Savannah Postcard (5)

We are looking an E-body car, a twelfth generation Cadillac Eldorado.

With the benefit of hindsight and also seen at the time, the transformation of the 1986 Eldorado into the 1991 really must have been a socker. For almost twenty years the Eldorado sported a formal, near-vertical rear window. Then in 1991 Cadillac asked its customers to take in the visual drama of a near-vertical DLO contrasted with a 45-degree rear screen. Formally, it was a daring and rather sophisticated way to unite the privacy suggested by a vertical DLO and the more dynamic profile of the newly raked rear screen.

Here’s the immediate predecessor, one of the Irv Rybicki cars, looking eerily like something from Buick or Chevrolet. You can see the near-vertical trailing edge of the DLO, a trait carried over to the next generation.

1986 Cadillaco Eldorado (source). Factoid: “Rear suspension used a single fiberglass transverse leaf spring for its fully independent rear end.”

The rear deck is also raised relative to the line of the bonnet. That feature also survived in the later car. The 1991 Eldo gained a sleeker bonnet and A-pillar profile and also appeared lower, chunkier, more agile. For this reason the grille lost the entasis and the egg-box slots became wider and lower – it was about emphasising width. The oblong lamps helped here too.

Cadillac retained some subtle charasteristics typical of the brand. Yes, the vertical rear lamps are graphically as you’d expect. Cadillac’s designers set the bootlid slightly underflush relative to the wings and allowed a small strip of body-coloured finish to end the base of the lamps – a little touch that would have been deleted in the Roger Smith years. The same goes at the front. Less chrome gave the car a more restrained character.

Overall, the 1991 Eldorado has more volume and mass than the predecessor. In isolation the 1986 seems worthy enough – tinsel, formality, solidity and a plush interior. The 1991 car however could suggest a spirted drive on a winding road. The previous one suggested trips between brasseries and offices on Manhattan or sedate jaunts to the golf course or country club.

In direct comparison with the 1991 car, you can see how much heftier the twelfth generation is. Unlike the earlier cars it does not look visually linked to any of the cheaper GM brands – it is properly visually distinguished, referring all the way back to the landmark 1967 car without being a pastiche.

Some of the detailing shows how the Cadillac character was imbued such as below, the A-pillar and front wing where a ridge develops from the lamp and increases in relief until it intersects with the A-pillar. This kind of feature produces a formal contast to the crown on the main surfaces.

If you look at the right side of the car you can see the crest of that ridge catches the light. The grille is joined to the bonnet and cuts into the front bumper. A little chrome garnish politely stops so as to emphasise the grille’s depth.

I paused to look at this car for some considerable time before a guy approached me and said hi. (I hadn’t seen an Eldo for more than 20 years – fleetingly, near Chantilly one winter’s morning). The chap was the owner. We had a pleasant chat about the car, that V8. In his several years of ownership he had precisely no problem with the vehicle. It was his second Eldo; on the highway he commended the low-speed pick-up and the relaxed nature at cruising speed. It’s always nice to meet cars’ owners and find out how they experience the vehicles. We both agreed it was a nice bit of styling (which was what attracted him to the car).

Pretty much nobody likes this car: (source)

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

27 thoughts on “Savannah Postcard (5)”

  1. Good morning, Richard. I’ve had a bit of a soft spot for this Cadillac for a while now. I see one at least a couple of time every year at the Saturday Night Cruise in The Hague. The car below was for sale, but found a new owner in August. It’s one of the less popular cars there, and now it has a new owner I hope it’s not the the last I’ve seen of it.

  2. The massing of the rear pillar is, I think, supposed to echo the massing of the first FWD Eldorado, the ’67. But, to me, it seems just a bit ‘off’. I don’t know exactly what it is, the c pillar leading edge is too vertical, and the slope of the rear glass is too shallow? I don’t know but it always looked to me a bit ‘lumpen’ Something a little photo-shop could sort out perhaps.

    Maybe there is a need for a better defined waistline?

    1. For me the angle of the trailing edge of the side glass and the slope of the rear screen are balanced. I also like the implication of a waistline rather than it being spelled out with a “cat walk”. Had they defined the waistline they´d be back doing another ´67. Freerk´s photos are way nicer than mine. I need a new pocket digital.

  3. Hi Richard, thank you very much for the postcard. Now i want go check the interiors, and dream a little bit about a 500km possible nice ride in the us. Of this type of car, what else was available in the us at that time?

    1. You could have a late-model Lincoln Mk7 or a cheaper 1989-1997 Mercury Cougar, the penultimate Buick Riviera (if you wanted to keep a formal roofline), a 1992 Lexus SC430 or something from BMW like a 600-series (just out of production), or a Mercedes E280, or maybe a 1986-1992 Olds Toronado.

    2. I like this Eldorado and I agree with almost everybody else here: it looks like a Cadillac, while its predecessor looked like any GM “product”. I like the Seville STS, too. But I think the Eldo had nothing to do against the Lexus SC: even prettier, a lot better built, more reliable (GM´s Northstar didn´t have the best reputation) and I believe the SC was a little bit cheaper.

