This Time, It’s Personal: The 1967-1970 Cadillac Eldorado

THE BIRTH OF THE BUICK RIVIERA AND OLDSMOBILE XP-784

Although Cadillac had rejected the XP-715, the design was not yet dead. Since Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac were all interested, GM held an internal competition in the fall of 1960 to determine who would build the car. The eventual winner, as we have previously seen, was Buick, and the LaSalle II became the 1963 Buick Riviera.

Well before the Riviera even went on sale, Oldsmobile was asking the corporation for a Riviera-style specialty car of its own. Around the spring of 1962, Car and Truck Group VP Ed Cole finally relented, authorizing the development of a new personal Olds for the 1966 model year. As we discussed in our Toronado history, it would be based on a rendering by Oldsmobile stylist Dave North, created as an exercise earlier that year. That fall, Advanced Styling Studio 3 developed North’s concept into a full-size clay, the XP-784. It would later become the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado.

1966 Oldsmobile Toronado front 3q2
As Dave North originally conceived his “Flame Red Car,” it would have been about the size of the later Chevrolet Camaro; Bill Mitchell later lobbied unsuccessfully to have it built on the A-body intermediate platform. The production Toronado was considerably bigger than either, stretching 211 inches (5,359 mm) on a 119-inch (3,023mm) wheelbase.

Dave Holls, Cadillac’s assistant chief stylist during this period, says the development of the Riviera and Toronado galvanized Bill Mitchell’s determination to build a sporty Cadillac personal car. If both Buick and Oldsmobile were to have stylish specialty cars, Mitchell argued, it hardly made sense for Cadillac to be left out.

The Cadillac studio had revived the XP-727 project in early 1961, resulting in a new full-size clay, the XP-727-2. We were unable to obtain pictures of that model for this article, but photos of it in other sources show a subtly V-shaped windshield, skirted rear wheels, peculiar headlamp ‘eyebrows,’ and broad semi-fastback sail panels. The XP-727-2 was apparently another dead end and was abandoned after August 1961.

As the Oldsmobile XP-784 took shape, the Cadillac studio developed another clay, the XP-727-3. It once again sported a V windshield, adding rear ‘suicide’ doors and another curious front-end treatment with exposed high beams and concealed low beams. By November 1962, that model had reached a highly finished state, but it was rejected as insufficiently modern-looking.

1962 Cadillac XP-727-3 model front 3q D-43363 - Copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive. (GMMA 14416 part 2)
A full-size model of Cadillac’s four-door XP-727-3, photographed in late 1962. Note the very low beltline crease — accentuated on this model with bright trim — and round, flared wheel arches, which stylist Don Roper said were intended to emphasize the curvature of the body sides. According to Roper, Cadillac dropped this theme in favor of the squared-off wheelhouses of the XP-820 and XP-825 prototypes because Oldsmobile (or perhaps Advanced Studio 3) had already borrowed the flared-wheelhouse look for the Toronado. (Photo copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Design.)

THE E-BODY CADILLAC

Full-size models of Oldsmobile’s XP-784 design were completed by February 1963 and received management approval in April. By that time, there was a strong possibility that it would have front-wheel drive, with which Oldsmobile had been experimenting since 1957.

The extent of Cadillac’s interest in front-wheel drive up to this point is unclear. Most of the enthusiasm for that idea appears to have come from Styling or the Engineering Staff rather than the division itself. The XP-727 (and possibly the XP-727-2 and -3) was designed to accept either front- or rear-wheel drive, and some early examples of the experimental OHC Cadillac V-12 (described in the sidebar below) were intended for transverse installation, implying at least some tentative notion of using the V-12 in a FWD application. However, both the stylists and contemporary Oldsmobile employees, including former Olds comptroller Dick Elliott, later maintained that Cadillac management remained indifferent to the whole idea.

Harold Warner’s interest or disinterest in FWD would soon become a moot point. By mid-1962, Ed Cole had decided that in order to maximize the corporation’s return on the substantial tooling costs of the new Oldsmobile personal car, Cadillac should have its own mechanically related car for 1966, sharing the corporate E-body shell with the Olds and the second-generation Riviera. Although formal approval for front-wheel drive would not follow for almost two more years, Cadillac was ordered to collaborate with Oldsmobile and Buick on the development of the FWD powertrain and platform.

