1985 Cadillac Eldorado Commemorative Edition: Class Act

The 1979 to 1985 Cadillac Eldorado was downsizing done right. So many times, when emission standards, fuel economy and plain, simple customer tastes change, the results can sometimes be…awkward. But in the late ’70s, GM had it down pat, thanks to Design VP Bill Mitchell.

Mitchell was one of the best. He took over as head of GM Design when Harley Earl retired in 1958. But Mitchell was an old hand by then. He’d been with GM for decades, and produced some great designs decades before he was awarded the helm.

40 Sixty Special

1940 Cadillac Sixty Special. Owned by Bob Bennett.

The 1938 Cadillac Sixty Special was Mitchell’s first bona fide hit. Its fresh styling and clean good looks, albeit closely supervised by Earl, was a revolution.

61 Cadillac

1961 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Photo courtesy Jayson Coombes.

He always had a knack for clean, attractive design. Think Sixties Cadillacs, for instance. Coupe de Villes, Eldorados, Fleetwood limousines, and the like. But when regulations started to ramp up, he was not fond of the alleged progress. He loved doing classy, big cars.

1977 Cadillac Sedan de Ville. Photo Courtesy Jayson Coombes.

But despite his famous quote that “Doing a small car is like tailoring a dwarf”, those first downsized General Motors cars were attractive, starting in 1977 with the B- and C-body full-size cars. Then in 1978, the midsize cars came next, along with the A-Special Monte Carlo, Cutlass Supreme, Regal and Grand Prix.

In 1979, it was the personal luxury cars’ turn-The Cadillac Eldorado, Buick Riviera and Oldsmobile Toronado. And while they clearly were smaller, they looked great. And buyers responded.

One thing I liked about these cars is Cadillac didn’t do any changes just for the sake of change. As a result, the same clean lines persisted right to the final model year of 1985. Sure, grilles, tail lights and upholstery styles changes, but nothing drastic.

Yes, they looked good right to the end. Round Two of downsizing was about to begin, and the personal-lux cars were going to be drastically shrunken. But to celebrate the current Eldorado, a special edition was announced: The Commemorative Edition.

Announced towards the end of the 1985 model year, it celebrated the success of the 1979-85 Eldorados. According to my Encyclopedia of American Cars From 1930, 2,463 Commemorative Edition examples were produced. This fine example is owned by Steven Aaron, and has only 27,400 miles on the odometer.

Special features of the Commemorative Edition included:

  • Choice of Commodore Blue or Cotillion White paint
  • Two-tone navy/white leather seating with matching door panels
  • Factory gold package, which included the hood ornament, deck lid wreath and crest and all Cadillac and Eldorado emblems
  • Special pinstriping: gold/white on blue cars and gold/blue on white cars
  • Commemorative Edition C-pillar emblem, steering wheel badging and center cap emblems

The standard Eldorado coupe based at $20,931. Despite being in its sixth model year, sales were still healthy, with a total of 74,101 coupes and 2,300 convertibles made.

The Eldorado Biarritz was still available too, and the Eldorado Touring Coupe for those desiring some sport with their Broughamage. All rode a 114″ wheelbase.

Standard engine was, like most 1985 Cadillacs, the 4.1L V8, with 135 horsepower. Though demand was not what it had been earlier in the decade, the 5.7L diesel V8 remained on the option list.

Steve’s car was sold new in Merrillville, Indiana, and has just about every option, for a grand total of $27,958. The Commemorative Package alone was a $1478 option.

This particular car is a little unusual in that it has an Astroroof and painted metal roof-or a ‘slick top’ as they’re commonly called.

Many of the Commemorative Edition coupes came with the full cabriolet roof option instead. But I think it looks better without the top on it. Smoother.

Interesting thing about this car, it was originally found by Robert Reed, who owns the triple white 1985 Fleetwood Brougham coupe I wrote about earlier this year. Steve drove it, but it wasn’t the right time for another car then, so it went to another new owner. Four years later, he contacted Robert to let him know he was selling it. Robert called Steve, and he immediately got it! Pretty cool to have a second chance at “the one that got away!”

Needless to say, this Eldorado is a permanent part of the collection now. Special thanks to him for taking these most excellent pictures, and sharing the car’s story!