  4. I am looking now at the caddilac ct5 😦 it seems a mazda in the front and to have an inverted t volvo lamp in the back.

  5. Good morning Richard. Like Freerk, I am also a fan of the 1991 Eldorado. It has the gravitas and heft one expects from a ‘proper’ Cadillac, unlike its undistinguished and GM-generic predecessor. Is the example you photographed sitting a little too low on its wheels?

    Some versions of this model carry a lot of brightwork, but it really doesn’t need it and looks better without:

    This (final) generation of Eldorado was deservedly long-lived, remaining on the market for over a decade.

  6. GM cars from the 1980s look so small, or more accurately, shrunken. It was quite a surprise for me to see one of these cars in a parking lot and realize that these are still very large cars, competing in size with the European F-segment. The problem was not with the size, but with the extremely unfortunate combination of styling elements and proportions. A long hood, heavily sloping windshield, short cabin and vertical rear window, plus a short trunk. All of this gave the impression that these cars were parodies of earlier American highway cruisers. In the 1990s, these downsized designs finally got styling to match their overall size and scale. Modest changes, as in this eldorado, made these cars really nice and elegant again. At the same time, they are not at all much larger than their predecessors, although they look much, much bigger. Similarly to Eldorado, DeVille also was saved by new styling put on downsized underpinnings. I must say that early 90’s caddy’s were one of the best in terms of looks.

  7. GM cars from the 1980s look small, or more accurately, shrunken. It was quite a surprise for me to see one of these cars in a parking lot and realize that these are still very large cars, competing in size with the European F-segment. The problem was not with the size, but with the extremely unfortunate combination of styling elements and proportions. A long hood, heavily sloping windshield, short cabin and truncated rear window, plus a short trunk. All of this gave the impression that these cars were parodies of earlier American highway cruisers. In the 1990s, these downsized designs finally got styling to match their overall size and scale. Relatively modest changes, as in this eldorado, made these cars really nice and elegant again. At the same time, they are not at all that much larger than their predecessors, although they look much bigger. DeVille is even better example.

    1. Alot of the two-door cars look like the front half of a big car with a very wrong-looking back half stuck on at the b-pillar. In many cases US designers couldn´t work with front drive and couldn´t work with “small”. An 1980s S-class is smaller than many full-size American cars but is properly proportioned; ditto their even smaller cars. The Eldo here is one of the first US modern cars that is not grossly dimensioned and also reasonably proportioned.

  8. I rather like this iteration of the Eldorado: it has a gravitas that its immediate predecessor (for example) lacked. It works best in minimal form as here, though: the version with half vinyl roof and extra brightwork in Richard’s Curbside classic link is pretty nasty.

    1. Hi Michael, I agree with you regarding Curbside Classic: the GTC garnishes are all really nasty and despoil a handsome shape. Choosing that version made the negative critique much easier.

    1. Entasis refers to gentle curvature used to make parallel lines look “correct”. It was used on the columns of the Parthenon to make them look parallel and to adjust the way the thicknkess of the columns was perceived. The entasis on the Cadillac´s grille is quite exaggerated in comparison to the subtle deviation from parallel one can measure on the Parthenon and other, later classical columns.

  9. The online dictionary definition of entasis being:

    A slight convexity or swelling, as in the shaft of a column, intended to compensate for the illusion of concavity resulting from straight sides

    Gosh, what a splendid looking vehicle, never before seen by these eyes. There’s a solidity, a conforming rationale about this eldorado. The details are pleasingly different. Very much a DTW car and great to hear you met the owner. And that he likes the car. Popular thinking doesn’t necessarily mean correct. Perhaps most interesting the fact were talking more of this old motor than the ones featured in Eoin’s fourth postcard from yesterday. The future looks bleak.

  10. Much appreciate you bringing some attention (love?) to this oft-overlooked bit of GM magic. Happen to think it well balanced – between past and future, sedate and dynamic. Moving Cadillac owners from the golf course to something more vibrant was not an easy charge, one they are still wrasseling with, but this was a good early step. Its not fully resolved, there are some bits and proportions that are a bit off, but they also speak to the past, to the heritage, which they chose to bring along and tweak/incorporate, rather than ignore. So while its not quite perfection, it is a solid effort and a good statement.

    1. David, last three iterations (going back to 1980). However the Seville was re-engineered in 1992 (different rear suspension, CAN bus electronics, body structure, increased wheelbase) and again in 1998 (moved to “G-body” platform shared with Aurora and Riviera, claimed 25hz resonant frequency), so 1991 was the last year where that statement would be strictly correct.

  11. Good memories of tooling around town in a friend’s ETC. In black, the limited brightwork stands out much more distinctively compared to the white example in the picture. Comfortable and fast and as stated above, oozing confidence without brashness or imperiousness. My second favorite car of his, behind the DTC he replaced it with…

    1. Yes, you’re correct, the sporty version of the Sedan DeVille. Though his was a 2002, equipped with night vision and massaging seats

    2. I have to say it was not one of Cadillac´s top-thirty great designs: sharp in the middle with rounded ends. It reminds me in a conceptual way of the last Ford Scorpio, another car with a carry-over centre section and the wrong ends front and back.

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