If the buying public recognized the Cadillac Eldorado’s relationship with the Toronado, they weren’t dissuaded by it. While Toronado sales had been disappointing, the 1967 Eldorado exceeded Cadillac’s projections by almost 20%. The final tally for the model year was 17,930 units, nearly three times the Eldorado’s previous record, set back in 1956. Buyer interest was strong enough that Cadillac could easily have sold more. Most of the Eldorados that were sold were fully loaded, bringing the price to nearly $9,000 — enough to buy a house in those days — and discounts were hard to come by. Some customers were so smitten that they didn’t even bother with a test drive.
The Eldorado’s popularity seems to have had remarkably little to do with its front-wheel drive. Popular Mechanics owner surveys found that fewer than 25% of Eldorado buyers had been swayed by its FWD powertrain, compared to more than 40% of Toronado buyers. Owners generally appreciated the Eldorado’s handling and wet-weather traction, but some said outright that they would have bought it regardless of its powertrain. The Eldorado’s biggest selling points were its looks and the undeniable snob appeal of the Cadillac badge. It was the hippest and most stylish exponent of America’s most prestigious automotive brand and buyers responded accordingly.
By all indications, the Eldorado was a profitable car — probably far more profitable than the Toronado — but it had surprisingly little impact on Cadillac’s total volume. The upswing in Eldorado sales for 1967 was balanced by a commensurate dip in sales of the Calais, De Ville, and Sixty Special, so the division ended the ’67 model year within 300 units of its 1966 volume. Since many well-to-do Cadillac owners traded in their cars every year, we suspect that some simply chose the Eldorado over other Cadillac models.
Nonetheless, the Eldorado did appeal to younger buyers — the median owner age was 48, compared to 53 for the marque as a whole — and it had a strong allure for Hollywood celebrities and other tastemakers. As with other Cadillacs, many Eldorado owners were neither rich nor famous, but knowing that their ranks included stars like Elvis Presley and Dick Martin (of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In) undoubtedly enhanced the Eldorado’s appeal.
As a symbol of conspicuous affluence, the 1967 Eldorado had few direct rivals. Its price and prestige put it in a different class than the Thunderbird and it offered a measure of dash and distinction that Cadillac’s conventional sedans and hardtops couldn’t match. European coupes like the Mercedes W111/W112 series still appealed more to connoisseurs than to the American masses and Lincoln’s Continental Mark III didn’t appear until the spring of 1968 — a rare case in this era of GM beating Ford to the punch in product planning.
THE 1968, 1969, AND 1970 ELDORADO
The FWD Eldorado got only minor design changes for its second year, many of them driven by the new federal safety standards that took effect in January 1968. The most obvious were an even longer hood, concealed windshield wipers, and turn signals integrated into the front fender tips. There was also a new interior with a padded dash and rosewood trim. The previously optional front disc brakes were now standard.
The bigger change was under the massive hood. Cadillac’s previous V-8 had reached the limits of its capacity and it had fallen behind Imperial’s 440 cu. in. (7,206 cc) and Lincoln’s 462 cu. in. (7,565 cc) engines in size and power. In the fall of 1967, Cadillac introduced an all-new V-8 with greater growth potential and provision for emissions control devices. Still a cast iron OHV engine, it was unremarkable except in size: At 472 cu. in. (7,734 cc), it was the largest passenger car engine in the world, rated at 375 gross horsepower (279 kW) and 525 lb-ft (709 N-m) of torque. Since the new engine was accompanied by taller gearing, acceleration was not greatly improved, but the 472 gave the Eldorado a sense of effortless urge at almost any speed.
Cadillac increased Eldorado production for 1968, enough to clear the back orders, but not enough to dampen demand or undermine transaction prices. By the summer of 1968, Eldorados were still selling for full list price, a rarity for Detroit cars. Total production for the 1968 model year was 24,528.
The Eldorado faced its first real competition in April 1968 with the arrival of the Lincoln Continental Mark III. The Mark was about 5 inches (125 mm) shorter than the Eldorado and had a smaller 460 cu. in. (7,542 cc) engine, but in price and appointments, it was clearly aimed at the same market. Thanks to its late introduction, Mark III sales were relatively limited at first, but the Mark and the Eldorado would vie for class supremacy throughout the seventies.
The 1969 Eldorado was little changed mechanically, but it had exposed headlights and another new dashboard design along with side door beams and various other federally mandated safety equipment. For 1970, the big engine was stroked to a full 500 cu. in. (8,194 cc), now rated at 400 gross horsepower (298 kW) and 550 lb-ft (743 N-m) of torque, the latter a record for postwar passenger cars. A power sunroof, made by ASC, was a new option and “Trackmaster” rear ABS became available later in the model year.
Despite competition from the Mark III, Eldorado sales remained strong, totaling 23,333 in 1969 and 28,842 in 1970 — actually edging out the significantly cheaper 1970 Toronado. High demand also boosted the Eldorado’s resale values, which were the best in the industry. Dollar depreciation was quite high, but a well-kept, year-old Eldorado retained close to 95% of its original value.
FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE, TAKE TWO
Both the Toronado and Eldorado were redesigned for 1971, growing larger in nearly every dimension. The main mechanical changes were a new full perimeter frame and a new rear suspension, substituting trailing links and coil springs for the earlier leaf springs. The Eldorado retained the 500 cu. in. (8,194 cc) V-8, although a lower compression ratio trimmed its output to 365 gross horsepower (272 kW) and 535 lb-ft (722 N-m) of torque. In the new SAE net system, the big engine was rated a less impressive 235 horsepower (175 kW) and 385 lb-ft (520 N-m).
The 1971 Eldorado’s styling, which Michael Lamm credits to designer Wayne Kady, bore a clear resemblance to the 1967-1970 generation, but also evoked the original 1953 Eldorado with features like rear fender skirts and simulated rear fender air intakes. An interesting and influential touch was the narrow opera windows in the rear sail panels, later adopted by many other American cars.
The other big news, discussed in detail elsewhere, was the arrival of a new Eldorado convertible, the first FWD ragtop built in America since the demise of the Cord 812 in 1937. The market for open cars was on the decline in the early seventies, but the convertible accounted for about 20% of Eldorado sales through 1976, its final year.
Sales of the 1971 Eldorado were down from 1970, but we suspect that had more to do with the protracted UAW strike than buyer reaction to the new styling or $480 higher price. Business recovered soundly for 1972 and remained strong through 1978, the last year of this generation. Although the Eldorado didn’t sell as well as the more ostentatious Continental Mark IV, Cadillac had little to complain about. Even the energy crisis had surprisingly little effect on Eldorado sales.