18 Replies to “1985 Cadillac Eldorado Commemorative Edition: Class Act”

  1. AvatarJohn C.

    These are very attractive. The first picture shows how vertical the C pillar was on this generation. It is interesting that this styling touch was already in place while Mitchel was still at the helm. Too bad the 86-87 Eldos were such duds stylistically. The 88 is such a homage to the 79-85 that if it replaced it directly, I think the shock of the downsizing could have been avoided.

    Interesting also that the top of the line Eldo with so many expensive options was still so far below even the base prices of such imports as the 528e and the w123 300D. When you are not being considered by half the market in their import only coastal exclaves, you have to discount to move the metal in the heartland. No wonder the Mark VII was a Fairmont. It was only GM that persevered with a unique platform through till 1992.Thanks Tom.

    Reply
  2. Avatardejal

    “Doing a small car is like tailoring a dwarf”

    That explains a lot. A one trick pony whose lack of talent other than one specific area contributed mightily to GMs problems. These ARE nice cars. Too bad many of the cars(the smaller – small cars) further down the food chain weren’t. The 70s H and 80s X bodys come to mind. If he was responsible for the Caddys, he was also responsible for these abominations.

    Reply
  3. Avatarstingray65

    Beautiful looking car, but GM should have never abandoned the big block 425 until they had the Northstar ready. This Eldorado with 135 HP consequently becomes a very nice looking joke. The reason this and the 1977 downsizing work so well stylistically is because they are still large cars – they can only be considered dwarfs when compared to a 747. Roger Smith should have had the guts to let Cadillac keep their large cars and large engines, and say SCREW CAFE, Caddie owners would have been happy to pay gas guzzler taxes to keep their Caddies they way they should be.

    Reply
    • AvatarCarmine

      I don’t know if using the 425/368 until 1993 would have been the best option(Cadillac did still offer the 368 in limousines and commercial chassis cars through 1984) but there were probably better solutions that could have worked better for Cadillac. Cadillac did have Oldsmobiles excellent 350 that they added fuel injection too for use in the 76-79 Sevilles and 79 Eldorado, that on its own would have worked with the rest of Cadillacs line up until say, letting the alloy engines get a couple more years in the oven, until 4.5-4.9 engines would have come out, skipping the 4100’s all together.

      Reply
  4. Avatarpdq

    I loved the ’79-85 Eldorados. The Rivieras were beautifully styled as well. The Toronados…..meh!

    My dad had an ’81 Eldorado Biarritz in black with red leather and Touring Suspension package. It didn’t stop worth a damn, but it was a nice ride.

    Reply
  5. AvatarCJinSD

    For some reason I’ve always liked these in spite of finding their rooflines repulsive. I don’t understand all the styling praise for what is a fundamentally awkward and off-putting design, but I always enjoyed riding in these when they were new. I don’t know if I’d have enjoyed driving one as much as I liked being driven in them as a child. Cadillac seemed to think that what was selling diesel Mercedes was their acceleration times. Even the Oldsmobile and 368 powered ones were far from fast, but the HT4100s were glacial. People blame the mysterious 1986 price increase and bland styling for killing the Eldorado, but how much of it really came down to people who had bought HT4100 and V8-6-4 Eldorados not having the stomach for buying another?

    http://testdrivejunkie.com/1979-cadillac-eldorado-test-drive/

    Reply
    • AvatarCarmine

      From the 1979 road test of an Oldsmobile engined one in Car and Driver, these would bang out about a 9-9.5 second 0-60 time in 1979, which was pretty damn good in 1979 a comparable V8 Mercedes was about the same.

      Reply
      • AvatarCJinSD

        I didn’t realize what a big step backwards the 368 actually was! I guess this explains why people with the Oldsmobile engines emphasize their presence in their used car ads. It’s certainly unusual for GM that they launched this Eldorado with a strong performing engine only to clip its wings soon after. It seems more typical for GM to only fortify the mechanical aspects of their cars once everyone has stopped paying attention, like with the forth generation Seville, the Allante, the C4 Corvette, the Fiero, the third generation F-bodies… You’d think they’d have learned that the key to record sales is having the best possible product when you have the most attention on said product.

