1980-1989 Cadillac


Cadillac introduced a "baby Cadillac" -- the Seville -- in 1980. The 1984 Cadillac Seville is pictured here. See more pictures of the 1980-1989 Cadillacs.

Cadillac and the rest of General Motors began to lose their way in the 1980s, unable to keep up with an ever faster-changing world.

Slowly but surely, GM lost sales, income, and credibility through costly mistakes and wasteful distractions, many reflecting the self-absorbed complacency that often plagues giant companies and the people who run them.

Decisions made in the 1980s triggered a market-share slide that by the mid-2000s had GM is struggling to maintain a 20-percent share of U.S. car and truck sales, a far cry from the 40-50 percent it typically held in the salad days of the 1950s and 1960s. Cadillac's fall over the period was just as dramatic, from easily outselling all other luxury brands in the U.S. combined, to struggling to keep pace with Lexus and BMW.

How could GM, and Cadillac, fall so far? The reasons are many and varied, but most observers cite three main factors: a bloated bureaucracy that was slow to act and too-often wrong when it did; a stubborn "business as usual" attitude despite growing import-brand competition and other new market realities; and products that pleased GM managers more than consumers, who increasingly judged rival cars and trucks superior for style, quality and reliability

Cadillac in the 1980s was certainly wracked by the same forces afflicting the rest of the U.S. auto industry. Cadillac, however, was wounded more acutely, given the exalted heights from which it fell.

The undisputed prestige leader of America, and in some ways the envy of even the top European automakers, would be reduced in the 1980s to an automotive also-ran, with products and technology barely distinguishable from those of other GM divisions, and forced into sales campaigns designed to attract buyers who no longer represented the country's demographic cream.

That GM itself no longer saw its flagship brand as singular did as much as anything to undermine Cadillac's status as the aspirational pinnacle of U.S. car ownership.

The 1983 Cadillac Cimarron, with its four-cylinder Chevy motor, stained Cadillac's reputation.

The 1980s started well enough for Cadillac. It sustained an impressive market share, meaningfully improved its cars, even introduced a new "baby Cadillac," the influential 1980 Cadillac Seville.

But things went quickly awry as Cadillac largely overpromised and underdelivered. Its dreadful diesel V-8 engine and variably displacement V-8-6-4 initiatives tarnished its engineering reputation. Dressing up a four-cylinder Chevy as the Cadillac Cimarron erased some of its individuality. And downsizing its big cars too much stained its status.

In the 1980s, "The Standard of the World" would lose its standing as a standard for America's discerning car buyers. Go to the next page to learn how Cadillac scrapped its way through the 1980s.

For more information on Cadillac, see:

  • Cadillac: Learn the history of America's premier luxury car, from 1930s classics to today's newest Cadillac models.
  • Consumer Guide New Car Reviews and Prices: Road test results, photos, specifications, and prices for 2007 Cadillacs and hundreds of other new cars, trucks, minivans, and SUVs.
  • 1970-1979 Cadillac: See how Cadillac maintained its hold on the premium market by adroitly addressing changing consumer demands.
  • 1990-1999 Cadillac: Import competition and a stale image rock once-proud Cadillac. Here's the low-down on Cadillac's come-down.

1980 Cadillac Seville

The sloped "trunkback" rear of the 1980 Cadillac Seville was a distinctive, yet controversial, feature.
The sloped "trunkback" rear of the 1980 Cadillac Seville was a distinctive, yet controversial, feature.

That General Motors would drop from nearly half of all U.S. car sales in the mid 1970s to some 24 percent by the mid 2000s seemed unimaginable back in 1980, when Cadillac rolled out a completely redesigned 1980 Cadillac Seville.

Though prestige import brands were making steady inroads, Cadillac was still a luxury powerhouse in 1980, and this new baby-Caddy was big news, partly because of a controversial styling feature.

The most contentious aspect of the 1980 Cadillac Seville was a sloped "trunkback" rear, executed by designer Wayne Cady but also a parting shot for GM styling chief William Mitchell.

The look recalled certain 1950s Rolls-Royces, and though not universally admired, made the 1980 Cadillac Seville most-distinctive new Cadillac since the 1948 tailfinned models.

Seville was a sedan only, but for cost reasons shared the latest E-body platform of the Cadillac Eldorado, but redesignated K-body for the new four-door. Thus, the 1980 Cadillac Seville shifted from rear-wheel drive to front-wheel drive and gained the Eldo's all-independent suspension with automatic self-leveling.

The 1980 Cadillac Seville's Oldsmobile-built engine was plagued with problems.

