The 1967 Cadillac Eldorado is a milestone Cadillac by any standard. Rakish, sophisticated, and surprisingly sporty, it was the division’s first front-wheel-drive car and its first serious entry in the burgeoning personal luxury genre. This week, we explore the story of the first FWD Eldorado.
Author’s note: An earlier version of this article first appeared in August 2009. We’ve completely rewritten and expanded it, clearing up some errors and misconceptions and adding new information and new images.
Cadillac’s first Eldorado was born in the early fifties, but the model’s conceptual roots go back to the mid-thirties, when GM styling chief Harley Earl convinced a wary Cadillac management to approve a stylish new image leader: the 1938 Sixty Special. The work of a young designer named Bill Mitchell, the Sixty Special was mechanically unremarkable, but it justified its higher price with sophisticated styling. It was a commercial success, selling around 21,000 units between 1938 and 1942, and proved highly influential. Unlike the flagship V-16, which disappeared after 1940, the Sixty Special became a permanent part of the Cadillac line, although later editions were less distinctive.
Around 1951, Cadillac conceived a new image leader: the Eldorado convertible, which debuted in January 1953. Like the original Sixty Special, it was a showcase for advanced styling features, including cut-down fenders and Cadillac’s first wraparound windshield. It was expensive to build, however, and with a lofty $7,750 price tag — more than twice as much as a Series 62 sedan — it was not a volume seller. Cadillac built only 532 for 1953. Subsequent Eldorados were more like other Cadillacs, allowing a lower price and more comfortable profit margins. Sales remained modest, reaching a peak of 6,050 units in 1956, when a hardtop coupe called Eldorado Seville was added to the line.
Roughly a year after the debut of the first Eldorado, Harley Earl began pushing for an even more upscale four-door hardtop model, the Eldorado Brougham. As originally conceived, the Brougham was to be both a styling leader and an engineering flagship, with fuel injection, disc brakes, a rear transaxle, and independent rear suspension. Cadillac’s engineering staff was leery of its likely costs, but the corporation eventually approved it as a rival for Ford’s forthcoming Continental Mark II.
Many of the Brougham’s engineering features were subsequently dropped for cost reasons, but the production car debuted in early 1957, sporting air suspension, a full list of power accessories, and a towering $13,074 list price, enough to buy three Series 62 hardtops. Unfortunately, the market for such high-end cars had turned out to be much softer than expected. Cadillac sold only 400 Eldorado Broughams in 1957 and an additional 304 in the 1958 model year, and it’s likely that the division lost a lot of money on them.
Nonetheless, Cadillac introduced a second-generation Brougham in January 1959, more conservatively styled than before, but still priced at over $13,000. To reduce labor costs, it was now built by Pinin Farina in Turin, although the car was styled in Detroit.
With the U.S. economy still in the throes of recession, the new Brougham was not heavily promoted and Cadillac’s contract with Farina apparently called for only 100 cars per year. Total production for 1959 was actually 99, followed by 101 of the mildly restyled 1960 version. We don’t know if Cadillac made money on them or not, but given their unique glass, trim, and exterior sheet metal, as well as the cost of transatlantic shipping, it seems unlikely.
By mid-1959, the Brougham’s days were numbered. Ford had already given up on the Mark II, rolling the Continental Division back into Lincoln. The Eldorado Brougham was dropped after the 1960 model year, although retired GM designer Pierre Ollier says its styling had a strong influence on Cadillac’s 1961 line. The Eldorado Seville hardtop was dropped at the same time, leaving the convertible, which survived through the 1966 model year.
THE XP-715 AND XP-727
While the demand for ultra-luxury flagships was limited, the arrival of the four-seat Ford Thunderbird in January 1958 revealed a robust market in a somewhat lower price bracket. The new Thunderbird was a curious hybrid — not really a sports car, not quite a luxury car — but it offered flashy styling and reasonable practicality for a high but attainable price. It was an immediate hit and caught GM off-guard.
