When Cadillac introduced the new — and downsized for the second time — ’86 Eldorado, the response from traditional Cadillac buyers was a thumping thumbs down. So serious was the revolt that total Eldo model year output plummeted from 76,401 units in 1985 (the seventh and last year of that design cycle) to a mere 22,842 in 1986 — down a whopping 70 percent.
The problem, obvious from day one, was that GM’s prestige division had taken downsizing one step too far, at least in the eyes of Cadillac traditionalists. The Eldorado — which in 1979 had been downsized 12.4 inches in wheelbase (from 126.3 inches) and 1114 pounds in weight (from 4906 pounds) — was suddenly reduced to a 108-inch wheelbase and a svelte 3365 pounds for ’86. To put that into perspective, remember that Ford’s highly successful 1960 compact Falcon spanned a 109.5-inch wheelbase, (though it weighed a half-ton less than the ’86 Eldo). The new Caddy’s dimensions were, in a word, underwhelming. At 188.2 inches overall it measured only seven inches longer than that same Falcon. Buyers simply wouldn’t stand for it — no matter that the smaller Eldo was touted as “the driving spirit of Cadillac … designed for people who would rather drive than ride.”
And indeed, this probably was the best driving Caddy yet, along with the similar four-door Seville. But as the Auto Editors of CONSUMER GUIDE noted in 50 Years of American Automobiles 1939-1989, “Sadly, these cars proved even bigger sales disasters than [the subcompact] Cimarron…. The reasons were obvious enough: bland styling that was too close to that of GM’s much cheaper N-body compacts [such as the Pontiac Grand Am], which began arriving the previous year, and dimensions that just weren’t impressive enough for the cars’ regular clientele…. Worse, workmanship slipped badly due to equipment problems at the highly automated new Detroit-Hamtramck plant dedicated solely to E/K production [Buick Riviera, Olds Toronado, Seville, and Eldorado].”
Alas, there was nothing to do but soldier on, so the ’87 Eldorado received only minor suspension tweaks. For 1988, however, Cadillac tried to rectify its styling mistake via time-honored methods, such as a bolder grille and new squared-up lower-body sheetmetal that stretched overall length by three inches at the rear (to 191.2 inches) — shades of the ’50s. These changes were pushed through in record time, an admission that Cadillac was aware of the severity of the problem.
Still, Cadillac had no choice but to continue with the same bodyshell and the limitations that brought, but that didn’t stop GM’s luxury division from improving the breed. Happier developments included the first-time availability of antilock brakes and a more potent engine. Actually, the latter had been a sore point, because the aluminum 4.1 V-8 was underpowered when introduced, although a decided improvement over the troublesome diesels and V-8-6-4s Cadillac had peddled previously. Further, the 4.1 was exclusive to Cadillac — no divisional sharing here — and, as time has gone by, this engine has turned out to be one of the division’s strong points. It started out at 130/135 horsepower in 1983, but in 1988 it went to 4.5 liters and 155 bhp, and in 1990 higher 9.5:1 compression and multi-point fuel injection boosted output to a more responsive 180 horses at 4300 rpm and 240 lbs/ft torque at a low 2400 rpm.
The stage was thus set for a new Touring Coupe. Actually, it’s surprising that it hadn’t been reincarnated earlier, but Cadillac apparently wanted to wait until the power ratings were more appropriate for a “touring” model. This certainly made more sense than in 1982-85, when all the right changes — firmer suspension, upgraded tires, deluxe interior, etc. — were made except for power.
Though the revived mid-’90 Touring Coupe shared its engine with other Cadillacs, it came with a higher-performance rear axle ratio. The 3.31:1 gearing helped the new Eldo sprint from 0-60 mph in nine seconds flat, and Cadillac claimed a top speed of 125 mph as well. Setting the limited-edition TC apart were a retuned suspension featuring a 16-mm rear stabilizer bar, revised steering ratio, and 16×7-inch forged aluminum wheels shod with Goodyear Eagle GT+4 P215/60R16 tires. The power four-wheel disc brakes were enhanced with a standard Teves anti-lock brake system.
On the inside, the TC boasted special seats with side bolsters offering more lateral support, a plus for spirited driving. The full-leather seats included six-way adjustability, power recliner, and power lumbar supports. Rear seats were specifically trimmed for the TC and sported integral headrests. The only interior color offered was a medium birchwood, complemented by an extra dose of birdseye maple on the dash and console. In line with its role as the sporty Caddy, bright trim moldings were deleted in lieu of more European-style monotone trim. Cadillac was also quick to trumpet that Thaxton carpeting was used, though partially hidden by matching floor mats. A nice touch was the Electrochromic rear view mirror, which darkened automatically to reduce glare.
Outside, the Touring Coupe was distinguished by black-out trim, a grille-mounted wreath and crest (rather than a stand-up hood ornament), modified “export” taillamps, and body-colored door handles and mirrors. Also noticeable were cloisonne C-pillar and decklid emblems, specific lower-body moldings, and dual muffler chrome tailpipes. Five colors were listed: Cotillion White, Sable Black, Black Sapphire, Medium Slate Gray, and Crimson. The last was an exceptionally bright hue, clearly intended to announce that this was no “old man’s car.”