A more-telling feature of the 1980 Cadillac Seville was its base engine: the Oldsmobile-built 350-cubic-inch diesel V-8. This engine was fast becoming infamous for oil leaks, hard starting and other maladies.

Marketers apparently made the diesel standard in the 1980 Cadillac Seville for image reasons, a demonstration of Cadillac's commitment to improved fuel economy.

But the bad press was taking a toll, and most buyers ordered the familiar 350-cubic-inch gasoline V-8, still fuel-injected and rated this year at 160 horsepower versus the diesel's 105. As it turned out, Seville's diesel emphasis was unneeded anyway.

Within a few years, a glut of cheap gasoline would wash away memories of the second energy crisis that played hob with the market. Once buyers began rushing back to big cars and big engines, Cadillac had no trouble abandoning diesels, and did so after model-year 1985. Most everyone else peddling diesels also bailed out.

On the next page, find out what changes Cadillac made for the 1981 model year.

For more information on Cadillac, see:

  • Cadillac: Learn the history of America's premier luxury car, from 1930s classics to today's newest Cadillac models.
  • Consumer Guide New Car Reviews and Prices: Road test results, photos, specifications, and prices for 2007 Cadillacs and hundreds of other new cars, trucks, minivans, and SUVs.
  • 1970-1979 Cadillac: See how Cadillac maintained its hold on the premium market by adroitly addressing changing consumer demands.
  • 1990-1999 Cadillac: Import competition and a stale image rock once-proud Cadillac. Here's the low-down on Cadillac's come-down.

1981 Cadillac

Cadillac's 1981 models, including this 1981 Cadillac Series 75 limousine, had a standard variable-displacement V-8-6-4 engine.
Cadillac's 1981 models, including this 1981 Cadillac Series 75 limousine, had a standard variable-displacement V-8-6-4 engine.

The 1981 Cadillac lineup got some underhood changes that would do nothing to stem the slow decline in prestige that came to define the 1980s for Cadillac.  

Coming on the heels of the ill-fated V-8 diesel was another equally problematic engine. This was the variable-displacement V-8-6-4, and it was another costly stopgap prompted by government Corporate Average Fuel Economy mandates (CAFÉ).

Displacing 6.0 liters (368 cubic inches) and tuned for a modest 140 horsepower, the Cadillac V-8-6-4 arrived as optional on the 1981 Cadillac Seville and was standard in the balance of the 1981 Cadillac lineup (replacing Cadillac's conventional 425-cubic-inch V-8).

The heart of the V-8-6-4 was an electromechanical system, developed by the Eaton Corporation, that opened and closed the valves on two or four cylinders (hence the name) when signaled by an electronic module controlling the engine's digital fuel injection.

The aim, of course, was improved economy. This was to be accomplished via the cylinders shutting down under part-throttle, low-load conditions when the car didn't need all eight, such as in medium-speed highway cruising. It was a good idea, but too complex and undependable, and Cadillac paid a big price in both image and dollars once angry consumers began suing for redress.

Few mourned when the V-8-6-4 was terminated after just one year, though persisted in Cadillac limousines through 1982. (Ironically, GM revived the idea in the early 2000s -- though not for Cadillacs -- as "Active Fuel Management," which interim technical advances made utterly reliable and virtually invisible to the driver.)

Fuel economy also figured in the decision to offer a V-6 engine for the 1981 Cadillac lineup. It was the first time Cadillac had offered a six since well before World War II. This one was a 125-horsepower 4.1-liter unit, basically an enlarged version of Buick's 3.8-liter overhead-valve design and supplied by that sister GM division.

The V-6 was optional across the 1981 Cadillac line, limos excepted. Another new extra for the 1981 Cadillac line was an electronic "memory" power seat that assumed one of two preset positions at the touch of a button.

In 1982, Cadillac introduced the smallest model in its history. Read more about this humble addition on the next page.

For more information on Cadillac, see:

  • Cadillac: Learn the history of America's premier luxury car, from 1930s classics to today's newest Cadillac models.
  • Consumer Guide New Car Reviews and Prices: Road test results, photos, specifications, and prices for 2007 Cadillacs and hundreds of other new cars, trucks, minivans, and SUVs.
  • 1970-1979 Cadillac: See how Cadillac maintained its hold on the premium market by adroitly addressing changing consumer demands.
  • 1990-1999 Cadillac: Import competition and a stale image rock once-proud Cadillac. Here's the low-down on Cadillac's come-down.

