TTAC Throwback: 1983 Eldorado Biarritz
For generations of drivers, a Cadillac Eldorado was the ultimate expression of prestige and luxury. Driving one meant you were a person of affluence and good taste.
However, Eldorados eventually grew to be, perhaps, too much of a good thing. The 1971-1978 model was a symphony in baroque excess. Of course, the 500 cubic-inch V8 under a hood the size of an aircraft carrier’s flight deck and Elvis-pleasing interiors have their charms. But incredible mass and a prodigious appetite for fuel meant they were destined for extinction.
Fuel efficiency standards and emissions requirements dictated that the succeeding Eldorado, which hit the stage for the 1979 model year, would embody a rationalized kind of excess. If not exactly European, it was at least a slight sidestep in that direction. Mr. and Mrs. Cadillac Buyer accepted improved fuel economy and less mass so long as they still had a plush place to plant their rumps.
Based on GM’s front-wheel-drive E-body platform (shared with Buick and Olds), the 1979-1985 Eldorado shed nearly half a ton from its previous incarnation. It retained a body-on-frame design for superior isolation from road noise and, for the first time, the Eldorado, or any production Cadillac, had a fully-independent suspension. Four-wheel disc brakes were also standard fare.
Cadillac was inventive with powertrains; no 500 cubic-inch monsters here. Instead, throughout the production run the 1979-1985 Eldorado would be offered with three different gasoline V8s, a diesel V8, and a gasoline V6. The largest of these displaced 6.0 liters – or less. That engine used an early form of cylinder deactivation and could operate on 8, 6, or 4 cylinders; hence it was known as the V-8-6-4.
The car’s embryonic onboard computer controlled solenoids that disengaged rocker arms, thus leaving the valves to the appropriate cylinders closed. It was said to improve fuel efficiency by as much as 15 percent, but the computer technology of the day wasn’t quite up to the task in everyday driving, and the system didn’t always operate smoothly, and sometimes it didn’t work at all. However, the engine would run as a normal throttle-body fuel-injected V8 after disconnecting one wire.
It’s not within the scope of this brief piece to dissect every aspect of the powertrains Cadillac used in the late 70s and early 80s. Suffice it to say; there were considerable teething problems. But yesterday’s technology does make for a fascinating conversation today.
The Eldorado’s styling remained unequivocally Cadillac. The distinctive grille was even more pronounced than before, and the car’s side profile was crisp, punctuated by a fast windshield rake and formal roofline. Wire wheels and whitewall tires were still present and accounted for but alloy rims were available too. A nice styling touch was the stainless steel roof on Biarritz models. That option harkened back to the Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham of the 1950s – a luxury car of such hedonistic specification that it made contemporary Rolls-Royce models seem spartan. Partial vinyl or full “carriage” roofs that aped convertible styling were there to satisfy the traditionalists, but a slicktop could be ordered by the more sporting Eldorado buyer. A factory-sanctioned convertible built by an outside firm represented a true resurrection; everyone thought the convertible had died in 1976, never to return.
The cockpit was not as baroque as before but was still more of a gin palace than a beer garden. Leather interiors seem to have been preferred, based on surviving Eldorados this writer has seen, but cloth was available. The upholstery was heavily button tufted or tuck and roll, depending on the trim level.
Instrument panels were decidedly Detroit; not too many gauges to distract from the lavish use of bright trim and slabs of material with genuine woodgrain appearance. Still, no one wanted for convenience. There was efficient climate control, power seats and windows, reading lamps, and options that were very cutting edge in the early 1980s, like a memory for the driver’s seat position or a three-channel garage door opener.
Why This Car
Today’s “premium” vehicles simply fail to look premium: They’ve all emerged from the “lifted running shoe” school of design and are too often painted in muted tones that bespeak only inoffensiveness. It doesn’t get much better on the inside. Dull colors and a HUGE touchscreen do not a special environment make. I will concede that Genesis seems to understand luxurious elegance in ways Cadillac and other luxury makes have largely forgotten. But even that worthy Korean marque falls short in the personal luxury coupe department.