All in all, the Touring Coupe was a well-thought-out and nicely integrated package (it wasn’t officially a separate model). To acquire a TC, one bought the base Eldorado for $28,855, added the $2952 TC package, and swallowed a $570 destination charge, for a total sticker price of $32,400. Options were few: Delco/Bose cassette radio or compact disc player, astro roof with express open feature, and a theft deterrent system with automatic door locks.
Cadillac’s 4.5-liter V-8 not only produced lots of power, it produced it at low speeds where it was most useful in everyday driving. Helped by that shorter final-drive ratio, the Touring Coupe felt lively accelerating from a standstill and pulled strongly to well over 60 mph, after which it began to lose its breath. Passing response was prompt and spirited, due in part to the transmissions timely downshifts out of overdrive to produce more power — it didn’t “hunt” in and out of overdrive in the 40-50-mph range as did many other cars. Full-throttle acceleration was accompanied by a husky, aggressive exhaust note, but the engine was quiet at cruising speeds. Though not intrusive, some tire noise and wind rustling around the side pillars was noticeable on the highway. The TC’s suspension was much firmer than that on the base Eldo, but ride quality wasn’t sacrificed for good handling. While one felt most bumps, there was little harshness on rough pavement. The suspension absorbed most of the impact, an improvement over previous Eldos with the optional touring suspension — every Eldo should have the firmer setup for stable and well-controlled highway cruising. While the steering was quick and responsive, it felt as though it should require a bit more effort at high speeds, and though the anti-lock brakes worked very well, the brake pedal felt a bit spongy.
One could argue that analog instruments would have been preferable to the digital display provided, but at least the instrument cluster was supplemented by a trip computer and a “Driver Information Center,” the latter to alert the driver in case of problems. Quality was also a high point — body panels lined up evenly and the doors closed snugly with little effort. The leather interior trim looked rich, although some of the dashboard trim looked cheap. However, there were no squeaks or rattles inside.
Cadillac’s personal luxury coupe gained added distinction for 1990 via its exterior and interior restyling. It also enjoyed the added power of the 4.5-liter Cadillac V-8. Five new colors for a total of 17 were available for the Eldorado. The new colors were light auburn, dark auburn, crimson (not available for Biarritz), medium slate gray, and dark slate gray. The 1990 Eldorado’s front end was revived by the use of new bumper molding, a body-color front valance panel and bumper guards changed to gray from body color.
The Eldorado’s side body appearance was altered by its new standard body molding and revised accent stripes. At the rear was found a new bumper molding, revised backup lamp lens, new license plate pocket, the relocation of the reflex to the rear-end panel and a new deck lid pull-down molding. A central door unlocking system was added to the optional automatic door lock opton. Turning the key in either door unlocked the door. Holding the key in turned position for 1.5 seconds unlocked the other door.
Three new Mayfair cloth colors, slate gray, antelope and garnet, for a total of four, were offered. Nine Sierra grain leather colors were available for the standard Eldorado. Among these were two new choices — slate gray and dark auburn. These colors plus black were available for the Sierra grain leather of the Biarritz, for a total of nine colors. Leather seating areas were now standard for the Biarritz. Both versions of the Eldorado had modified seating styles for 1990. The standard model had a seat cushion providing improved lateral and lumbar support. The seat back pockets were removed on the standard model. Both versions had new molded side panels. The optional leather seating area now included the power passenger seat recliner. A revised vinyl center front armrest and new carpeted rubber-backed floor mats with retention needles were also used.
The electronic climate control now had five instead of three fan speeds as well as three automatic and two manual settings. The S.I.R. driver’s side system was standard. A steering wheel with a smaller diameter and a thicker rim cross-section was installed. The telescoping feature was no longer used.
Suspension changes for 1990 involved a new direct-acting front stabilizer shaft for improved ride control and a standard ride and handling structural package. New 15 in. optional (not available on touring suspension) cast aluminum wheels were offered. Eight items that were optional in 1989 that were now standard for the 1990 Eldorado were side and deck lid accent striping, rear window defogger and heated outside mirrors, door edge guards, front and rear carpeted floor mats, illuminated entry system, leather seating area (Biarritz), illuminated vanity driver and passenger mirrors and a trunk mat.
The Eldorado Biarritz, Option Code YP3, was distinguished by its two-tone paint treatment (monotone was also available), formal cabriolet roof, opera lamps, “Biarritz” sail panel identification, wire wheel discs (cast aluminum snowflake wheels available), specific interior design, specific front bucket seats, bird’s eye maple appliques, power driver and passenger seat recliners, power lumbar support adjusters for driver and passenger seats and deluxe front and rear floor carpet mats.
Broadening the Eldorado’s market appeal was the introduction of the touring coupe model. Its Beachwood leather and bird’s-eye maple wood interior provided an ambiance that Cadillac said was “intentionally designed with fewer chrome appointments.” Other touring coupe features included an extra wide molding rocker pane, touring suspension, dual exhaust system, anti-lock braking system and forged aluminum wheels.
90-degree, overhead valve, V-8, aluminum block and cast iron cylinder liners, cast iron cylinder heads