1963 Cadillac XP-784 model front 3q D-50497 - Copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Design. (GMMA 14667)
1963 Cadillac XP-784 model side D-51376 - Copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Design. (GMMA 14667)
Two versions of Cadillac’s XP-784. The finished two-door model, photographed on July 24, 1963 (top), appears to share the V-shaped windshield of the XP-727-3, but otherwise looks quite different, with a higher beltline and partially shrouded wheels. The headlight arrangement isn’t clear, but it may have been intended to use Sting Ray-like pop-up lights. The less-finished clay model (bottom), dated August 30, 1963, has what appears to be provision for rear suicide doors. Note the sail panel shape and the lack of vent windows, some of the few design elements that clearly resemble the eventual production car. (Both photos copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Design.)

In May 1963, the Cadillac studio, now led by Stan Parker, developed a new clay model based on the package dimensions of Oldsmobile’s XP-784 and confusingly sharing the same designation. Cadillac’s XP-784 had little in common with the earlier XP-727 concepts except that it was initially also a two-door coupe. By August, however, this had been superseded by a four-door version, again with rear suicide doors. This, too, appears to have been a dead end and it was dropped by September.

After the demise of the XP-784, the Cadillac studio started over, leading to a new clay, the XP-820. Photos of that model suggest a return to the themes of the earlier XP-727-3, including a similarly low beltline molding and bladed fenders, which, according to Stan Parker, were originally suggested by Bill Mitchell. The XP-820 also added a number of new elements, including a V-shaped backlight and a curious concave windshield. There were studies of a possible convertible version, although the eventual production car would be offered only as a two-door hardtop.

1963 Cadillac XP-820 model front 3q D-52440 - Copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Design. (GMMA 14667)
The XP-820’s concave windshield and front fenders are obviously quite different from those of the earlier XP-727-3, but the low beltline crease and V-shaped prow are similar, as is the relationship between the sail panels and the rear fenders. This photo illustrates one of several headlamp treatments tried on the XP-820; this one would not have been legal in many U.S. states at the time. Note the boards in the background, depicting some of the multicylinder concept renderings the Cadillac studio produced during the same period. (Photo copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Design.)

1963 Cadillac XP-820 model side D-52441 - Copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Design. (GMMA 14667)
According to Automobile Quarterly, the XP-820 was based on the full-size C-body used by other Cadillacs rather than on the E-body shell. While the XP-820’s wheelbase does appear to be significantly longer than that of the E-cars, we have no explanation for why the Cadillac studio would have made such a change given the corporation’s apparent interest in maximizing its use of the E-body tooling. Note the wheel arches, which are still flared, but no longer rounded, like the earlier XP-727-3. (Photo copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Design.)

SIDEBAR: A NEW SIXTEEN AND THE V-12 THAT WASN’T

Although Cadillac had offered both V-12 and V-16 engines during the brief thirties vogue for multicylinder luxury cars, the V-8 had been the division’s bread and butter since 1914. By the early sixties, however, V-8s had become ubiquitous. Some GM designers and engineers felt the division needed something with a little more kick — and a few more cylinders.

Around 1959, both the Cadillac styling studio and Bill Mitchell’s special projects studio (which created the design that became the first Buick Riviera) began playing with ideas for a modern Sixteen. Like GM’s Motorama dream cars, some of these designs were quite fanciful, blending thirties formal coachwork with race car velocity stacks and hoods the size of an aircraft carrier flight deck. (Gary Smith’s Dean’s Garage website has run pictures of a few of them, including a rendering by designer Wayne Kady that presages Kady’s later 1980 Seville.) A few reached the scale-model stage, but Chuck Jordan said later that none of them was really intended for production. There was at least one actual V-16 engine prototype, cobbled together from two V-8s, but it was apparently just an exercise, with no serious engineering development.

1966 Cadillac XP-840 model rear 3q D-70415 - Copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Design. (GMMA 14416 part 2)
To our knowledge, this car — XP-840, photographed circa December 1965 — was the only multicylinder Cadillac styling study to reach the full-size model stage during this era. According to David North, this car was done not by Cadillac, but in Ned Nichols’ special projects studio, with considerable input from Bill Mitchell himself. Not visible in this shot are the split windshield, V-shaped hood bulge, and bladed front fenders; to us, this design looks like the product of an illicit liaison between a Toronado and a Corvette Sting Ray. (Photo copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Design.)

