TTAC Flashback: 1983 Eldorado Biarritz

December 1, 2022 1:46 PM

For generations of drivers, a Cadillac Eldorado was the ultimate expression of prestige and luxury. If you drove one, you were a rich person and good taste.

However, Eldorados eventually became too much of a good thing. The 1971-1978 model was a symphony in baroque excess. Of course, the 500-cubic-inch V8 under an aircraft carrier cockpit-sized hood and Elvis-friendly interior have their charms. But incredible mass and a massive hunger for fuel meant they were doomed to extinction.

Fuel efficiency standards and emissions requirements dictated that the next Eldorado, which hit the scene for the 1979 model year, would embody a rationalized kind of excess. If not exactly European, it was at least a small side step in that direction. Mr. and Mrs. Cadillac Buyer accepted better fuel economy and less mass, so long as they had a plush place to plant their butts.

Based on GM’s front-wheel drive E-body platform (shared with Buick and Olds), the 1979-1985 Eldorado lost nearly a half-ton from its previous incarnation. It retained a body-on-frame design for superior road noise isolation and for the first time the Eldorado, or a production Cadillac, featured fully independent suspension. Four-wheel disc brakes were also standard.

Cadillac was inventive with powertrains; no 500 cubic inch samples here. Instead, the 1979-1985 Eldorado would be offered with three different gasoline V8s, a diesel V8 and a gasoline V6 during its production run. The largest of these displaced 6.0 liters – or less. That engine used an early form of cylinder deactivation and could run 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 the rocker arms, keeping the valves closed to the correct cylinders. 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 traffic, and the system didn’t always work smoothly, and sometimes it didn’t work at all. However, the engine would run like a normal V8 with throttle body fuel injection after disconnecting one wire.

It is beyond the scope of this short piece to dissect every aspect of the powertrains used by Cadillac in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Suffice it to say; there were considerable teething problems. But yesterday’s technology makes for a compelling conversation today.

The Eldorado’s styling remained unequivocally Cadillac. The signature grille was even more pronounced than before, and the car’s side profile was sharp, interrupted by a swift windshield slope and a formal roofline. Wire wheels and whitewall tires were still present, but alloy wheels were also available. A nice styling touch was the stainless steel roof on the Biarritz models. That option was reminiscent of the 1950s Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham—a luxury car with specs so hedonistic that modern Rolls-Royce models looked spartan. Part vinyl or full “carriage” roofs mimicking a convertible style were there to satisfy the traditionalists, but a slicktop could be ordered by the more sporty Eldorado buyer. A factory-approved convertible built by an outside company represented a true resurrection; everyone thought the convertible died in 1976, never to return.

The cockpit was no longer as baroque as before, but it was still more of a gin palace than a beer garden. Leather interiors seem to have been preferred, based on surviving Eldorados seen by this writer, but cloth was available. The upholstery was heavily tufted or pleated, depending on trim level.

Instrument panels were decidedly Detroit; not too many meters to distract from the lavish use of bright finishes and real woodgrain panel material. Still, no one wanted the convenience. There was efficient climate control, power seats and windows, reading lights and options that were very sophisticated in the early 1980s, such as a driver’s seat position memory or a three-channel garage door opener.

Why this car

Today’s “premium” cars simply don’t look premium: they all emerged from the “lifted running shoe” design school and are too often painted in muted tones that exude nothing but innocence. It doesn’t get much better inside. Dull colors and a HUGE touchscreen don’t make a special environment. I admit, Genesis seems to understand luxurious elegance in a way that Cadillac and other luxury brands have largely forgotten. But even that worthy Korean brand falls short when it comes to personal luxury coupes.

The personality of this striking Autumn Maple Firemist Eldorado, on the other hand, hasn’t been neutered one iota. The Eldorados raison d’être looks dramatic and offers sumptuous comfort for two in the front and enough room for a few intruders in the back. It really doesn’t matter 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 stunned by Tesla Bros shouting how awesome it is). What is that, do you think diamond quilted leather is classy? Check out the dark crimson, button-tufted hides in this Caddy; that’s stylish! Of course, the plush carpet matches; why wouldn’t it?

Now this particular Eldo is driving Cadillac’s 4100 cc “High Technology” V8. The early versions of the mill earned the nickname “Milkshake Motor” for their habit of emulsifying coolant and oil into a chocolatey slime. Keep up with maintenance and throw a few anti-leak tablets in the cooling system, and this Eldo probably won’t leave you alone. This writer has a good friend who regularly uses his HT4100 powered Cads for trips across the country. He praises their smoothness, fuel efficiency and reliability.

Whine about smaller dimensions (compared to the previous Eldorado) as much as you like. Featuring a fully independent suspension, “digital” fuel injection, automatic overdrive (starting in 1982), an on-board computer, and numerous mechanical refinements, the 1979-1985 Eldorado combined 1980s technology with traditional Cad luxury. The cars still have what it takes to live up to a name that means ‘The Gilded One’.

Things to Look for When Buying a 1983 Cadillac Eldorado

It is a fact that the HT4100 V8 can be fragile and for the 1983 model it was the only petrol V8 available in the Eldo. Check for maintenance records, low mileage and smooth running. When inspecting the car, remove the oil cap and inspect for emulsified coolant and oil; do the same with the dipstick. Don’t expect fast acceleration from an HT4100, but the car should start smoothly and the transmission should work unobtrusively.

Other powertrains offered in 10th generation Eldorados (and there was a surprising variety) were a bit more robust, especially the conventional 5.7-litre V8 petrol engine. The V8-6-4, with its early cylinder deactivation system, is nothing to fear. Many still work, and if they don’t, just pull one wire in the engine bay and it will run on all eight cylinders all the time.

The diesel engine option can be made good with modern head bolts and a quality water separator – but that will cost some money. Truly thrifty buyers could opt for a 4.1-liter V6 of Buick pedigree. Fun fact, at 252 cubic inches, the curved six displaced two cubic inches more than the 250 cubic inch HT4100 V8.

There are a lot 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 seats with memory and a remote garage door openers. Check them all for functionality. Repair or replacement can trigger migraines.

To sum it up

Anyone making snide comments about the drivetrain or any other part of this Caddy is just jealous; buy it and slip away to Biarritz whenever you want. Your reward is a driving experience that frees you from the vulgarities of aggressive driving – pure bliss.

TTAC review

TTAC Throwback is a series dedicated to cars that we think deserve the ownership of someone who really loves them. Imagine Sarah McLachlan singing In the arms of an angel as the camera pans past a deserving car up for adoption, desperately hoping it won’t be recycled into a Nissan Versa (I’ve got, I’ve got something in my eye). Go ahead, make your offer; there now, don’t you feel better? You are doing the right thing!

[Images: eBay/Seller]

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