The Cadillac Cimarron

The 1982 Cadillac Cimarron's standard five-speed manual transmission was unpopular with consumers.
The 1982 Cadillac Cimarron's standard five-speed manual transmission was unpopular with consumers.

The 1982 Cadillac showroom contained the smallest Cadillac in decades.

The 1982 Cadillac Cimarron was basically a high-zoot version of GM's new 101.2-inch wheelbase J-body compact. The basic underskin design was also used for the far more prosaic Buick Skyhawk, Pontiac J2000, Oldsmobile Firenza, and perhaps most troubling, the entry-level Chevrolet Cavalier.

Being a Cadillac, the Cimarron was naturally loaded to the gills, resulting in an initial base price of $12,000. That looked very steep when a similar Chevy Cavalier or Pontiac J2000, for example, could be had for half as much with comparable equipment.

The 1982 Cadillac Cimarron did have a few J-car exclusives, like leather upholstery and and optional sliding-glass "Astroroof." But its humble origins were so obvious that nobody took it for a real Cadillac.

The powertrain of the 1982 Cadillac Cimarron was certainly no "Standard of the World." It consisted of a noisy 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine of just 88 horsepower. A five-speed manual transmission was standard, Cadillac's first shift-it-yourself gearbox in three decades. Most buyers specified the optional four-speed automatic.

Cimarron was a frank embarrassment to Cadillac, a flagrant act of "badge-engineering." Still, it was a logical development. GM needed to boost its fleet-average economy until its larger cars could be downsized again, and also to help stem a rising tide of upscale imports (typified by the BMW 3-Series) that were starting to erode Cadillac sales.

But the decision to field this gilded J came at the 11th hour, and it showed. The resulting criticism stung.

The 1988 Cadillac Cimarron was Cadillac's last; the model was discontinued after 1988.

As a result, Cadillac immediately began distancing Cimarron from lesser Js, adding more standard features and ringing in a mild facelift and a lush "D'Oro" submodel for 1983. Chevy's 2.8-liter V-6 was a Cimarron option from mid-1985 and became standard for 1987. Cadillac also tinkered with Cimarron's suspension to impart a more "European" feel.

But buyers always stayed away in droves, and Cadillac struggled to sell an average 20,000 Cimarrons per year through 1986. Demand then slid to less than 15,000, and the model was unceremoniously dropped after model-year 1988.

Surprisingly, Cadillac sales would be on the upswing starting in 1982. Continue to the next page to learn more about this promising sales period.

For more information on Cadillac, see:

  • Cadillac: Learn the history of America's premier luxury car, from 1930s classics to today's newest Cadillac models.
  • Consumer Guide New Car Reviews and Prices: Road test results, photos, specifications, and prices for 2007 Cadillacs and hundreds of other new cars, trucks, minivans, and SUVs.
  • 1970-1979 Cadillac: See how Cadillac maintained its hold on the premium market by adroitly addressing changing consumer demands.
  • 1990-1999 Cadillac: Import competition and a stale image rock once-proud Cadillac. Here's the low-down on Cadillac's come-down.

1982 Cadillac

The 1982 Cadillac Eldorado Touring Coupe sported unique features like black body moldings and fatter tires.
The 1982 Cadillac Eldorado Touring Coupe sported unique features like black body moldings and fatter tires.

Cadillac's string of missteps in the early 1980s has assumed their place in the automotive hall of shame. From the unreliable diesel V-8, through the untenable variable-displacement V-8-6-4, to the unseemly Cimarron, Cadillac seemed to be striking out every time it stepped to the plate.

Thus, it's a testimony to the enduring power of the Cadillac name and the image it still projected for many buyers that sales actually rose steadily from 1982 through 1985, from about 235,500 units to nearly 335,000.

Though Cimarron and troublesome engines may have blotted its enviable engineering record, Cadillac still dominated the U.S. luxury-car market.

Which brings up another 1982 Cadillac surprise, yet another new engine. This was a small V-8, just 4.1-liters (249-cubic-inches) with a cast-iron head atop a lightweight aluminum block, plus digital fuel injection. Dubbed "HT4100," it was standard for all '82s (save Cimarron and limos).

The Cadillac 4.1 V-8 initially was rated at 125 horsepower, same as the Buick 4.1-liter V-6, which remained a Cadillac option for 1982. However, the V-8 actually produced a bit less torque than the V-6. It was certainly far less torquey than the old 425-cubic-inch V8 or even the V-8-6-4, so the full-size members of the 1982 Cadillac line were far from rapid.

