There was a time, in the 1950s and the 1960s, when Cadillac truly built the world standard of luxury cars. There was a time, in the 1980s and 1990s, when Cadillac was a mediocre also-ran primarily peddling depressing badge-engineered attempts at premium cars. And there was a time, in the 1970s, when things were somewhere in between.
I recently had a chance to check out that "somewhere in between" — and I really, really loved it.
The car I drove was a 1977 Cadillac Eldorado, which was loaned to me by Morrie’s Heritage Car Connection in Minneapolis. Morrie’s Heritage Car Connection is awesome; it’s basically an exotic and vintage rental-car arm of Morrie’s, which is a large car dealer group in the Minneapolis area. Any car dealer that rents out a ’77 Eldorado is a car dealer I like.
So I borrowed this ’77 Eldorado from Morrie’s Heritage Car Connection, and I spent a few hours with it, and I truly think it’s the most ridiculous automobile I’ve ever reviewed.
Let’s start with the size: The 1977 Cadillac Eldorado is 224 inches long, which makes it exactly the same length as a Chevy Suburban. Except the Chevy Suburban has eight seats and four doors, whereas the Eldorado is merely a 2-door coupe. It does, however, have six seats — and four ashtrays, one for each seat — making it an excellent family car.
Unfortunately, it isn’t an excellent performance car, because the 1977 Eldorado used a 7.0-liter V8 (whoa, big engine!) that made 180 horsepower (aww, shucks). Think about that: 224 inches in length. 180 horsepower. Not helping matters was the fact that the Eldorado weighed something like 5,000 pounds, which meant it was basically the slowest coupe on the market — a market that also included the Jaguar XJS and Mercedes 450 SLC.
But the craziness of the Eldorado goes well beyond its size, to a large series of other bizarre and unusual features. For example, the outside temperature indicator is literally outside the car. It’s on the driver’s door mirror, and you glance through the window to the base of the mirror to see what temperature it is. The little lights that remind you that your turn signal is on or your high beams activated? They’re also outside the car, perched on the front fender in full view of the driver — but several feet away and exposed to the elements.
Other items of note include the fact that the seats are completely covered by leatherish pillows — comfortable ones — that make you feel like you’re in some sort of luxurious antique chair, not an automobile. The climate controls are to the left of the steering wheel, not to the right, meaning the passenger has no access to them. The high beams are activated with a pedal near the driver’s left foot. The massive doors are so big and heavy there’s a hinged wood handle to make them easier to close. There’s a soft-closing trunk that shuts automatically, which is nice (and surprisingly futuristic), but then the fuel cap is behind the license plate, which is annoying.
And then there’s the ultimate Eldorado feature: Even though the car is 224 inches long, the wheelbase is just 126 inches, meaning there’s 98 inches of car in front of and behind the wheels. That’s eight feet of car that just hangs outside the wheels.
So this thing sounds like it would be a performance disaster, and by modern standards it also sounds like an ergonomic disaster. And yet … I have to admit, I loved it.
In the world of cars, the term "They don’t make ’em like this anymore" has become so commonplace that it’s a cliche, but in the Eldorado’s case, it’s really true. They do not make cars like this anymore, and they never will. Those comfortable seats are designed solely to be soft, with no thought to back and neck support on long trips. That massive body destroys the car’s gas mileage, it has no crumple zones, and the days of 7.0-liter engines are really coming to a close. Just the simple look of driving this thing through a turn, with that massive hood out in front of you, and those massive fenders behind you … that’s something modern cars will never offer. This is one of the last cars where you’ll ever get to experience that.
Of course, by objective standards, the Eldorado is terrible — but that’s true of most vintage cars. We like them because they’re cool, and interesting, and they provide a different experience from what we get in modern vehicles. And the Eldorado certainly does that.
In modern collector-car circles, this version of the Eldorado isn’t highly prized; the emissions regulations that limited its engine output hampered performance so dramatically that most collectors regard this as the beginning of the end for Cadillac, and for the American luxury car in general. But while it isn’t fast or thrilling to drive, this Eldorado is definitely an emblem of a bygone era — and maybe the last emblem, as later models became smaller, and more manageable, and more cynical. If I had infinite money and an airplane hangar full of cars, one of them would be this Eldorado. And I’d drive it every so often, wearing a cowboy hat, relaxing on my pillow seats, glancing outside to see if I should put on my jacket before I open my giant door. Find a 1977 Cadillac Eldorado for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.