SPOTTER'S GUIDE Eldorado 1979-1985
There's no denying the '79 Eldo was a major sales success. It really was the right car at the right time for Cadillac, and the styling and proportions hit a sweet spot. In usual GM fashion, they painted with broad strokes first, then refined the details. It's hard to argue with that approach, especially when you're focused on differentiating yourself initially from the sister cars, Toronado and Riviera.
Contrary to the oft-repeated conviction that these Eldos are all the same "except for engines", there were significant changes and improvements made almost every year, in addition to color, styling and interior/exterior refreshes detailed below. If you're so inclined, check out the Engineering Changes by Year page for the full story.
Below is a summary of the yearly exterior and interior changes for "spotting" purposes.
- Unique horizontal pattern grille that's spring-loaded for impact without damage.
- Matching 1-year only smooth chrome grille cap w/ Cad script
- Park lamps have no vertical divider (and are clear)
- Bumper rub strips are gray
- Beltline moulding is below the door crease/fender badge (carried into early '80)
- Trunk lock cover & wreath (diecast!) are unique in size and shape
- Taillights have a molded-in crest at the base (no applique)
- Filler pieces below license plate have brightwork (rarely seen as fillers are typically replaced by now)
Gray rub strips, unique grille and single horizontal park lamps
Taillight closeup; note deep wire wheel covers
1-year only trim. Note '82+ taillight on right
- Birdseye maple woodgrain pattern on door panels, door strap inserts, instrument panel surfaces and Biarritz rear reading lamp lens trim. Similar pattern to 1st gen Seville. Rear lamps were also shared with Riv and Toro, but in a horizontal configuration with their own unique lenses.
- Analog Temp Control
- Rear defroster switch is a toggle with timer
- Glove box door has exposed screws on all edges (through '81)
- Unique defrost vent design (3-row eggcrate)
- 1-year-only Tripmaster computer option; keypad replaces Cad filler panel on upper dash center. Speedo cluster with this option resembles later design with green vac fluorescent digits, but says “Trip Computer” to right of speed, plus a knob adjacent to rightmost display.
- Chrome “corporate” dome/map light pair (visors use an old style catch since the integrated dome light didn't appear until '80).
- Unique Speedometer (stubby turn signal indicators, no 55 MPH callout, lots of graduations on face) See Speedometer History for details.
- Driver & Passenger door controls are unique for '79; power lock and window switch locations are swapped. Appears to be same part as used on Riv '79-85.
- 3-position Cruise Control switch (1-year only on Eldo)
- Headlight and radio knobs match maple/burl woodgrain
- Seat-back pockets are smooth across with elastic hidden internally
- Front Seats accommodate two passengers and are 50/45 "Dual Comfort" (cont'd for '80)
- 1979-80 have the same style steering wheels with bead trim
Biarritz interior in cloth
Note Lock & Window Control Positions
1-Year Only "Corporate" Dual Map Lights
Unique Seat-Back Pockets
- New "egg crate" grille and vertical trim; grille now fixed in place, horizontal bars slightly recessed
- New grille header with border and brushed insert, continued through '81
- Park lamps gain a divider, carried on through '85
- Park lamp color is now amber (through '82)
- Bumper rub strips are now black (later in year)
- Early cars have low belt line moulding like '79 (pic above), later cars move 3" up, above fender script
- Taillights have applique emblems on the SAE79 lens with black infill (same for '81)
- Electrically heated mirrors now offered (with 'Heated' etched in the glass)
- Exterior emblems and trim are now adhesive applied to resist corrosion; '79 used holes in the sheetmetal
→ If the fender badge says only “Fuel Injection” it's pre-1981.
- Woodgrain changes to "Teakwood" throughout, including IP, dash knobs, grab handle inserts, etc.
- New Digital Climate Control (industry first), though no outside temp feature; integrated rear defog when ordered.
- Maintains the '79 style door panel and seat back straps; updated end cap wood grain
- Maintains RH door rear interior door handle
- Seatback pockets are now pleated (through '85)
- First year for integrated map/dome lights with visor support (through '85). Spring-loaded door accepts powered accessories.
- Speedometer: Turn Signal stubby arrows become full arrows. Fine graduations dropped from face. Fuel gauge sweep improved. PRNDL no change.
- New 2-position Cruise Control dash toggle that continues through '85.
- New MPG Sentinel provides a digital readout of Instant & Average Fuel Economy when DEFI is ordered
- Driver & Passenger door controls are new and exclusive to Eldorado; swaps Lock and Window switch placement for convenience.
New Woodgrain Pattern on dash & doors.
Note the 4-button non-Biarritz seats in leather.
Combination map/dome light,
shown with garage door opener.
New taillight applique for '80/'81.
2nd & Final Year for Rear Passenger Door Handle.
- Fine mesh grille with carryover grille header.
- New 'flat' wire wheel covers with colored medalion (typically red, through 85) - shown in pic above.
- Opera lights could now be ordered without the Biarritz package, and without a vinyl top.
- Only year for V864 fender badge (Diesel & V6 also available). See emblem section below.
- New accent molding available on base Eldo that replaces upper pinstrip and is adhesively attached (1-year only?)