A happier 1982 Cadillac development was the addition of an optional Touring Coupe package for the 1982 Cadillac Eldorado. This dressed the 1982 Cadillac Eldorado with black-finish body moldings (replacing chrome), fatter tires on aluminum wheels, and standard buckets-and-console interior with unique trim.

Traditionalists shopped the 1982 Cadillac catalog still had their usual choices of two- and four-door De Villes and Fleetwoods in plain and D'Elegance trim. There were also standard and Biarritz Eldorados, and base and Elegante Sevilles -- all available with fake wire wheels and convertible-look tops.

Although 1983 was a relatively quiet year for Cadillac, 1984 brought the first Cadillac convertible since 1976. The next page of this article has more on these model years.

For more information on Cadillac, see:

  • Cadillac: Learn the history of America's premier luxury car, from 1930s classics to today's newest Cadillac models.
  • Consumer Guide New Car Reviews and Prices: Road test results, photos, specifications, and prices for 2007 Cadillacs and hundreds of other new cars, trucks, minivans, and SUVs.
  • 1970-1979 Cadillac: See how Cadillac maintained its hold on the premium market by adroitly addressing changing consumer demands.
  • 1990-1999 Cadillac: Import competition and a stale image rock once-proud Cadillac. Here's the low-down on Cadillac's come-down.

1983 and 1984 Cadillac

The pricey 1984 Cadillac Eldorado convertible was the
The pricey 1984 Cadillac Eldorado convertible was the
luxury carmaker's first open-air model since 1976.

The 1983 and 1984 Cadillac full-size models were little-changed. Horsepower and torque of the mainstay 4.1-liter V-8 rose by 10 each for the big members of the 1983 Cadillac line. The 1983 Cadillac Eldorado and 1983 Cadillac Seville offered a new acoustically tailored sound system developed by GM's Delco Electronics Division in concert with the Bose speaker people.

All was again mostly quiet for the 1984 Cadillac lineup, except for the return of an open-air model, the 1984 Cadillac Eldorado convertible. This was the first Eldo ragtop and the first Cadillac convertible since the controversial 1976 model, which, as it turned out, Cadillac falsely promoted as the "last convertible."

Actually, Buick had issued a convertible Riviera for 1982, which made Cadillac seem rather slow to follow suit with the 1984 Cadillac Eldorado, which share the Riv's basic body structure.  The likely reason was not the no-more-convertibles promise but the Riviera's slow sales, which must have made Cadillac managers hesitate.

But when they did it, and they did it big. Offered only in uplevel Biarritz trim (a staple option for coupes since the late '70s), the 1984 Cadillac Eldorado had a base price of $31,286, the costliest U.S. production convertible offered to that time.

But like the open Riviera, the Cadillac Eldorado convertible would die after the 1985 model year. Price didn't kill it as much as the advent of a smaller new body design for the Cadillac Eldorado, as well as the luxury market's continuing swing to high-end import brands.

Important changes were on tap for model year 1985. Read about these on the next page.

For more information on Cadillac, see:

  • Cadillac: Learn the history of America's premier luxury car, from 1930s classics to today's newest Cadillac models.
  • Consumer Guide New Car Reviews and Prices: Road test results, photos, specifications, and prices for 2007 Cadillacs and hundreds of other new cars, trucks, minivans, and SUVs.
  • 1970-1979 Cadillac: See how Cadillac maintained its hold on the premium market by adroitly addressing changing consumer demands.
  • 1990-1999 Cadillac: Import competition and a stale image rock once-proud Cadillac. Here's the low-down on Cadillac's come-down.

1985 and 1986 Cadillac

Smaller full-size Cadillacs, like this 1985 Cadillac Fleetwood, outsold the rear-drive models.
Smaller full-size Cadillacs, like this 1985 Cadillac Fleetwood, outsold the rear-drive models.

The 1985 Cadillac De Ville and 1985 Cadillac Fleetwood offered two-door coupes and four-door sedans. They were built on a new C-body platform shared with that year's similarly revised Buick Electra and Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight. This rode a 110.8-inch wheelbase and had all-independent coil-spring/strut suspension and power rack-and-pinion steering.

Dimensionally, the 1985 Cadillac De Ville and 1985 Cadillac Fleetwood were the trimmest De Villes and Fleetwoods ever. The 1985 Cadillac De Ville and 1985 Cadillac Fleetwood were two feet shorter and some 600 pounds lighter than their rear-drive predecessors.

The 4.1 V-8 was turned sideways to preserve cabin space within the smaller package, but necessary manifolding changes reigned horsepower back to 125 and torque to 190 pound-feet. Still, Cadillac could claim the world's only transverse V-8.