Around the middle of 1959, Bill Mitchell, who had recently succeeded Harley Earl as GM’s VP of styling, assigned designer Ned Nickles to develop a new Thunderbird-style personal luxury car. Nickles’ initial concept — intended for Cadillac, but developed in a separate Special Projects studio — was a sleek, six-passenger convertible whose styling evoked the 1939–1940 LaSalle, Cadillac’s long-departed companion make. At Mitchell’s suggestion, it subsequently became a hardtop coupe with a sharp-edged roofline inspired by a custom-bodied Rolls-Royce Mitchell had spotted on a recent trip to London. The full-size clay model of Nickles’ design, the XP-715, was badged “LaSalle II.”
Around the same time, the Cadillac styling studio, then led by Charles M. Jordan, was exploring its own ideas for a sporty personal car, conceived by Cadillac assistant general sales manager Tom La Rue and assistant chief engineer Dan Adams as an eventual replacement for the Eldorado Brougham. By October 1959, this project had yielded a full-size model, dubbed XP-727. We’ve been unable to find any photos of the first XP-727, but it was probably at least broadly similar to the XP-715 — both were two-door hardtops, with five-passenger capacity and long-hood/short-deck proportions in the mold of prewar Classics. The most dramatic difference between the two was the possibility that the XP-727 might have front-wheel drive.
GM’s corporate Engineering Staff had been toying with front-wheel drive since at least 1954 and had at least one Cadillac-engined test mule by 1958. In late 1959, a small group of Cadillac engineers, including Lester Milliken, who had developed the Brougham’s air suspension, joined their counterparts from the corporate staff to conduct winter testing of the FWD prototypes. Details about those test mules are scarce, but it appears they had transverse engines, like Oldsmobile’s first FWD prototype, which was completed a few months later. (We don’t know if they also had a similar dual chain drive system, although it seems likely.)
Although the FWD prototypes performed well on snow and ice, the XP-727 project apparently stalled by early 1960. According to Chuck Jordan, Cadillac proposed the personal car idea to the corporate Engineering Policy Committee, which said no. If Cadillac really lost as much money on the earlier Eldorado Broughams as some observers have suggested, that’s not surprising; we assume the business case for a Brougham replacement was not strong, particularly factoring in the additional expense of front-wheel drive.
Beyond that, Cadillac general manager Harold Warner appears to have been at best ambivalent about the idea of adding another line. Shortly afterward, he rejected Mitchell’s XP-715 proposal, another personal car idea originally intended as a revival of the LaSalle marque. That project had the support of GM president Jack Gordon (who Mitchell said had been getting an earful from dealers demanding to know why GM had no answer to the Thunderbird), but Warner passed, seeing no need for such a car.
As author Michael Lamm has observed, Cadillac was then pushing the limits of its production capacity (which by late 1962 would prompt Warner to initiate a major expansion program), but Warner also had good reason to be satisfied with the status quo. Demand for new Cadillacs was very strong and Cadillac’s badge cachet was at its peak, so adding a cheaper companion make — particularly a more stylish one — would have been a questionable business decision, Thunderbird or no. There was still an argument to be made that Cadillac needed a personal car, but at that point, the division didn’t need a new LaSalle.
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Nice update of the original article. One minor quibble – I believe that disc brakes were optional on the “regular” 1967 Cadillacs, too.
They were standard on the 1967 Lincoln Continental and Imperial, so Cadillac would have wanted them available at least as an option.
You would think, but both contemporary and modern sources indicate that in 1967, they were optional only on the Eldorado. If somebody actually has a ’67 with factory front discs, I’ll go with that, but as best I can tell, it appears they only became optional on RWD Cadillacs in 1968.
