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It was only a matter of time before Cadillac would respond to the personal luxury car segment of the market, which had been growing rapidly since the early sixties. Since 1953, the Eldorado had been among Cadillac's most prestigious (and expensive) series of automobiles, but to compete in the personal luxury field, it would have to undergo some changes first. The 1963 Buick Riviera [links in this article open in a new window] was originally designed with Cadillac in mind, the vertical grilles on the front of the car even hark back to the Cadillac LaSalle grille in their appearance. At the time, Buick needed a specialty car more than Cadillac, so Buick got it. But this began the process of design for Cadillac's own personal luxury car.
The 1967 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado was very different than the 1966 Eldorado. No longer a convertible, this sporty two door hardtop was quite a styling departure for Cadillac. A masterpiece from front to rear, the Eldorado sported flared open wheel wells, with slotted wheel covers. Concealed headlamps up front gave way to razor-edged chrome trim on the tail lamps out back. A sharply vee'd rear window emphasized that this wasn't your typical Cadillac. The first car to offer automatic level control, variable-ratio power steering, and front wheel drive, it was not traditional by any means. Concerns that Cadillac's customers would not accept the new car disappeared when sales exceeded production abilities. Cadillac had created a hit!
Changes were few for 1968, and mostly followed the rest of the Cadillac line. A new 472 cubic inch V-8 engine appeared, along with federally-mandated front and rear side marker lights. New competition appeared in the spring of 1968 from Lincoln. The 1969 Continental Mark III was based on the four door Ford Thunderbird, and was introduced early as a 1969 model. This car would prove to be a competent challenger to the Eldorado throughout the seventies.
The Fleetwood Eldorado received its first major appearance change for 1969. The concealed headlight covers were eliminated and stationary headlights appeared in their place. The grille received a finer texture which was less racy than that of the previous 2 years, and new wheel covers eliminated the slotted ones, which also gave the car a more subdued appearance. In back, the dual back up lights were removed from the bumper, replaced by two reflectors, and a single back up light was now part of the fuel filler door.
Minor styling updates for 1970 gave the Eldorado a fresh look, with a new grille and rear taillamps. Cadillac's spectacular 8.2 Litre 500 cubic inch V-8 engine was brand new, and became standard equipment in 1970, exclusive to the Eldorado. An Eldorado Convertible rejoined the series in 1971, and the Eldorado's clean lines became a bit busier, in keeping with styling trends of the time. The Eldorado Coupe was the first production car to come with Coach Windows as standard equipment, a styling touch that started a fad during the 1970's. Before long, any car with enough space in the roof rear quarter area was being fitted with the additional windows. Some pulled it off better than others.
A 1973 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado Convertible was chosen as the Pace Car for the 57th Annual 1973 Indianapolis 500 Race. This would be the second time a front wheel drive car had paced the festivities. A 1930 Cord served as the first front wheel drive Pace Car. A total of 566 cars were built under option number SR-X20, with 53 of them serving duty at the track around the time of the race, with the other 513 sent out to dealers—one per dealer—to display in their showrooms. After the race, the showroom Pace Car replicas were sold to the public. All were finished in Cotillion White with matching white convertible tops, Cotillion White hard boots, and Scarlet Red leather interiors. A dash plaque was mounted to the instrument panel on the passenger's side which stated: "This Eldorado Convertible is a limited edition replica of the 1973 Indianapolis 500 Pace Car."
In 1975, the Eldorado lost its rear fender skirts, which had been standard since 1971. Once again, open rear wheel wells gave the Eldorado a sportier appearance, and new options such as Electronic Fuel Injection were made available. The 1976 Fleetwood Eldorado Convertible would be the last American-built convertible, and Cadillac made sure appropriate press would accompany this milepost. The final 200 convertibles built were all identical, with Cadillac keeping the actual last one for itself. Prices went through the roof for a time after production ended, but soon came down to more reasonable levels.
Cadillac bid farewell to the traditional full size Eldorado in 1978, with a plush Eldorado Custom Biarritz Classic edition. (See image only.) This car sported a two tone paint job with matching two tone pillowed leather interior. It was flashy, and it was expensive, and like it or not, it was the perfect way to bid farewell to a motoring experience we'll likely never see again. The full size personal luxury cars like the 1967-1978 Eldorado were distinctively American. Huge cars propelled by huge engines that put passenger comfort above all else. Fuel economy didn't really matter, because the people who purchased these cars new had money, and weren't concerned about such things. But the realities of the world would not allow such extravagances to continue, as fuel shortages forced people to look at what they were driving. After all, what good was having a masterpiece in your driveway if you couldn't buy the gas to drive it?
The Eldorados that followed were smaller, and more fuel efficient. Every bit as plush, perhaps, but they didn't have the same eye appeal as their predecessors. And there was really no way that they could, considering the sheer size of the car was an important part of the overall expression of luxury. There's something about floating down the road in one of these cars that just can't be experienced when driving anything else. And that feeling is something truly rewarding, something that Eldorado drivers will tell you makes it all worthwhile. It is sad that they don't make them like this any longer!
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