Car of the Week: 1978 Cadillac Eldorado

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By Brian Earnest

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Dave Evans’ uber-fancy 1978 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz isn’t just a car fit for a king.

It was a car built in honor of “The King” himself.

Elvis Presley left us back in August of 1977, and not long after his passing, a Tennessee woman who apparently worshipped the legendary crooner decided she needed a Cadillac to remember him by. Actually, she decided she needed a pair of them, so she ordered two loaded-to-the-gills 1978 Eldorado Biarritz Customs — a brown one and a brilliant white car with a red interior.

After getting the keys from Bill Gatton Chevrolet-Cadillac in Bristol, Tenn., the woman took the cars directly to the inspection station, then straight home to her garage. There, she parked the white Eldorado, with 145 miles on its odometer.

And the car never moved again.

“There was 86 miles on the car when she did the inspection, and then they took the car home and parked it,” Evans says incredulously. “That was the last time she ever drove it. Everybody has told me the car never moved again — her kids and everybody. Nobody ever drove the car.

“It actually belonged to my ex-girlfriend’s parents,” Evans added. “The lady died back in 1995 … and last year the father was dying of cancer, and they were talking about this car in the garage they needed to sell. I asked if I could see it, and it was great! I couldn’t believe it! It was scheduled to go to auction, but I said I wanted to buy the car, so I got it before it got to the public for auction.

“It’s unreal. The car has only 145 original miles. It drove from the dealer to the inspection station 86 miles, then to the house. It still has the dealer stickers on the window and there was never even a plate put on it.”

With its original oil in the engine, coolant in the radiator and air in the tires, the car was shipped to Moores Cadillac in Chantilly, Va., where mechanics have been “TLC-ing it for about three months,” Evans said. The car still hasn’t been started, but the old radiator core has been replaced, a leaking brake caliper has been fixed and a plastic filler piece between the passenger-side quarter panel and front bumper that broke when the car was moved is being replaced. The car hasn’t even been cleaned up yet, but Evans said serious scrubbing isn’t really necessary, even after 33 years. “Just sitting there, it looks like it doesn’t even need washing,” he said. “The sticker — I can’t believe it was never even taken off the window. It’s still got the paper floor mats on the floor.”

Evans, a resident of Ashburn, Va., will never know for sure if the owner had planned to just keep the car as some kind of an expensive keepsake, or if she actually planned to drive it, but when she went car shopping, she went right for the top shelf. The Eldorado was as good as things got among American luxury cars at the time, and the Custom Biarritz package added a host of high-class goodies to an already ritzy machine. The Custom Biarritz group was available from 1977-’79 and included special color combinations, accent striping, a padded vinyl roof, special Biarritz badging and extra-plush interiors. Exterior paint options were Cotillion White, Colonial Yellow, Ruidoso Saddle, Carmine Red and Mediterranean Blue Firemist. Interiors were available in white, light blue, light yellow, medium saddle and dark carmine.

The quarter windows and rear window were different from other Eldorados, there was special stainless-steel accent moldings that stretched horizontally along the tops of the doors and rear quarter panels, and special accent striping ran under the moldings. Special opera lamps were mounted behind the rear quarter windows and special decorative wheel covers were also part of the package. All of these extras tacked $1,865 onto the price of an Eldorado in 1978.

Not that the regular Eldorados weren’t fancy enough. Standard equipment included a 425-cid, 180-hp V-8 with either fuel injection or carburetor, four-wheel disc brakes, front-wheel drive, electronic level control, automatic climate control, power windows and door locks, cornering lamps, six-way power seat, three-speed wipers, Freedom battery, lamp monitors, trip odometer, wide-whitewall steel-belted radial tires, Soft-Ray tinted glass, accent striping, remote control left-hand mirror, vanity mirror, lighters, bumper impact strips and a stowaway spare tire.

A revised crosshatch grille with heavier horizontal bars was seen on the front of 1978 Eldorados. The four-row peaked checkerboard grille was flanked by quad rectangular headlamps. Amber parking lamps sat low on the bumper. Large chrome vertical bumper ends extended upward around the auxiliary lamps. Options such as AM/FM stereo with tape player and CB radio, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, rear window defogger, trumpet horn and trunk lid release ran the final bill on Evans’ car to $15,511. “That’s a pretty hefty price back then,” Evans noted. “Fifteen-thousand dollars, and then just to park it?”

Cadillac’s luxury coupe came only as a two-door and was base priced at $11,921 in 1978. At a whopping 4,906 lbs., the Eldorados were the heaviest cars in the Caddy lineup. A total of 46,816 were built, putting them fourth in line in popularity among Cadillacs behind the deVille coupe and sedan, Seville sedan and Fleetwood Brougham sedan.

About 2,000 Eldorado Biarritzes also received the “Classic” package, which included a power sunroof or “Astroroof” from American Sunroof in Southgate, Mich. A handful of the cars were also outfitted with special sliding power T-tops from American Sunroof. Some sources say seven of these T-top cars still exist.

It’s a safe bet that Evans’ Eldorado is the most pristine 1978 example on the planet. “It’s still got the stubbies on the tires,” he laughs. “It just sat in the garage, and the garage was built into the side of a mountain. It was all brick, with stone for the garage floor. It was just pitch black in there and nobody ever went in there.

“The lady that bought the car, she heard that Elvis had a white Cadillac with a red interior, and she had to have a car just like his. She was just crazy about Elvis, I guess. She even bought the same kind of casket Elvis Presley was buried in!… She died in 1995, and the family didn’t do anything with the car. [Her husband] decided, ‘No, we’re not going to do anything with it, it’s just going to sit there.’ Nobody wanted it. The kids didn’t want the car, nobody in the family wanted it, but I did! It’s no Shelby Mustang, but it’s still cool and really unique.

“After I bought it, it sat there for about six months because it was snowed in in the mountains, and when I got it to [Moores Cadillac in] Chantilly, the mechanic there was just beside himself. Everything on it is just amazing. The leather is perfect — it looks like a brand new car. The rooftop, the paint — it’s all perfect. The guys from Cadillac just couldn’t believe the car sat that long.”

Evans said he put in a new battery in the Cadillac and turned the key just enough to see if the starter would turn over, and everything seemed to work. He has not had the car running yet, but plans to do so soon. “I want to be there when we start it so I can hear it run,” he said. “Right now, I just want to get it operational. We’re just doing a little bit here and a little bit there. The plug wires are still soft. The belts and radiator hoses are all still soft. We haven’t had to replace any of that. We’re being real cautious with what we do.”

More than anything, Evans said he knew he needed to get a hold of the car so it wouldn’t end up with somebody who didn’t fully appreciate the Eldorado’s unmolested condition. “I just said, ‘Wow, I have to have this car … I saw it and said, ‘This cannot wind up in the wrong hands.’ I’m not sure what will happen with it. It’s up in the air. There’s no way I’ll drive it. I just can’t see driving this car at this point. I’d be too afraid something would happen to it, with my luck.

“It should probably go to a collector who will hang onto it in a big warehouse or collection somewhere and not drive it.”

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One Response to Car of the Week: 1978 Cadillac Eldorado

  1. Rik Gruwez says:

    Although this is a very low miles car, it is not a Custom Biarritz Classic. The window sticker is clear, it is a “Custom Biarritz”. Finished in Cotillion White with a white interior with red accents, this is actually a very common color combination for a 1978 Eldorado Custom Biarritz. The car is currently on eBay with an asking price of a whopping $528,000, which is about 21 times its real value.

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