Though some expected otherwise, the smaller full-size Cadillacs -- Coupe de Ville, Sedan de Ville, and lusher Fleetwood counterparts -- fast outsold the popular rear-drive series. Cadillac built over 197,000 for the first full model year, versus an annual 137,000-175,000 of the 1981-84 C-bodies.

But even before buyers gave their approval, Cadillac had decided to retain some rear-drive models as a hedge. This proved a shrewd move once the market began its strong recovery from the doldrums of '82. Badged Fleetwood Brougham through 1986, then just plain Brougham, these cars retained their basic 1977 design with few changes through the end of the decade.

Despite the sameness, sales were about 50,000 a year, each one pure gravy.

At the high end of the 1985 Cadillac line was a redesigned Seventy-Five limousine, though it too, was downsized, losing a full 10 inches of wheelbase aboard a new 134.4-inch platform.

We should note that 1985 was the final model year for the big Brougham coupe. It also was the swan-song season for the diesel V-8 option. The diesel wouldn't be missed. Nor was it really needed for CAFE, since the government had relaxed those requirements somewhat.

Indeed, the 1986 Cadillac lineup switched its rear-drive cars to a 5.0-liter (307-cubic-inch) Olds V-8 with 140 horsepower. Other changes to the 1986 Cadillac ensemble were subtle.

The bread-winning 1986 Cadillac De Ville and 1986 Cadillac Fleetwood got a slight power increase, from 125 horsepower to 135.

The interior of the 1986 Cadillac Sedan de Ville Touring edition featured special trim.

Also added were Touring versions of the 1986 Cadillac Coupe de Ville and 1986 Cadillac Sedan de Ville. Touring editions of the 1986 Cadillac Coupe de Ville and 1986 Cadillac Sedan de Ville with firm suspension, husky blackwall tires on aluminum wheels, a front airdam with built-in foglights, plus less chrome outside and special trim inside.

On the next page, we'll look at two all-new Cadillac models for 1986.

For more information on Cadillac, see:

  • Cadillac: Learn the history of America's premier luxury car, from 1930s classics to today's newest Cadillac models.
  • Consumer Guide New Car Reviews and Prices: Road test results, photos, specifications, and prices for 2007 Cadillacs and hundreds of other new cars, trucks, minivans, and SUVs.
  • 1970-1979 Cadillac: See how Cadillac maintained its hold on the premium market by adroitly addressing changing consumer demands.
  • 1990-1999 Cadillac: Import competition and a stale image rock once-proud Cadillac. Here's the low-down on Cadillac's come-down.

1986 Cadillac Eldorado and 1986 Cadillac Seville

Flush-mount "composite" headlamps were among the new features of the downsized 1986 Cadillac Eldorado.
Flush-mount "composite" headlamps were among the new features of the downsized 1986 Cadillac Eldorado.

The 1986 Cadillac Eldorado and 1986 Cadillac Seville were all-new and represented the Cadillac line's second wholesale downsizing since 1977.

The new-generation 1986 Cadillac Eldorado remained a coupe only, the 1986 Cadillac Seville was solely a sedan, and they were again twins under the skin.

Unfortunately, as it would turn out, they also shared a new 108-inch-wheelbase E/K platform with the redesigned 1986 Buick Riviera and 1986 Oldsmobile Toronado. The Cadillacs, of course, had a 4.1 V-8 (again situated transversely) instead of the Buick-sourced V-6 used in the Riv and Toro.

The General Motors designers who developed the 1986 Cadillac Eldorado and 1986 Cadillac Seville managed similar interior space within smaller envelopes. And smaller they were. Compared to their immediate predecessors, the 1986 Cadillac Eldorado and 1986 Cadillac Seville lost 16 inches in length and 350-plus pounds in curb weight.

Styling was decidedly conservative, with the 1986 Cadillac Seville shedding its controversial "bustle" for a conventional notchback profile.

The 1986 Cadillac Seville shared a raft of interesting new features with the Eldorado: floor-mounted shifter (for a mandatory four-speed overdrive automatic transaxle), flush-mount "composite" headlamps, and more electronic gadgets than ever.

Unfortunately for Cadillac, these cars proved even bigger sales duds than the ill-conceived Cadillac Cimarron, which had bowed for 1982.

From a strong 40,000 a year for 1984 and 1985, sales of the 1986 Cadillac Seville dropped by half. Sales of the 1986 Cadillac Eldorado plunged by more than two-thirds from the annual 76,000-plus orders garnered by the 1984 and 1985 versions.

