Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Very Last American Convertible

It was over three decades ago that Cadillac, then still the world’s premier luxury car manufacturer (have we really changed that much?) announced that it would build the last of America’s convertibles. It seemed then that with all the changes the industry was undergoing that safety issues would be the convertible’s death-knell. Cadillac was at that time the last American manufacturer of the wind-in-the-hair drop top. General Motors’ Cadillac Division had only built 8,950 convertibles in 1975, so they ordered just 14,000 convertibles to be built for the 1976 model year. The “last of” hype was a big marketing theme that year. The massive, 2-½ ton, 1976 Eldorado was billed as the “Last Convertible” that General Motors Corporation, Cadillac or any American brand would ever build. Period. The 8.2-liter, 500-cubic inch V-8 would power this end-of-the-road behemoth like an ocean liner on wheels. Luxurious as ever, but a giant on the roads, it pulled into every gas station for a fill-up. America's biggest front-wheel-drive car, these 1976 Eldos were almost all ordered with every available option: front shoulder belts, signal-seeking AM/FM stereo, theft deterrent, twilight sentinel, tilt and telescope steering wheel, a hard “Parade” convertible top boot, and leather galore. The stereo system had more speakers then one could count. It was a magnificent ride with tons of power pulling you down the highway. In its day, nothing could touch it – don’t foreign or domestic. I had a red one (not the ’76 model year) with white leather and every time I pulled up to a restaurant or “nightclub” (it was the late seventies and eighties) the valet put the baby right up at the front door. One of those showpieces that they wanted customers to know was frequenting their joint. (Ha!)

Aside from special “preferred parking spots” at places a single guy might frequent in the day, my most memorable time behind the wheel was putting the top down, driving the Eldo to a lonesome beach at night on the Gulf, reclining in the living room size thick leather seats and cranking up the stereo. Stars were overhead, the waves were softly crashing and a perfect companion was sharing the view with me. Ah, it couldn’t have been any better. I was probably wearing a double-knit, paisley shirt with a collar four times too big and clunky shoes. (Yuck! I’m sure glad I don’t live in the seventies anymore.) I am so-o-o glad the “companion” has stuck with me all these years and still puts up with my addiction to odd and unusual automobiles and “classic” car shows. What an understanding sweetheart she is after all these years.

As every American (and foreign) driver knows, convertibles are available from most every manufacturer, world-wide. They’ve all addressed the safety issues that they thought convertibles presented and the joy of driving with the top down will never again go away.


  1. They just don't make cars like this anymore - this was the dream of so many at that time! My father always wanted a Cadillac but thought it too ostentatious and never bought one.

    Beautiful car and photo, Frank!

  2. Lovely old motor, but would not fit in a European parking space; 500 cubic inch. As they used to say in American car mags, "there's no substitute for inches!"

  3. What--no leisure suit Frank? That is a gorgeous car.