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Image: 1978 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado Custom Biarritz Classic

The height of elegance and the end of an era

1978 Cadillac
Fleetwood Eldorado


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Image: 1978 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado Cabriolet Coupe

For a decade that had started out on such a high note in many respects, the seventies was approaching its conclusion leaving a lot of changes in its wake. We said goodbye to the full-sized Ford Thunderbird and the Cadillac Eldorado Convertible model in 1976, Buick's Riviera became smaller for 1977, as did all of Cadillac's standard models, and now we bid farewell to the last traditionally-sized Cadillac, the Fleetwood Eldorado, in 1978.

The oil embargo and gas crisis of 1973 shocked us enough to force us to briefly take a look at the realities of imported oil, upon which we were becoming more and more dependant, and the invasion of the luxury imports, which was a mere trickle early in the decade, but was now something that was requiring a response by the American car makers. And just around the corner, another gas crisis was about to confront us.

Smaller, more efficient cars were the new reality, and even the luxury makes would have to change to remain competitive, as it wasn't the cost of the gas that was at issue, it was the availability of it that was the big concern. Wealthy buyers who could afford whatever it cost to fill their tanks were no better off than anyone else if their local gas stations were out of gas to sell.

Cadillac led the way with smaller cars, introducing the 1976 Seville in the spring of 1975 as an "international size luxury" car. The rest of Cadillacs standard line followed in 1977, and the new smaller Cadillacs were a big hit with luxury car buyers. That left just the Eldorado, which looked huge on the showroom floor compared to the down sized Cadillacs parked next to it. By 1978, the Eldorado was wearing a body that had been introduced in 1971, a different world than the world of 1978. Several restyles had updated the look, but it was size alone at this point that made it appear dated.

But none of that mattered to buyers, as the Eldorado continued to sell well. Some buyers wanted a big car. They liked the ride a longer wheelbase provided, the impressive view as they looked across that long hood, and the full-sized, sporty styling that was impossible to mistake for anything else. Sales were down just a few hundred from 1977.

Changes to the 1978 Eldorado were minimal, of course. Up front, a new grille design consisted of four rows in a crosshatch pattern (squares), and each row was separated by a heavier horizontal bar. New paint colors would give the cars a new spectrum of color to choose from, and a new Halifax Knit cloth upholstery featured a check design that was reminiscent of some older Eldorado patterns, and was available in four colors. A new Random Velour was also offered, and it came in three colors. Sierra Grain Leather was still a popular option, and for 1978, it was available in a dozen different shades, and there were also three two-tone leather options that provided dramatic contrasting shades of leather on the seating areas.

Cadillac introduced a new Electronic Level Control in 1978, and it was included on the Eldorado as well, as part of its impressive list of standard features. A couple of new radios were introduced on all Cadillacs for 1978, and one of them was available on the Eldorado. The AM/FM stereo radio with tape player and Citizens Band incorporated the Squelch Control and a digital channel display into the hand-held microphone unit. The country had gone crazy for CBs and disco music during the mid- to late seventies, and both were white hot for a few years, but would fizzle out by the time the eighties came around.

The popular Custom Biarritz trim package returned for 1978, and could be ordered in five colors: Cotillion White, Colonial Yellow, Ruidoso Saddle, Carmine Red, or Mediterranean Blue Firemist. Details of the option were identical to 1977. A Custom Biarritz Classic was announced late in the model year, the result of a rush decision to commemorate the last big Eldorado by building 2,000 unique cars for collectors or other enthusiasts. Cadillac turned to American Sunroof Corporation for the modifications, because they were quite adept at coming up with creative solutions and implementing them quickly.

The result was a two-tone paint job of Arizona Beige for the body sides, deck lid, and wheel covers, and Demitasse Brown for the raised section of the hood and the forward section of the roof. A Light Beige Cabriolet vinyl roof matched the Arizona Beige paint color, and a two-tone pillowed leather interior of Light Beige with Dark Saddle seating surfaces completed the look. Gold-colored Biarritz scripts were added to the roof sail panels and the right side of the deck lid to signify the special status of this package. The optional sunroof or Astroroof could be ordered as well, along with all other Eldorado options. Some weren't completely fond of this color combination, and others said it reminded them of a similar option offered on the 1976 Continental Mark IV known as the Desert Sand Luxury Group.

The Eldorado that would make its first appearance in showrooms in the fall of 1978 for the 1979 model year would be very much changed. It would shed 1,150 pounds in weight, be 20 inches shorter in overall length, 8 inches narrower in width, and its wheelbase would be over a foot shorter at 114 inches. Despite the more compact exterior dimensions, interior head and leg room would be increased in both front and rear seats. Sales would improve and remain higher during the model years this body style was offered (1979-1985), and would peak in 1984. The even smaller Eldorado that followed for 1986 would be a huge disappointment for Cadillac, barely selling more than 20,000 copies that year.

The magical spell the Eldorado had enjoyed for so long would be broken, and it would never quite achieve the popularity or respect it had enjoyed during its earlier years. The last Cadillac Eldorado was built for 2002, which would also be the Eldorado's 50th model year (it was introduced for the 1953 model year). The last car rolled off the assembly line on April 22, 2002. To mark the end of this historic American icon, 1,596 Eldorados were built in three production runs of 532 cars each, to signify the first year's total production run of 532 cars. These cars were painted red and white, colors that were both available on the original 1953 Eldorado. A plaque mounted on the instrument panel of each car noted the car's production sequence, and the dual exhaust systems were specially tuned to reproduce the exhaust note of the original 1953 cars. The last Eldorado was retained by Cadillac for display in the Cadillac Museum, in honor of Don Massey, owner of Don Massey Cadillac, one of the nation's largest Cadillac dealerships, with multiple locations.

We can't say if there will ever be another Cadillac to bear the historic Eldorado name, but many thousands of owners enjoy every single model ever built, and those cars today still command the respect and recognition of being one of the finest personal luxury cars ever built.

1971-1978 CADILLAC ELDORADO PARTS AUCTIONS

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