The 1986 Cadillac Seville sold poorly for a number of reasons.

The reasons were obvious enough: bland looks that were too close to those of the workaday GM compact sedans that began arriving at other divisions in 1985, and dimensions that just weren't impressive enough for Cadillac's image-minded clients.

A famous Newsweek article on GM's declining fortunes graphically highlighted the problem by picturing the $27,000 Cadillac Seville tail-to-tail with a $8,800 Oldsmobile Calais; it was tough to tell them apart.

Worse, workmanship slipped badly due to equipment problems at the highly automated new Detroit-Hamtramck plant dedicated solely to E/K production. Typical of the woes: robots painted each other instead of cars.

Over the next two model years, Cadillac attempted to correct some of its earlier mistakes. Was the carmaker successful? Read on to find out.

For more information on Cadillac, see:

  • Cadillac: Learn the history of America's premier luxury car, from 1930s classics to today's newest Cadillac models.
  • Consumer Guide New Car Reviews and Prices: Road test results, photos, specifications, and prices for 2007 Cadillacs and hundreds of other new cars, trucks, minivans, and SUVs.
  • 1970-1979 Cadillac: See how Cadillac maintained its hold on the premium market by adroitly addressing changing consumer demands.
  • 1990-1999 Cadillac: Import competition and a stale image rock once-proud Cadillac. Here's the low-down on Cadillac's come-down.

1987 and 1988 Cadillac

Extended rear fender caps lengthened Cadillac's 1987 full-size models, like this 1987 Cadillac Fleetwood d'Elegance.
Extended rear fender caps lengthened Cadillac's 1987 full-size models, like this 1987 Cadillac Fleetwood d'Elegance.

The 1987 Cadillac full-size models got new grilles and grew 1.5 inches longer via extended rear fender caps.

In addition, the 1987 Cadillac Sixty Special was introduced as a stretched, 115.8-inch-wheelbase Fleetwood four-door -- a nod to the "executive car" market.

The 1987 Cadillac Seventy-Five front-drive model was in its last year. As Chrysler had lately realized, factory-built limousines were unprofitable and thus better left to aftermarket converters, of which there were plenty.

Committed to shared engineering and assailed by critics for styling, size, and sizzle unbecoming a legend, there was nothing  for Cadillac to do but soldier on, so changes to the 1987 Cadillac Eldorado and 1987 Cadillac Seville ran to little more than minor suspension tweaks

The 1988 Cadillac lineup was treated to a larger V-8 and standardization of several former options including the timed "Twilight Sentinel" headlamp system, tilt/telescope steering wheel, illuminated entry system, and cruise control. The 1988 Cadillac catalog also included first-time availability of an antilock brake system (ABS). 

For the 1988 Cadillac Eldorado and 1988 Cadillac Seville, stylists tried to rectify their mistakes via the time-honored practice of appearance revisions intended to bring some back some of the lost Cadillac identity.

The 1988 Cadillac Seville thus gained a "power dome" hood and a more "important" grille. The 1988 Cadillac Eldorado was similarly treated, but also received new squared-up lower-body sheetmetal that stretched overall length by three inches at the rear -- shades of the 1950s.

In an attempt to reestablish its identity, Cadillac restyled the 1988 Cadillac Eldorado.

Along with other members of the 1988 Cadillac line, the 1988 Cadillac Eldorado and 1988 Cadillac Seville shelved their  4.1 V-8 for a version enlarged to 4.5 liters (273 cubic inches). This plus a new two-stage intake manifold, larger throttle bores, and other changes lifted horsepower by 25, to 155 total, and torque by 40 pound-feet (to 240).

All 1988 Cadillac entries, the 1988 Cadillac Eldorado and 1988 Cadillac Seville in particular, were thus usefully quicker off the line than the 1986-87s, and ABS made panic stops shorter and more controlled. For 1988 Cadillac Eldorado and 1988 Cadillac Seville, a "touring" suspension package was still available for those seeking crisper handling with little sacrifice in ride comfort.

After revamping some of its 1989 models, Cadillac was rewarded with a boost in sales. For more on the 1989 model year, continue to the next page.

For more information on Cadillac, see:

  • Cadillac: Learn the history of America's premier luxury car, from 1930s classics to today's newest Cadillac models.
  • Consumer Guide New Car Reviews and Prices: Road test results, photos, specifications, and prices for 2007 Cadillacs and hundreds of other new cars, trucks, minivans, and SUVs.
  • 1970-1979 Cadillac: See how Cadillac maintained its hold on the premium market by adroitly addressing changing consumer demands.
  • 1990-1999 Cadillac: Import competition and a stale image rock once-proud Cadillac. Here's the low-down on Cadillac's come-down.