A new Twelve was a more serious production possibility. In the early sixties, Cadillac engineer Paul F. Keydel developed a sophisticated new V-12 for future Cadillacs, featuring chain-driven overhead camshafts and all-aluminum construction. Both the block and heads were die-cast, using a new “Acura-Rad’ process and a high-silicon alloy (like the later Chevrolet Vega engine) that would theoretically have obviated the need for cylinder liners. We don’t know the V-12’s bore and stroke dimensions, but author Karl Ludvigsen says it initially displaced about 450 cu. in. (7.4 L), later expanded to 500 cu. in. (8.2 L).

According to Ludvigsen, the early V-12 prototypes, built in 1962, were designed for transverse FWD applications. This was apparently just an experimental project, but at some point in 1963, Cadillac asked the corporate engineers to adapt the V-12 for longitudinal installation, which would have have facilitated using the V-12 in Cadillac’s RWD production cars or the FWD E-car. Former Cadillac engineer Dan Adams later said the Engineering Staff built five or six prototype engines in all, the last of which was completed by early 1964.

1963 Cadillac OHC V-12 VFutureEngine4 - Copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive. (GMMA 14416)
In 1981, Richard Langworth reported that the Cadillac V-12 had split crank pins like later editions of Buick’s 3,791 cc (231 cu. in.) V-6, leading him to conclude that the Cadillac engine also had a 90-degree bank angle; at the time, he had not actually seen the engine, since Cadillac declined to release photos of it. However, Karl Ludvigsen describes the V-12 as a 60-degree engine, which is what it looks like. If it did indeed have split crank pins as Langworth reported, we don’t know why! (Photo copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.)

The V-12 would have given the FWD Eldorado a clear advantage over the Toronado and Riviera, but if that idea was considered, it didn’t get very far. Although the corporate engineers experimented with various carburetion and fuel injection set-ups, the best output they were able to achieve was 394 horsepower (294 kW) and 506 lb-ft (683 N-m) of torque, underwhelming for an engine of the V-12’s size and complexity. The V-12 would undoubtedly have cost far more to build than a cast iron V-8 of comparable displacement and the viability of the Acura-Rad process was still uncertain. There were also concerns about the V-12’s ability to meet the new state and federal emissions standards then emerging. Prototype testing ended in April 1964, although rumors about the V-12 persisted in the automotive press for some years afterward. In a 2006 interview with Ron VanGelderen, Chuck Jordan insisted that there were never any serious plans to use the V-12 in the new Eldorado.

By the early eighties, Cadillac had become rather cagey about the V-12 program. When writer Richard Langworth was preparing an article about the engine for Special Interest Autos magazine, he found the division unwilling to even release photos of the V-12. However, one of the surviving prototypes is now on display at the GM Heritage Center in Warren, Michigan.

24 Comments

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  1. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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

        1. 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.

  2. 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!

    1. 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.

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. thanks ad8n for referring to my website – the correct link would be http://www.eldorado-seville.com

    2. 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.

  4. My current dream car is a 69 Cadillac Eldorado but I’ll take a 70 or even a 66. ;-)

  5. The wooden trim fitted to the 1968 Eldorado was genuine rosewood – admittedly a thin veneer, but the real deal all the same.

    1. Thanks for the correction!

  6. 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

    1. Mr. North,

      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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

    1. 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.

  9. The studio name was Body design next to Body Development.

  10. 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.

    1. Ack, you’re absolutely right. I’ve fixed that in the text. Thanks!

  11. Just picked up a 1967 Cadillac Eldorado for $200. Totally original. She needs some TCL, but it’s all there. Did I get a deal, or did I get screwed?

    1. Well, I’m no authority when it comes to values or cars as investments (anybody with a recent price guide can tell you as much or more than I on that score), but I would imagine it will depend a lot on how much TLC it actually requires. Obviously, at $200, you’re not likely to lose much on the initial purchase price, but the tricky bit with cars that cheap is that it can become harder to draw the line on how much is too much. The hard part comes when you’ve put five grand into fixing it up and realize that you don’t have the ability or the will to put in the additional seven grand it will take to finish it or to have a chance of getting back the money you’ve already put in. So, it depends on your goals for it, how much work it needs, and how much you’re prepared to spend, I guess.

  12. 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”!

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