The cars we loved.
If there was one car that exemplified glutenous American excess, it might be the Cadillac Eldorado, the mid ’70s models to be exact. The Eldorado as imagined by Hollywood was usually a ’74 through ’76 model, often red or white and driven by a Texas Oil man. The stereotype persists even today as the Eldorado was one of the largest American cars on the road at the time. Cadillac’s personal luxury coupe had reached its third generation in 1969.
At over 224 inches long the bigness of the Caddy had transcended the confines of the Fleetwood model range after 1973 and became its own model line. Available in two door coupe of convertible, it was powered by a 8.7-liter V8. Despite the huge displacement, the fuel injected versions struggled to make 200 hp (174 actually). The smog regulations had taken their toll on power, as carburetted versions were up to 225 hp as late as 1974.
1974 would also be the year that subtle upgrades to the rear tail lights and interior would inch the Eldorado ever closer to the modern age. This emphasis on technology was embodied by a new dash that Cadillac proudly called “space age” .
The electronic and analogue displays showed things like outside temperature and was a new feature on all new Caddys for the ’74 model year. Looking back, the cabins were rather restrained (or they could be), with the traditional long kitchen counter style dashboards accented with chrome – how much or little depended on the many models option groups available.
There was even an option for a weather band radio for those still not accustomed to the ideal of a large front wheel drive car in bad weather. Like the Oldsmobile Tornado and Buick Rivera, the H Body Eldorado had all the benefits that came with front wheel drive. But for buyers of one of America’s largest cars, traction in snow was not a primary concern. The long hood and elegant proportions were classic Cadillac, features that wealthy oil men and the like appreciated more than anything else. The Eldorado managed to look graceful and elegant but not dainty or too pristine. Perfect as a macho chariot.
The audaciousness of the Eldorado made it a popular platform for customization. It became the star of more than a few Blaxoption films with appearances in Shaft, Dolemite and Superfly. The trend was so big that even films intended for general audiences like the popular mainstream James Bond Live and Die had its share of pimped out Eldorado (and other big American cars).
Not to be left behind, the factory responded by making its own custom Eldorado called Biarritz. Biarritz cars had their own (tasteful) embellishments that distinguished them from the run of the mill car.
In the final year of this generation of Eldorado, sales went through the roof as word got out that it would be the final year of the convertible model and that they might never appear again in the current climate of safety regulation. Cars were leaving the dealership at more than twice their retail value as collectors gobbled up the last convertibles.
The final 200 cars commemorate both the Bicentennial that year and being last convertibles by rolling out all white versions with red and blue pin striping. GM would change its mind about convertibles in the ’80s as the Eldorado would once again be available topless.
That of course angered those who snapped up the so-called “last convertibles” in 1976 on the promise that the car would be a collector’s item. Eldorado owners mounted an unsuccessful class action lawsuit, proving that you can never believe what the marketers tell you. Even with the emasculated post ’76 convertibles roaming about, the mid ’70 convertibles are still special cars.
As they were, the big coupes represented an era long gone by and likely never be replicated in our lifetimes. There are big coupes today like the Rolls Royce Wrath, but they so rare and expensive, that they might as well be extent. Of course in the far future some advance power source might render fuel economy irrelevant, and a futuristic floating equivalent of the big Eldorado will once again dominate the hoverlanes of America. Until that happens, the near classic ’74 to ’76 Cadillac Eldorado is the next best thing.