The Eldorado model was part of the Cadillac line from 1953 to 2002. The Cadillac Eldorado was the longest running American personal luxury car as it was the only one sold after the 1998 model year. Its main competitors included the Mark Series and the lower-priced Buick Riviera. The name Eldorado was derived from the Spanish words "el dorado", the "gilded one"; the name was given originally to the legendary chief or "cacique" of a S. American Indian tribe. Legend has it that his followers would sprinkle his body with gold dust on ceremonial occasions and he would wash it off again by diving into a lake. The name more frequently refers to a legendary city of fabulous riches, somewhere in S. America, that inspired many European expeditions, including one to the Orinoco by England's Sir Walter Raleigh.
The name was proposed for a special show car built in 1952 to mark Cadillac's Golden Anniversary; it was the result of an in-house competition won by Mary-Ann Zukosky (married name = Marini), a secretary in the company's merchandising department. Another source, Palm Springs Life magazine, attributes the name to a resort destination in California's Coachella Valley that was a favorite of General Motors executives, the Eldorado Country Club. In any case, the name was adopted by the company for a new, limited-edition convertible that was added to the line in 1953.
Although cars bearing the name varied considerably in bodystyle and mechanical layout during this long period, the Eldorado models were always near the top of the Cadillac line. Nevertheless, and except for the Eldorado Brougham models of 1957-1960, the most expensive models were always the opulent, long wheel-based "Series 75" sedans and limousines.
For 1979, a new, trimmer Eldorado was introduced, and for the first time the car shared its chassis with the Buick Riviera as well as the Toronado. Smaller 350 and 368 inÂ³ (5.7 and 6.0 L) V8's replaced the 500 and 425 inÂ³ (8.2 and 7.0 L) of the preceding model, giving better fuel efficiency. For 1979, it was offered only with the Oldsmobile 350 as standard, then in 1980 this was replaced with the Cadillac 368 (see below for this engine's origins). For California only, the Olds 350 was retained for 1980. In both the 1980 Seville and Eldorado (which shared their frames), the 368s in 1980 came with DEFI, whereas for the larger RWD Cadillacs, the 368 only came with a 4-barrel Quadrjet carburetor. Independent rear suspension was adopted, helping retain rear-seat and trunk room in the smaller body. The most notable styling touch was an extreme notchback roofline, making the rear window almost vertical. The Eldorado Biarritz model resurrected the stainless-steel roof concept from the first Brougham. Although downsized, these Eldorados were still substantial-sized cars with good room and power.
An unfortunate interlude occurred in 1981, when Cadillac's disastrous V8-6-4 variable displacement engine was installed. This powerplant, controlled by a new and elaborate electronic monitoring system, was supposed to inactivate some cylinders when full power was not needed, helping meet GM's obligations under the government fuel economy standards. Unfortunately it did not work as planned, and sometimes it did not work at all. It was a reduced bore version of the 1968 model-year 472, sharing that engine's stroke and also that of the model-year 1977-1979 425 (note: the new small 1979 Eldorado did not use the 425, only the Oldsmobile-sourced 350). The engine itself was extremely rugged and durable, but the complex electronics were the source of customer complaints. Nevertheless, the Eldorado's reputation was not permanently hurt, and sales rose to unprecedented heights, nearly 100,000 units by 1984, an astonishing volume for one of the most expensive models available.
Another disastrous engine option was the 350 ci Oldsmobile Diesel, first offered in 1979. Designed as a specific block, rather than a sleeved gasoline conversion, the engine was plagued with problems - drivers were unfamiliar with diesel vehicles (e.g. not waiting for glowplug warmup), and the head bolts were inadequate for the 22:1 compression design, leading to frequent head gasket failures. Subsequent revisions to the block and heads improved things, and the engine was de-rated from 120 hp to 105 hp by 1981. The history of these multiple failures frequently resulted in dealer-provided gasoline-conversions of those vehicles, and the option was dropped by 1985.
Of all Eldorados, this generation can claim to be the best suited to the market and the times.