It seems Cadillac has been wandering in the dark over the past decade, failing to score a major automotive win since the Escalade — and even that has been overshadowed by the ridiculously opulent new Lincoln Navigator. Recently, General Motors announced a bold new plan to transform Cadillac into an electric-focused brand — and while I’m not opposed to this idea, I also think Cadillac should look to the past for future success. My newly purchased 1976 Cadillac Eldorado is the perfect example to show the magic that the former luxury marque standard needs to find again.
Don’t worry, I didn’t break my New Year’s resolution with my latest land yacht purchase, as I bought it back in December at the same classic car auction where I accidentally purchased my DeLorean project. Unlike the DeLorean, though, I actually intended to buy another land yacht– and this auction had a wide selection to choose from. This 1976 coupe was actually my second choice, as the first (a yellow Eldorado convertible) sold for way more than I was willing to pay. Still, I’m very happy with what I brought home for only $8,500. Other than the cracked bumper fillers, this all-original, low-mileage example is in excellent condition.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit the proportions of this car are ridiculous. At 224 inches long, this 2-door coupe matches the length of the Cadillac Escalade ESV. The weight distribution of its massive 5,500 pounds might be the worst in car history, given the massive 500 cu in. engine and front-wheel-drive-based drivetrain that dominates the front third of the car. The engine’s ridiculously large 8.2-liter displacement might sound impressive, and it was indeed the largest engine ever to be offered in a passenger car — but thanks to performance robbing emission restrictions, this big lump only pumped out a pathetic 190 horsepower.
Having the power-to-weight ratio of the Titanic with a single outboard motor resulted in some horrible performance numbers, as well: 12.7 seconds to 60 mph, and a quarter mile time of over 20 seconds. The only performance data in the single digits is fuel economy, which averages around 9 miles per gallon. I’m sure the stopping distances and slalom performance are terrible, as well — and unsecured passengers would violently slide around the flat bench seats if someone dared to try.
All this makes my Eldorado sound like a terrible car, but that’s only because we’ve been brainwashed to think this way.
I put the blame solely on automotive journalists for the erosion of real luxury cars, unlike most who think it’s because of changing trends towards SUVs. Some time around the new millennium, reviews of luxury sedans quit focusing on the luxury, ride and comfort — and instead, they became obsessed with how well a large car can get around a track. When a Cadillac would get lined up against an Audi or a BMW for a performance test, it was done mostly so the writer could come up with a few Clarkson-esque punch lines — the Caddy being an easy target.
A Cadillac was never, ever meant to be a track car, and General Motors changing their DNA to compete with sporty, European cars to appease these journalists was a huge mistake. Comfortable seats went away in favor of stiff, racy-looking buckets with big side bolsters- – and luxurious suspension setups were compromised so the car could corner without magazines publishing embarrassing photos showing way more body roll than a BMW.
Thankfully, automotive journalists don’t seem as interested in tracking (and shaming) luxury SUVs with the same ferocity as luxury cars –and buyers wanting comfort and luxury over performance have happily made the switch to SUVs. Personally, I think this trend wouldn’t be nearly as dramatic if luxury car makers were actually still building luxury cars instead of sports sedans that mostly look and drive the same.
Of course, the definition of luxury has also changed, with comfort and quality of materials taking a back seat not just to performance, but also to technology. Tesla’s success as a luxury brand is wholly dependent upon its dazzling tech, as their cars are otherwise fairly sparse and uncomfortable. My Cadillac Eldorado is the exact opposite of a Tesla — and puts the Musk-mobile to shame when it comes to delivering a real luxury experience.
An auto pundit wants steering feedback for everything — even when you run over an insect. I’ve always found this to be ridiculous, as luxury cars should do their best to insulate you from anything going on outside. The steering in my Eldorado does a great job of pointing the car in the direction I need to go, and not bothering me with anything else. The great power steering allows me to steer the car with my pinky, so the act of driving requires almost no effort at all.
The suspension on my Eldorado is equally insulating, like there’s no pothole outside of the Grand Canyon that would disturb the ride quality. Couple the ride with the living room sofa I have for a front seat, and there’s really nothing better to drive down the highway. Since the majority of Americans spend most of their time driving in a straight line at boring speeds, I don’t understand why there isn’t more of an outcry to build cars like this again.
Then there’s the styling. I’ll admit this 1976 Eldorado isn’t nearly as striking as older models, but it’s still unmistakably Cadillac. The designs used to be bolder, and styling risks were taken both inside and out, but around the time I was born, it’s almost like General Motors quit caring. There was a moment of hope in 2011, when the beautiful Elmiraj concept reminded everyone how great Cadillac was, but they chose not to build it. Instead, we got the watered down XTS — a boring flagship that nobody bought, and GM recently canceled.
If Cadillac decided to drop the charade of sportiness, and decided to be an affordable luxury alternative to Rolls Royce or Bentley, I think their fortunes would turn fairly quickly. Combine that luxury with Tesla-esqe technology, and it’s easy to picture a Cadillac becoming the luxury standard of the world again.
I’m half tempted to Tesla-swap my old Eldorado just to prove a point, but I really don’t know where to start. For now, I’m going to replace bumper fillers, and fix a few minor issues normal for a car that’s been sitting for a long time. It feels good to be land yacht lovin’ again.