1989 Cadillac

New styling and a longer wheelbase contributed to the success of the 1989 Cadillac Coupe De Ville.
New styling and a longer wheelbase contributed to the success of the 1989 Cadillac Coupe De Ville.

The 1989 Cadillac De Ville and 1989 Cadillac Fleetwood lines capped the 1980s with a major revamping that produced a healthy sales gain.

Again looking to the "longer-is-better" ploy, Cadillac stretched the 1989 Cadillac De Ville and 1989 Cadillac Fleetwood sedans a further 8.8 inches and lengthened wheelbase by three inches to 113.8. For various reasons, the 1988 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special adopted the rejiggered sedan platform, thus surrendering two inches in wheelbase.

Offerings expanded once more because the 1989 Cadillac Fleetwood again came as a  two-door after a two-year hiatus Along with the 1989 Cadillac De Ville coupe, the 1989 Cadillac Fleetwood coupe grew 5.9 inches longer on an unchanged wheelbase.

Styling on both the 1989 Cadillac De Ville and 1989 Cadillac Fleetwood sedan and coupe was suitably modified. Trunk space improved by some two cubic feet. And front fenders were rendered in a rust-free "nylon composite alloy" to save a little weight. Also returning (and again recalling the '50s) were rear fender skirts as standard for the 1989 Cadillac Fleetwood.

The entire 1989 Cadillac lineup offered several new options, including an airbag supplemental restraint housed in the steering-wheel hub. Also newly available was the "ElectriClear" heated windshield, complimenting the now-standard electric rear-window defroster. Among other new options was GM's clever new "PASS-Key" theft-deterrent system.

The 1989 Cadillac powertrain was unchanged, but so was performance, as weight increases averaged only 100 pounds despite the added inches.

Those inches helped boost model-year sales for the 1989 Cadillac line. Production of the 1989 Cadillac De Ville and 1989 Cadillac Fleetwood jumped nearly 26,000 units, over 17 percent, to nearly 179,000.

Next, we'll take a closer look at Cadillac's most ambitious model of the decade, the Allante.

For more information on Cadillac, see:

  • Cadillac: Learn the history of America's premier luxury car, from 1930s classics to today's newest Cadillac models.
  • Consumer Guide New Car Reviews and Prices: Road test results, photos, specifications, and prices for 2007 Cadillacs and hundreds of other new cars, trucks, minivans, and SUVs.
  • 1970-1979 Cadillac: See how Cadillac maintained its hold on the premium market by adroitly addressing changing consumer demands.
  • 1990-1999 Cadillac: Import competition and a stale image rock once-proud Cadillac. Here's the low-down on Cadillac's come-down.

The Cadillac Allante

The 1988 Cadillac Allante was Cadillac's response to the Mercedez-Benz 560SL.
The 1988 Cadillac Allante was Cadillac's response to the Mercedez-Benz 560SL.

The Cadillac Allante was Cadillac's most ambitious car of the 1980s. This sharp two-seat convertible was introduced for 1988 and aimed squarely at the big-bucks Mercedes-Benz 560SL.

The first two-seat Caddy since 1941, the Cadillac Allante bowed with great fanfare on a shortened front-drive chassis borrowed from the Cadillac Eldorado. Wheelbase was a crisp 99.4 inches.

Cadillac Allante power initially came from Cadillac's mainstay 4.1-liter V-8 tuned for a competitive 170 horsepower via multi-point (instead of single- or dual-point) injection, roller valve lifters, high-flow cylinder heads, and special intake manifold.

Italy's renowned coachbuilder Pininfarina was contracted to construct the basic Cadillac Allante body -- more snob appeal that way -- but styling was largely Cadillac's own, even if the presence of Pininfarina badges led many to conclude otherwise.

The Cadillac Allante was built with a costly "Airbridge" arrangement that seemed to many a needless extravagance.

Cadillac contracted with Pininfarina, Italy's famous coachbuilder, to design the body of the 1988 Cadillac Allante.

Modified Cadillac Eldorado understructures were flown in special 747 jets to a new Pininfarina plant set up in Turin, Italy, especially for Cadillac Allante production. Fully trimmed body shells (galvanized unitized hulls with aluminum hood and trunklid) were then air-shipped back to GM's Detroit-Hamtramck plant for drivetrain installation and final assembly.

Cadillac Allante standard equipment included a lift-off hardtop to supplement the manual soft top. A cellular telephone was the lone option.