By contrast, this striking Autumn Maple Firemist Eldorado’s personality hasn’t been neutered one iota. The Eldorado’s raison d'être is looking dramatic and providing opulent comfort for two people in front and enough room for a couple of interlopers in the back. It really doesn’t care if you’re offended by its brash color or sexy stainless-steel roof panel (If Tesla offered a stainless-steel roof option, we’d be deafened by Tesla Bros shouting about how great it is). What’s that, you think diamond-quilted leather is stylish? Look at the dark carmine button-tufted hides in this Caddy; now that’s stylish! Of course, the plush carpet matches; why wouldn’t it?
Now, this specific Eldo is running Cadillac’s 4100 cc “High Technology” V8. The early versions of the mill earned the sobriquet “Milkshake Motor” for their habit of emulsifying coolant and oil into chocolaty-looking slime. Stay on top of maintenance and plop a couple of anti-leak tablets into the cooling system, and this Eldo probably won’t leave you stranded. This writer has a good friend who regularly uses his HT4100-powered Cads for cross-country jaunts. He praises their smoothness, fuel efficiency, and reliability.
Quibble about reduced size (relative to the preceding Eldorado) all you want. With a fully independent suspension, “digital” fuel injection, automatic overdrive (from 1982 on), a trip computer, and a host of mechanical refinements, the 1979-1985 Eldorado combined 1980s tech with trad Cad luxury. The cars still have what it takes to live up to a name that means “The Gilded One.”
Things To Watch Out For When Buying a 1983 Cadillac Eldorado
It’s a fact that the HT4100 V8 can be fragile and for the 1983 year model, it was the only gasoline V8 available in the Eldo. Check for maintenance records, low miles, and smooth running. When inspecting the car, take the oil cap off and inspect it for emulsified coolant and oil; do the same with the dipstick. Do not expect rapid acceleration from an HT4100 but the car should gather momentum smoothly, and the transmission should operate unobtrusively.
Other powertrains offered in 10th-gen Eldorados (and there was a surprising variety of them) were a little more robust, especially the conventional 5.7-liter gasoline V8. The V8-6-4, with its early cylinder deactivation system, is not to be feared. Many still work, and if they don’t, simply pull one wire in the engine bay and it runs on all eight cylinders all the time.
The diesel engine option can be made good with modern head studs and a high-quality water separator – but that will take some coin. Truly parsimonious buyers could opt for a 4.1-liter V6 of Buick parentage. Fun fact, at 252 cubic inches, the bent six displaced two more cubic inches than the 250 cubic-inch HT4100 V8.
There are lots of power goodies in an Eldorado: Climate control, power seats, power windows, MPG “Sentinel,” sunroofs (or glass “Astroroofs”), cruise control, complex sound systems, CB radio, even memory seats, and remote garage door openers. Check them all for functionality. Repair or replacement could cause a migraine.
To Sum It Up
Anyone who makes snide comments about the powertrain or any other part of this Caddy is just jealous; buy it and slip away to Biarritz whenever the mood takes you. Your reward is a driving experience that cocoons you from the vulgarities of aggressive motoring – pure bliss.
TTAC Throwback is a series devoted to cars we think deserve to be owned by someone who really loves them. Just imagine Sarah McLachlan crooning In the Arms of an Angel as the camera pans past a deserving car up for adoption, hoping desperately that it doesn't get recycled into a Nissan Versa (I’ve, I’ve got something in my eye). Now go ahead, put in your bid; there now, don’t you feel better? You’re doing the right thing!
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There's an old quote which goes something like: "One drives a Bentley, one is driven in a Rolls, and one presents a Delage to one's mistress." As for me, I'll stick to my Lincoln. You'll find my byline at Autoguide.com, Crankshaft, Old Cars Weekly, and sundry other publications.
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