        Reply
      • Avatarpdq

        Hmmm…..I’m not sure where C&D got that number.

        http://www.automobile-catalog.com/make/cadillac/eldorado_1979-1985/eldorado_1979-1985_hardtop/1979.html

        This shows the ’79 Eldo diesel at 15.6 sec. 0-60, the 350 fuel injected gasoline motor at 11 sec and the V8-6-4 368 cid engine in an ’81 Eldorado at 12.7 sec.

        My parents owned a ’79 Seville Diesel, an ’81 Eldorado Biarritz w/the V8-6-4 and an ’84 bustleback Seville with the HT-4100. Neighbors owned a ’76 Seville w/fuel injected 350 cid V8. My observations:

        * The ’76 Seville on cold start would – if you didn’t have your foot firmly on the brake when you put it in reverse – chirp the tires as it rocketed out of the garage. It had respectable acceleration from a standing stop, but it wasn’t going to pin you in your seat.
        * The ’79 Seville Diesel was surprisingly spunky, especially with one person in the car and an empty trunk. It wouldn’t win any races, but it had way more git-up and go than a 300D and it made much less of a fuss when you got on the accelerator than the 300D Turbodiesel. The problem with the 350 Olds diesel (at least in the Seville) was that GM used the THM-350 transmission rather than the THM-400 and the lighter duty tranny couldn’t take the torque of the V8 diesel motor. The injectors and the fuel pump was also not the most reliable. My dad gave it to my mom at about 60,000 miles and they got rid of it several years later at about 97,000 miles.
        * The Eldorado with the V8-6-4 was a nice driving car. It never was about being first off the line at a green light. It wasn’t leisurely, but it wasn’t a rocket ship either. The problem with that engine was the V8-6-4 system. If you deactivated it and made the car full time V8, you would likely be fine. If not, 4 cylinders got way more wear than the other four and the motor didn’t last for sh*t. Dad had to have the dealership rebuild the motor at 21,000 miles under warranty and he got rid of it at about 72,000 miles after three years of use before it could crap out on him again.
        * The ’84 Seville with HT-4100 was just an ugly piece of sh*t. Period. End of discussion.

        Reply
        • AvatarCarmine

          Don’t know where that site got its numbers, but seeing as how its barely in English, I’ll take that info with a grain of salt. My info however is from the May 1979 issue of Car & Driver which is in my hands right now showing 0-60 for a 1979 Eldorado of 9.8 seconds and a quarter mile of 17.9 @ 82mph with a top speed of 108mph.

          For comparison a Mercedes 450SLC (2 seater) would bang out a 17.5 quarter, a 12 cylinder XJS, 16.4 and XJ6, 18.4 and BMW 733i, 17.1.

          But, I’ll go ahead and throw this all out for your 40 year old anecdotal evidence……..

          Reply
          • Avatarpdq

            Thanks Carmine, that’s ever so kind. By the way, the 450SLC (C107) you mentioned was a 4 seater coupe, not a 2 seater. The 450SL (R107) was a 2 seater roadster. And those are facts, not anecdotes.

          • AvatarCarmine

            Ok ya got me, its a C with a small rear seat, that is a fact, the rest of your details as to “how fast late 70’s Cadillacs felt” is just that, anecdotes and none of them were about a 1979 Eldorado, which did do 0-60 in 9.8 seconds, they were about 81’s and diesel and 1976 Sevilies and 4100 cars.

  6. Thomas KreutzerThomas Kreutzer

    Great looking car. Very similar to the 84 Cutlass Supreme my dad owned. There is a lot to be said for simple design and clear lines. I miss these sorts of cars.

    Reply
  7. AvatarGlenn Kramer

    This was Mitchell at his best. Downsized, but still keeping the Cadillac “look”. Compare it to the Mark VI, the Lincoln comes off as “downsized, we had to do it”, while the Cadillac looks, well, just elegant. In fact, I have always thought that the Eldorado would have made a better Mark VI than the real Mark VI, just apply Lincoln emblems and a few mild styling touches and it’s a winner.

    Reply
  8. AvatarDirt Roads

    I had a ’94 Eldo NS and I really thought it was a good-looking car. It just fell apart and lost value as fast as I was paying it off. *shrug*

    Never liked the aluminum block Caddy engine, but the car was sure comfy.

    Reply

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