Hi, My 67 has factory four piston front disc brakes with rear drums. The car was made in April of 67, fairly near the end of the production run. The brakes seem adequate for such a heavy car. Rear wheels will lock up under heavy emergency stopping. Thankfully I’ve only had this happen twice. Thanks, Steve
The braking issues of the early FWD E-bodies (Eldorado and Toronado), even with front discs, are twofold. With front discs, the brakes are adequate for one (1) panic stop from freeway speeds, but they will get hot very quickly with repeated use, leading to substantial fade. In stop-and-go traffic or descending a mountain grade on a hot day, that can get dicey. The other problem, as you’ve experienced, is that not only are these cars heavy, they’re nose-heavy even by the standards of late sixties big American cars, so the weight transfer from a panic stop will unload the rear wheels almost completely, causing abrupt rear-wheel lockup. Eldorados suffered a bit more from both of these issues than Toronados did because of the different OEM tires, although with modern replacement rubber, that’s probably mitigated.
The solution to the first problem would be more brake while the second problem calls for antilock control. GM started offering rear ABS in 1970 for that reason, which of course doesn’t keep the front wheels from locking or the brakes from fading on repeated application.
You’re right…the 1967 brochure makes no mention of disc brakes. Interesting that Cadillac would lag behind Lincoln and Imperial in this important area – especially considering that the latter two had made disc brakes STANDARD by that point.
Lincoln had made them standard for the 1965 model year!
What’s especially peculiar is that in 1967, front discs were now optional on a many lesser GM cars. If memory serves, the only other line where the option wasn’t available in ’67 was the Corvair.
Disc brakes were available on the ’67 Eldorado. They were unusual though in that the hub and rotor were a single casting making it an expensive and complex part if the disc needed to be replaced. By ’68 front discs were standard on the Eldorado, and by ’69 they had been upgraded to replaceable rotors. It is possible to adapt the 71-75 Eldorado front spindles, hubs and rotors to the earlier cars, and many owners have done so. It’s possible to tell if your car is equipped with factory discs since the cowl tag will be stamped with the letter ‘B’ along with the other factory options.
Front discs were also optional on the RWD Cadillacs. You might want to check out the Cadillac La Salle Club website for more info, http://www.cadillaclasalleclub.com or Gerald Loidl’s http://www.eldorado-brougham.com website which has a lot of information about both the front and rear drive 1967 models.
As the article says, discs were a $105 option on ’67 Eldorados, but I’ve never seen anything indicating that they were even optional on RWD 1967 Cadillacs. However, as I stated above, if somebody has evidence that they were (either factory literature or an actual 1967 — not ’68 or later — RWD model with OEM discs), I’ll go with that. I have no vested interest in saying you couldn’t get a ’67 DeVille with discs; that’s just what the evidence I’ve seen to date implies.
I’m not a member of the Cadillac-LaSalle Club, so most of their resources are not available to me. I’m not familiar with Gerald’s site, but I will check that out — thanks for the reference.
thanks ad8n for referring to my website – the correct link would be http://www.eldorado-seville.com
You can find all the information about the 1967 Cadillacs on my website:
http://www.eldorado-seville.com. No disc brakes on the RWD models were available in 1967. I do own a 67 Eldorado with the rare disc brakes.
My current dream car is a 69 Cadillac Eldorado but I’ll take a 70 or even a 66. ;-)
The wooden trim fitted to the 1968 Eldorado was genuine rosewood – admittedly a thin veneer, but the real deal all the same.
Thanks for the correction!
Wondering why certain 1967 Eldorados had rotary windows in the back seat, but power in the front? Most had all four window power assists
Power front windows were standard equipment on the 1967 Eldorado, but the brochure lists power rear vent windows as an extra-cost option.
The Cadillac XP 840 is mislabeled. Not done in Cadillac studio by Kady. This car was modeled ,and latter built
As a full sizer fiber-glass model in a special studio set up by Bill Mitchell who took an active part in its development.
Mitchell had his friend Ned Niclols in charge of the studio and moved me from ast.chief designer in Cadillac studio
To be Nicols ast. On this project. The car was to have 2 Cadillac 500ci engines becoming a V-16 ! This was just before gas mileage became a big issue! The car went nowhere as Jordan pointed out. David North ret. chief designer at GM
Thanks for the clarification — I’ve amended the text. I’m assuming the Nichols studio was the same one in which the original Riviera was done; that car too was done as a Cadillac (or a LaSalle), but not by the Cadillac studio.