Though a pleasant, capable tourer and an entirely new breed of Cadillac, the Cadillac Allante failed to make the hoped-for impression. Cadillac predicted 4,000 sales for calendar 1987, but moved only 1,651 of the 3,363 cars built to that point. Deliveries for the first full production year totaled 3,065, versus a planned 7,000. Production for model-year 1987 was just 2,569.

The result was an embarrassing pile-up of unsold Cadillac Allantes, hefty rebates to clear them, and a further gut-punch to Cadillac prestige. In fact, trade weekly Automotive News named Allante its 1987 "Flop of the Year." Division chief John O. Grettenberger dismissed that dubious honor, and wide coverage of the car's slow start, as "just the latest round of GM bashing."

Still, for what it was, the Cadillac Allante seemed very expensive: $54,000 at announcement, $56,500 for the little-changed 1988 Cadillac Allante.

Perhaps even worse, the Cadillac Allante depreciated by a third the minute it left a showroom, whereas a Mercedes SL actually went up in value. An assortment of troubles with the Cadillac Allante -- wind and water leaks, squeaks and rattles, horns that didn't work, heaters that worked too well -- hardly helped matters. Neither did the sedate styling and lack of a power-folding roof.

Cadillac scrambled to improve the Allante for 1989. Read on to learn what changes were made -- and whether they were successful.

For more information on Cadillac, see:

  • Cadillac: Learn the history of America's premier luxury car, from 1930s classics to today's newest Cadillac models.
  • Consumer Guide New Car Reviews and Prices: Road test results, photos, specifications, and prices for 2007 Cadillacs and hundreds of other new cars, trucks, minivans, and SUVs.
  • 1970-1979 Cadillac: See how Cadillac maintained its hold on the premium market by adroitly addressing changing consumer demands.
  • 1990-1999 Cadillac: Import competition and a stale image rock once-proud Cadillac. Here's the low-down on Cadillac's come-down.

The Cadillac Allante Evolves

To spark sales, Cadillac made several improvements to the 1989 Cadillac Allante.
To spark sales, Cadillac made several improvements to the 1989 Cadillac Allante.

The Cadillac Allante was not the upmarket homerun Cadillac needed to boost its image with the new breed of upscale buyers who looked first to Europe for their high-performance luxury two-seater.

The Cadillac Allante was introduced for the 1988 model year to much hoopla but little of the showroom traffic-generating business Cadillac needed. Sales were moribund, resale values were frightful, and the car just didn't seem to have that sexy spark to unseat the Mercedes-Benz SL as the darling of the small but coveted prestige roadster crowd.

So in Cadillac scrambled to fix what ailed its Italian-American amalgam. It gave the 1989 Cadillac Allante a 4.5 V-8 uprated to 200 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. Alas, that and a shorter final drive ratio sufficiently lowered EPA-rated mileage to incur a $650 Gas Guzzler tax, which upped actual delivered price to $57,183.

But 0-60-mph acceleration dropped from 10 seconds to 8.5 or less for the 1989 Cadillac Allante. And Cadillac kept things safe at every speed with new speed-sensitive power steering, larger wheels and tires, and three-mode "speed-dependent damping" (shock absorbers that automatically adjusted firmness to match road surface).

Also added for the 1989 Cadillac Allante were more-comfortable seats, a somewhat improved top mechanism (but still manual), and PASS-Key antitheft protection. Model-year production for the 1989 Cadillac Allante rose from 2,569 to 3,298, which was encouraging.

But Cadillac Allante sales were now being propped up by a "guaranteed resale" scheme pegged to the higher residual values of the Mercedes SL. Cadillac promised to pay the difference if an Allante owner traded for another new Cadillac. It was a tacit admission that the Cadillac Allante, Cadillac's SL-fighter, was no threat to the vaunted Mercedes.

The Cadillac Allante would survive through the 1993 model year, by which time Cadillac knew its image needed fixing, and hoped to make amends for recent blunders with several new initiatives for the 1990s.

For more information on Cadillac, see:

  • Cadillac: Learn the history of America's premier luxury car, from 1930s classics to today's newest Cadillac models.
  • Consumer Guide New Car Reviews and Prices: Road test results, photos, specifications, and prices for 2007 Cadillacs and hundreds of other new cars, trucks, minivans, and SUVs.
  • 1970-1979 Cadillac: See how Cadillac maintained its hold on the premium market by adroitly addressing changing consumer demands.
  • 1990-1999 Cadillac: Import competition and a stale image rock once-proud Cadillac. Here's the low-down on Cadillac's come-down.