1976 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible
After a 25-year relationship, this Eldorado has definitely got under the skin of its owners and is a valued family member. Words and photography: Paul Bussey.
1976 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible
Graham Coxall has owned American cars since he was 22 years old and over the years has had the pleasure of running all manner of makes and models. His first Yank was a 1970 T-Bird; he’s owned a Lincoln and a Corvette… the list goes on and on. However, at the top of his favourites list has to be Cadillac and his 1976 Eldorado is his fifth, but not all in a row. “I always wanted to own a Cadillac convertible and ultimately I would have loved to have had something like a ’58 or ’59 fins ’n’ chrome model, but unfortunately my finances wouldn’t quite run to a car from that era,” says Graham.
“It was at the Rally of the Giants show at Knebworth Park in 1996 that we saw our 1976 Eldorado convertible advertised for sale. The car was in excellent condition all round, other than the soft top which was beginning to look a little tatty. Denny and I decided this was the Cadillac for us and 25 years later, it’s still parked on our driveway and we must have clocked up in excess of 30,000 miles.” A quarter of a century is a long time to own a car; weren’t Graham and Denny tempted to move it on for something else? Well, Denny also had a Yank of her own, in the shape of a 1971 red Mustang Mach 1 which she ran for several years.
Graham had always had a hankering for a Dodge and maybe a truck, and a couple of years ago he did indeed purchase a gorgeous 1963 Chevrolet C10 truck, but not at the expense of selling the Cadillac. The marque’s long-running and bold advertising statement ‘Standard of the World’ certainly rings true as far as Graham and Denny are concerned. “It’s all about the driving experience,” he asserts. “It’s ultra smooth, powerful, responsive and comfort personified.
There are also acres of space in the boot, which is where we also keep the spare wheel/ tyre. Although the continental kit does have a wheel and tyre fitted, the very long-winded, complicated process of retrieving it makes it not very practical in the event of a puncture, so it’s more for show.”
It’s worth mentioning that the Eldorado’s 8.2 litre/500cu in engine is the largest ever production V8 fitted to a car, though for 1976 it was down to a mere 190bhp in carburetted form. Open the bonnet, and you can just about make out the shape of a V8, surrounded by all the ancillaries and a mass of hoses and pipework (this was, after all, the ‘smog’ era where all sorts of complex hoses and systems were bolted on to engines to make them cleaner at the expense of power).
The engine is coupled to a silky smooth, three-speed automatic transmission, and there’s all the bells and whistles that you would expect with a top luxury car, like electric windows and seats, electrically operated soft top, air conditioning and so on. The 1976 Eldorado had the distinguishing feature of ‘shoulders’ over the rear wheels, finer egg-crate, front grille styling, with square headlamps and still with an abundance of chrome. Cadillac built 14,000 Eldorado convertibles in 1976 and the last was built was on April 21, 1976. It had been in production since 1971 and marked the end of an era, Cadillac famously claiming they would be the last Cadillac convertibles to be built and marketed as such.
As previously mentioned, the Eldorado’s soft top was rather tatty, with holes in places, so the first job to be tackled while in Graham and Denny’s ownership was to replace it. “I purchased a replacement material kit from a company called Bill Hirsch (www.hirschauto. com) in New Jersey,” remembers Graham. “At the time I worked for Federal Express and was able to take advantage of their staff rates for importation. Even better was the fact that I had to deliver in London to a place that had containers arriving every week from New Jersey. It could not have been more simple and convenient for me. That soft top is on the car now and has weathered very well and is still in excellent condition.”
It’s worth mentioning at this juncture that the Eldorado isn’t garaged. It lives under a cover on the driveway. A good quality breathable cover, but the car’s bodywork and chrome doesn’t appear to be any the worse for wear after 25 years, though Graham does give all the brightwork a liberal coat of Vaseline over the winter months, to keep corrosion at bay.