There is a new book,in fact two comming about Bill Mitchell. I was asked to comment about rembering Mitchell
And thie xp 840 came up. I was sent your price as reference. Good story,nice some are still interested in these
Cars and people.
Because memory is sometimes clouded I do not remember the designers name but I clay modeled the tail light for the 66 or there abouts Cadillac Eldorado in the studio across from the Cadillac Studio.
The designers name/last might have been Smith same as Smiths garage.
Hope he reads this and confirms or not.
Thanks for the memories.
Nick — You might also leave a comment over on Gary Smith’s Dean’s Garage website (deansgarage.com) and ask him directly. I don’t know if he regularly reads this site.
The studio name was Body design next to Body Development.
The original Brougham’s roof panel wasn’t aluminum, it was stainless steel, which makes more sense given the over-the-top nature of the car. It also had a reputation for getting super hot when parked out in the sun.
Ack, you’re absolutely right. I’ve fixed that in the text. Thanks!
I been driving a 67-70 Eldorado everyday since 79.My car now since 2003.67/with discs and a wild built 514!No other car compares,new or old in my opinion! I also have a killer GMC motorhome with the same tranny,starter…I love being smarter than the transportation,and having assets not liabilities in the driveway that the light comes on “Service Engine Now”!
The V shaped rear window has always intrigued me since the car first came out. Can any one explain how it is made? Is it two pieces of glass joined together? Or is there just a simple scoring down the middle?
Wasn’t this an expensive thing to do for so subtle a design feature?
It’s one piece of glass that was bent while heated. A more dramatic version of the same technique was used on the Oldsmobile Toronado XS in 1977–78. I don’t know that it’s intrinsically that much more costly than curved wraparound glass, although anything that requires special facilities or techniques for a small volume tends to be expensive. On the other hand, these were very expensive cars being sold specifically for their styling and exclusivity, so that sort of gesture was exactly what people were paying for!
My grandmother’s ’70 Calais hardtop also had Veed rear glass, so volume wasn’t an issue if the much of the ’69-70 standard line had it. It looked like 2 pieces to me, but I was very young.
She sold it to a friend and got a ’72 because its front seatback was higher than her head, even with the headrest removed. Dad gave the ’72 to my stepbrother about 2011 with under 50,000 miles. I wish we still had her ’64.
Good point, although the rear glass on the standard cars wasn’t nearly as curved as the Eldorado, which I imagine made it somewhat less difficult to produce. Also, the Calais hardtop started at $5,637 in 1970 (and I doubt many went out the door for much under $6,500 MSRP) — not cheap — and these kinds of gimmicks were a big part of what you got over a Caprice or a Delta 88.
Great article and comments! Thanks so much. I just purchased a 1968 Eldorado It has been left out in the weather but it’s salvageable. I’m sure I’ll have it running soon
I worked on the first Toronado design in Oldsmobile Studio. Stan Wilen was the Chief Designer. If yin looknat thre red rendering compared to the final design you will se that there is very little from the rendering hat made itr to the production car. Don Logerquist created he thenme for the Toronado that was originally a back-up for the 1965 B cars. I also worked on the later car, the later one with the wraparound backlight. We modeled the backlight first on the Chevrolet Celebrity as a special Celebrity, the division was quite upset when Irv Rybicki took the design to Oldsmobile. I think there was some kind of “hot wire” involved in creating the “V” windshields, costly and a lot of scrap.
The quality tolerances at the time were so great that anything that had three sides like that piece of glass was very hard to deal with in production.
That makes sense, although it did look quite striking.
Not sure if this is the right place to ask this question but hear it goes . We are doing a slight Resto mods to a 67 Eldo & would like to swap the hood set up to the 68 to clean up the wipers issue is the cowl area the same ? We are trying to find a parts car close to us with not much luck . Any info would be helpful . Tks
Sorry, I can’t provide any advice on repair or restoration, and I can’t help finding cars or parts.