1978 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado
1978 CADILLAC VEHICLE IDENTIFICATION NUMBER
A 13-digit number appears on top of the dash on the driver's side of the
car, and can be viewed through the windshield. A second number appears
on a tag on the rear upper portion of the cylinder block behind the intake
manifold. The digits resemble: 6L47S8Q100001
BODY NUMBER PLATE
Complete vehicle identification is determined by the Body Number Plate, which is located under the hood on the cowl, near the top.
ST = Style (77 - Model Year; 6 - Cadillac Division; EL - Eldorado Series;
47 - 2-Door Coupe Body Style)
Hopelessly Devoted To You
Above: 1978 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado Cabriolet Coupe in Canyon Copper Firemist with padded White Cabriolet vinyl roof and Mulberry Sierra grain leather interior.
Ever since the beginning of the automobile, people have admired the big cars with lots of shiny chrome outside and luxury touches inside. By the fifties, owning a Cadillac was a universally accepted symbol of success and stature. If that Cadillac happened to be an Eldorado, that put one in a class separate and above that of even other Cadillac owners. Over the years, the Eldorado changed. It started out as an exclusive convertible in 1953, and by 1957 had expanded to three models—the Biarritz Convertible, Seville Hardtop Coupe, and Eldorado Brougham, a four door hardtop with stainless steel roof. These cars were among the most expensive on the road, anywhere.
By 1961, the Eldorado was back down to just one model—the convertible. At times in the early sixties, it was hard to differentiate an Eldorado convertible from a standard Cadillac convertible. By 1967, convertibles were on their way out and two door personal luxury coupes were the thing. The new Fleetwood Eldorado Coupe had front wheel drive, variable-ratio power steering, automatic level control, and styling that can only be described as a masterpiece.
For 1971, the Eldorado line had grown again to include a convertible model. An Eldorado Convertible paced the Indy 500 Race in 1973, and went out with fireworks blazing in 1976, as 200 identical "last" convertibles celebrated the Bicentennial and commemorated the last Cadillac convertible built, which was also the last convertible built by an American manufacturer.
When 1977 came around, the public knew large cars had a limited life span. And devoted to big cars as they always had been, people were buying them at a brisk pace. 1978 was the Eldorado's final year as a traditionally-sized luxury car. It was the lone hold out in the Cadillac line, as all the others had down sized in 1977. Customers bought almost as many Eldorados in 1978 as they did in 1977, which is significant because the basic styling was now in its eighth year, ancient by personal luxury car standards.
Some of the Eldorados that would follow would be quite impressive automobiles, and others would not. Some would still stir something within those who saw one, and others would inspire a stunned shock as people realized they were, indeed, looking at a Cadillac! And an Eldorado, no less. But none would ever be able to compare based on sheer size. The impressive exterior dimensions of the 1978 Eldorado would never again be considered, as they were too extravagant for any time period other than the one for which they were built. So, just as the huge tail fins of 1959, which are adored by many, and despised by some, became an icon of the fifties, the big 1978 Eldorado has come to represent an icon of the seventies.
Some call them wasteful, pointing out their poor fuel economy and limited interior space and trunk room in contrast to their huge size. Others will say they are representative of the American way of life, when bigger was better and Americans could do anything they wanted to do, if they put their minds to it. Perhaps that sense of pride and accomplishment is gone today. Or could it be there's just a lack of imagination?
In a world of four door sedans that all look alike, available in various shades of grays and beiges, with a red, blue, and black thrown in for variety, it's nice to see something different for a change. Many miss the distinctive styling traits cars used to have, as well as the interaction that was required of those who drove them. Today, electronics control the choke and the accelerator, and a computer decides on the best fuel mixture for the current conditions. All humans need to do is have minimal understanding of how to start the vehicle, and point it where you want it to go. And all of that's great until the computer acts up (or the floor mat makes the gas pedal get stuck, as we have seen recently.)
There was a time when you could identify the new models based on the things they carried over from one year to the next, regardless of other styling changes. Cadillac had its fins, and when the time came to do away with them, there was still just enough of a hint of them left to immediately identify the car as a Cadillac. Buick had its Ventiports, and you could tell at a glance if it was a top of the line model or not, by the number of holes (the more the better). And people had to know how to operate a car, and as such were more aware of what was going on when they were driving.
There are some good things about today's smaller cars. Washing and waxing one of the big Eldorados by yourself can be a real workout. Finding a parking space big enough (or a garage for that matter) can be a challenge.
These late seventies Eldorados are well built, with most mechanical parts readily available as they were used on other GM makes, and for quite a few years. Things to look out for when buying one are the same as with earlier Eldo models. Check for corrosion around the vinyl roof moldings, at the bottom of the front fenders, doors, and around the edges of the hood and deck lid. Performance is leisurely, but adequate for most, and some have reported good results from "tweaking" the engine. These cars ride and handle very well, and are easy to drive, even if you aren't accustomed to large cars. They are quite nimble, and are pretty responsive to driver input, given their size.
And there is something about driving or riding in one of these cars that's missing from today's cars. We can't really put our finger on it. Is it creativity? Imagination? Inspiration? Whatever it is, these cars have it and most new cars don't. Is it wasteful to drive such a large car given today's interest in economizing and saving the environment? We'll answer that with another question: Is it wasteful to go to sports events? Concerts? Drive to the golf course? All use fuel, and none are necessary activities. Having a classic car is a hobby, and like all hobbies they take time, cost money, and may be a bit wasteful. But with a classic car, you can bring it home, put it in your garage and admire it every time you go into the garage. Golf clubs may be great, but really, do you enjoy looking at them?
Large personal luxury cars like the Eldorado were a snapshot of a time in America when being creative, or extravagant, or a bit daring was OK. They represent a time when a new automobile was truly a work of art to be admired by all. They were individual, unique. We may never see a time like that again, but thank goodness cars like the 1978 Eldorado still exist to prove that there was once a time when owning a grand car was possible. A time when sporty didn't mean tiny. When flashy didn't mean huge chrome rims and skinny little tires. There was a time when we had cars that could truly inspire one's imagination. When getting there and back home again was a big part of the fun.
The 1978 Cadillac Eldorado has always been such a car. You park it in the driveway, and you glance back at it before you go in the house. You are proud to own it, even if it may seem outdated and wasteful to those who don't take the time to understand. It reflects a different time in America, when men and women created rolling works of art every year, and people bought them and drove them without giving it much thought. Even today, some are just now beginning to see what we've lost along the way.
The Cadillac Eldorado has always been the world's finest personal luxury car. And it's doubtful that anything being made today will ever challenge that title.
(Automotive Mileposts will be publishing information on the 1979-1985 Cadillac Eldorados at a future date. They are currently scheduled for Phase Six of the site build out.)