Over the years Graham and Denny have attended a myriad of car shows all over the country, which used to include an annual pilgrimage to the old Notts Americana, and the Rally of the Giants is a must-do event every year. “Some weekends, when we don’t attend a show, we simply go out for a run,” says Graham. “The car is driven regularly in the summer months, but in winter it’s mostly parked up, as are a great many other classics. We’ve attended events as far away as Wales and Norfolk but have resisted taking the car on holiday to Cornwall. Negotiating some of the narrow Cornish lanes wouldn’t be at all practical. On a run, the car will return around 16-17mpg, but around town that drops to about 12mpg.”
The Eldorado’s interior certainly exudes a luxurious ambience, with its ultra comfortable white leather seating and deep pile red carpets which have been replaced over the years due to fading in the sun rather than being worn out. With the soft top retracted and safely stowed at the rear, the frame can be covered from sight, providing an aesthetically pleasing streamlined effect, by attaching a pair of glass fibre covers.
The door cards have a faux wooden moulding, which incorporates embossed carving, complete with the Cadillac crest, and the chrome and wood pull handle wouldn’t look out of place in a luxury kitchen. It’s all very mid-Seventies. Graham has fitted a chrome tissue dispenser that he sourced in the US, which is neatly fitted under the dashboard. He reckons the Eldorado resided in Virginia Beach prior to being imported into the UK, as the stickers still attached to the front screen attest.
Over the years, Graham has maintained the car himself, although anything that required workshop facilities was generally entrusted to Malcolm Springham at the MAG American workshop in Bishop’s Stortford, sadly long since shut for business. A replacement GM exhaust system was fitted by Malcolm. The Eldorado has been fantastically reliable and it’s only in recent years that time has finally caught up and a few larger issues needed remedial action. “The car has only ever let us down once in 25 years,” states Graham.
“We were on our way to the Rally of the Giants show at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, in 2013 when the engine warning light came on and the water temperature noticeably rose. We had no choice but to pull over and stop straight away. The cause was a blown head gasket, so on that occasion the car needed to be recovered. My next-door neighbour and classic car buff Robin Thake helped me replace the gasket and at the same time we completed a top end overhaul of the engine. Several years ago the usually smooth-running engine began to show signs of uneven running and it took quite a while to diagnose. At first we thought it was a carburettor problem and eventually traced it to vacuum pipes, which were not holding the pressure and there are rather a lot of them on the Eldorado. We tested every single pipe and together with the help of my friend Trevor Jones, we replaced loads of them.”
The most recent job to be completed on the Eldorado over the last year has been a full frontend repaint. “A few years after we purchased the car, we noticed a few cracks beginning to appear in the offside front wing which were caused by a bit of a bodged repair and it was some filler which was shrinking that was causing cracks in the paint,” explains Graham. “The other wing was a little ropey in places, so I managed to source a replacement wing from an enthusiast in Hounslow, Middlesex, and had Reece Sawyer, who runs a coachworks/paint shop in White Roding, Essex, fit this wing and complete a front end repaint, which has blended in extremely well, and I’m very pleased with the finished result.” After 25 years of continuous ownership, it looks like the Eldorado is going to be a definite keeper for Graham and Denny. It’s got under their skin, it’s very much part and parcel of the family, a known quantity and with such wonderful reliability and giving such stalwart service, what would be the point in selling? “I’ve never had any problems in sourcing replacement parts in the US or the UK,” affirms Graham. “It has been such a faithful servant over the years and the pleasure we get from ownership and driving remains as strong now as it did 25 years ago.”
Cadillac believed ’76 would be the last year it built convertibles. It wasn’t. Caddy folk: Denny and Graham Coxall. White leather seats and red interior screams 70s. Inspection stickers from Virginia Beach, VA. Tissue dispenser sits below dash. Arguably Eldo can carry six, although three might be tight in the rear. Continental kit is more for show, with spare in the boot. Mahoosive 500cu in V8.