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

MARKETING COUP

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.

1968 Cadillac Eldorado front © 2009 Sam Vacheret (used with permission)
The 1968 Cadillac Eldorado retained its hidden headlights, but the body-colored filler plates at the leading edges of the fenders were replaced by parking lamps. Note the apparent absence of windshield wipers — they’re actually concealed behind the trailing edge of the hood, which is 4.5 inches (114 mm) longer than in ’67. (Photo: “2009-03-01 Vincennes 075” © 2009 Sam Vacheret; used with permission)

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 taste makers. 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.

1968 Cadillac Eldorado maroon wheel
As with the Toronado, the Cadillac Eldorado’s slotted wheels were were intended to allow additional airflow to the brakes; even so, brake fade was a sore point with these cars. Unlike the Toronado, which had special low-profile Firestone TFD tires, the Eldorado used fairly conventional 9.00 x 15 bias-plies (equivalent to a metric section width of about 225 mm), which were not noted for their cornering and braking grip.

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.

1968 Cadillac Eldorado maroon front 3q
The added torque of the 472 cu. in. (7,734 cc) V-8 apparently made the variable-pitch stator of the 1967 Cadillac Eldorado’s torque converter superfluous; 1968 and later Eldorados had fixed-pitch stators. When the bigger engine was added, the Eldorado’s final drive ratio was reduced (numerically) from 3.21 to 3.07, but fuel consumption was inevitably heavy: around 10 mpg (23.5 L/100 km) in city driving, less than 13 mpg (18 L/100 km) on the highway, on premium fuel.

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.

1968 Cadillac Eldorado maroon rear
Cadillac designed the rear suspension shared by both the Toronado and FWD Eldorado: a beam axle on parallel Mono-Plate leaf springs with both vertical and horizontal shock absorbers, the latter mounted below and parallel to the springs. Spring rates were reduced for 1968, perhaps in response to early owner complaints about the relatively firm ride. The padded vinyl top was a $131.60 extra, but it was a very popular option.

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.

1969 Cadillac Eldorado front
The 1969–1970 Cadillac Eldorado added a new grille design and dispensed with the 1967–1968 cars’ concealed headlights, which Cadillac designers feared were becoming passé. We find the exposed lights a little bland, although they were undoubtedly less troublesome than the previous vacuum-powered covers.

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. “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.

1969 Cadillac Eldorado side
Although Cadillac still described the 1969–1970 Cadillac Eldorado as Fleetwoods, their major stampings now came from the Fisher Body plant in Euclid, Ohio. Final assembly remained in Detroit through the 1978 model year, but starting in 1979, production switched to the GM Assembly Division plant in Linden, New Jersey.

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).

1971 Cadillac Eldorado Coupe front 3q C2006-0036 - Copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive. (GMMA 14676)
According to Irv Rybicki, a GM design director in the early seventies, the 1971 Cadillac Eldorado’s opera windows were originally developed for the A-body “Colonnade” coupes. When a length UAW strike delayed the new intermediates a year (from 1972 to 1973), Rybiciki suggested introducing the opera windows first on the 1971 Eldorado hardtop, although GM president Ed Cole had to authorize the necessary last-minute tooling changes. (Photo copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.)

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.

1971 Cadillac Eldorado Coupe rear 3q C2006-0030 - Copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive. (GMMA 14676)
The 1971 Cadillac Eldorado was 1.6 inches (41 mm) longer than the 1970 model, bringing overall length to 221.6 inches (5,629 mm). Wheelbase was stretched 6.3 inches (160 mm), to 126.3 inches (3,208 mm). Although the ’71 Eldo looks wider and heavier than before, overall width was fractionally reduced and Cadillac’s quoted shipping weight rose only 20 lb (9 kg). (Photo copyright 2010 General Motors LLC. Used with permission, GM Media Archive.)

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 the $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.

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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