as a convertible.
This series wasn't referred to as the "Eldosaurus" for nothing. With just two-doors but nearly 19 feet long, it was an arrestor hook and steam catapult short of being able to launch and recover aircraft from the hood. Although Bill Mitchell wouldn't retire from GM until 1977, the 1971-78 Eldo exhibited none of the elegance and good taste of cars like the C2 Corvette or the 1963-65 Riviera.
The Eldosaurus was one bad design cliché after the next-skirts and phony rear side vents for 1971-72 and a rear marker light disguised as a Cadillac wreath in 1973. However, it all paled in comparison to the Biarritz model, with two-tone paintwork (pale yellow and cream?), a padded landau roof, coach lamps, and tufted pillow seats.
It's no wonder the car served as the starting point for some of the most famous pimpmobiles ever to rumble through blaxploitation cinema-the "Superfly," "El Doral," and other conversions made by Dunham Coachworks made notable appearances in "Superfly," "Willie Dynamite," "Magnum Force," "The Mack," and even the James Bond film "Live and Let Die." No love broker worth his full-length mink would be caught dead without an Eldo in the 1970s.
Emissions choked the 500-ci V8
Although cars like the Eldorado-especially in convertible form-are more about cruising than performance, in 1971 and 1972, the 500-ci V8 (the largest production V8 ever) put out around 365 hp. Rick Renner, now the managing director of FedEx Custom Critical Passport Auto Transport and an early '70s Eldo owner, remembers being able to embarrass a mid-'70s Corvette in a stoplight drag along what should be the Eldo's ancestral home-New Jersey's Route 3, made famous in the "Sopranos" credits.
After 1972, when pollution regulations really took hold, the Eldo moved into contention for the greatest inverse relationship between cubic inches and horsepower since the Brass Era. By 1976, the 500-ci engine was putting out just 190 hp. But again, performance wasn't the point. The Eldo was roomy because of its front-wheel-drive layout, could seat six in a pinch, and the top went down.
Other than the slippery, spine-numbing pillow lounge chairs, there was nothing remarkable about the interior of a 1971-78 Eldo. Fit and finish were nowhere near as good as the 1967 model, and the materials were the usual marginal quality GM stuff from the '70s, including plenty of fake wood, plated plastic and fancy looking (plastic) wreaths and badges.
Handling was largely theoretical although allegedly better than a rear-wheel-drive Coupe DeVille. The ride was as pillowy smooth as the tufted Sierra-grain leather seats. At over 5,000 pounds, fuel mileage was an abysmal 8-13 mpg. Drivetrains are fairly bulletproof, as GM had gotten things correct right out of the box with the 1966 Toronado.
Post-1972 cars suffer from driveablity issues, as lean running and retarded timing was the General's solution to emission controls. Rust-proofing was better than on earlier Eldorados, though 1975's optional fuel injection offered a "self-barbecue" opportunity not seen again until the Maserati Biturbo.
Marketed in 1976 as the "last convertibles"
The only real notoriety gained by this series of Eldos (other than pimpmobile fame) was the flap over the "last convertibles." By the mid-1970s, it looked like the convertible was going the way of the dual-cowl phaeton as a body style. Popularity was waning, and everyone thought the government would pass rollover safety legislation that would effectively ban the drop top.
By 1975, the Caprice and Corvette convertibles were gone, and Ford and Chrysler had discontinued their convertibles, leaving the Eldorado as the "last convertible," a status that GM took full advantage of in marketing the last 200 as triple white "Bicentennial Editions." They even made a point of retaining the last one for posterity, prompting hundreds of would-be profiteers to "pickle" theirs-leaving them stored with no miles and waiting to cash the inevitable huge check. Thirty-one years later, many of them are still waiting, also sitting on a stash of WorldCom and Enron stock, no doubt.
The record price for a 1976 Eldo is held by a triple-white car with 39 miles on it, sold fittingly at RM's Boca Raton, Florida, sale in 2005 for $42,800. An original sticker price of $13,240 translates into $48,617 in 2007 dollars, which means the owner lost only $6,000-costs of storage, insurance, and the time value of the money tied up in the "instant collectible" not included. In fact, this particular stratospheric sale result has proven virtually unrepeatable. High teens or low twenties is more the norm; the Bicentennial cars can bring up to 50% more.
Frustration resulting from the "yes, we have no bonanza" chagrin of owners of pickled Eldos resulted in one of the most infamous claims in the annals of frivolous American lawsuits: After Chrysler and later GM began commissioning specialty makers to build convertible bodies for them in 1983, an attorney attempted to certify a class action suit against GM, alleging, among other things, that their clients had been duped into purchasing 1976 Eldorados under the belief that they were going to be the last convertibles ever.
Frankly, if I had a '76 Eldo to sell at an auction, I'd display it with a framed copy of the class action complaint the way British car owners and Porsche people bandy about their Heritage Certificates and Kardexes. It is after all, the most significant legacy of the 1971-78 Eldorado.