- Touring Suspension now officially offered (includes interior and exterior decklid badge)
- Eldorado fender script moves to sail panel on base model (through '85), see pic above. Eliminated if Biarritz package ordered.
Compare to the pic in the '80 section - Eldorado script on fender, Biarritz script on sail panel.
-Carryover Park Lamps: amber and divided
-Carryover Taillight applique
→ If driver's side mirror has an outside thermometer, it's pre-82.
→ If Biarritz was ordered for '81-85, nowhere on the exterior does it say Eldorado.
- Carryover Woodgrain/dash design, Climate Control, Mechanical Speedometer Cluster
- PRNDL Change (graphics): PRND21
- MPG Sentinel gains Range & Active Cyls features
- New steering wheel horn pad without bead trim. Left and right pad surfaces are flat.
- Mirror joystick control shape changed (presumably running change)
- Door Panel changed to spring loaded handles (through '85) which necessitates a stamping change and threaded inserts.
- Interior passenger rear door handle eliminated.
- 1-year only 45/45 front seats with standard floor-mount consolette or optional mini-console.
- Back of seat pockets have new style end caps (through '85)
- Memory Seat option (and respective controls) introduced
Updated steering wheel horn pad.
Non-Outside Temp Electronic Climate Control.
Base model seat pattern in Heather cloth with non-leather wheel.
Note 45/45 seats with gap for accessing floor-mount console.
New door panel design with spring-loaded grab handle.
Optional console shown that replaces standard
floor mount tray version.
Speaking of Power Seats...
While a 6-way power seat was always standard on the driver's side, a power-operated passenger seat remained optional ($197.40 in 1985). Occasionally, a manual version pops up in the wild, though they tend to favor the earlier years. Power Recline was also an option, with the switch mounted on the lower seat trim.
Manual Seat Eldo. Rather than a block-off plate, I believe the entire panel is a unique P/N
New for 1981 - The first car to have power memory seats since the 1958 Eldo Brougham
We interrupt this spotters guide for a quick look at grille cap changes.....
It follows that radiator grille caps would update to match yearly grille changes, but I discovered a couple interesting things at play. 1979 obviously has a pronounced lip that favors the early spring-loaded grille. This was revised for the fixed '80 & '81 design which adds a bit of a taper over the primary area to minimize that lip, adds a brushed appearance, yet maintains the Cadillac insignia. For 1982, something curious happens...despite looking like the '80/'81 style, the cap itself is a 1/4" shorter in length on each end (see center pic). On further inspection, it also has a greater trapezoidal appearance on the ends, and note the reduced spacing between the top of the 'C' in Cadillac and the black infill relief.
Stranger still, the hood itself changed for '81, not '82 (you'll find "81" stamped into the underside sheetmetal, as well as the fender-to-header brackets). Perhaps this was in reference to Calendar-Year '81? From my measurements, the '79 hood measures 15" on each side up to the point where the hood begins angling forward, while an '84 hood measures 15-1/4". One would assume the hood change would match the grille cap length change? Curiously, the parts manual shows a single hood part number for '79-85.
| 1980/81: 1618907 Note length difference to '82.
- New grille style that's carried through to '85
- Cad script remains on header for '82, yet is actually a new grille cap
- Carryover Park Lamps: amber and divided
- New taillight applique with colored infill (through '85)
- First year for HT4100 fender badge (Diesel and V6 still available)
- Eldorado Touring Coupe package first offered. See the ETC Page for More Info.
→ If the grille header says Cadillac, it's pre-'83.
→ If the fender has a V6 badge, it's pre '83 but post '80.
→ Silver ETCs are always '82
- Carryover "Teakwood" woodgrain and steering wheel design
- Front seats now accomodate 3 passengers with a 45/50 design.
- Glovebox door is revised to eliminate perimeter screw heads.
- New Climate Control with outdoor temp feature - shown in pic below. Mirror-mounted thermometer dropped.
- MPG Sentinel becomes "Fuel Economy Data"; loses the V864 CYLS function.
- First year for THM 325-4L transmission which necessitates new PRNDL.
- ETC interior is silver/gray leather bucket seats and console; only year for that color.
Largely a carryover from 1982, with these differences:
- Park lamps are clear (through '85)
- Grille header has same dimensions and appearance but Cadillac script is eliminated; moves to grille (through '85)
- Door handle grip & pushbuttons gain radiused corners (through '85)
- Carryover from 1982, including steering wheel design
- Bose dual-shaft radio option offered (1-year only). See Sound System section for more on this.
New Bose Option - Only year for Dual-Shaft Version
Example of 1982-85 Taillight Applique.
All years have silver paint on lens ribs, most worn to time and elements.
1970's style button gets an update.
Inner mechanism also changed.
- No major exterior changes for '84/85. Looks like an '83 but will have no fender badges.
- Convertibles make a factory-endorsed return, conversion was performed by ASC in partnership with Cadillac (see above).
- A full-Cabriolet roof treatment is offered on Eldo & Seville (simulated convertible top).
- A Commemorative Edition Eldorado (and Seville) were offered in '85. (4VU $1241). These were available in Cotillion White or Commodore Blue and have two-tone blue and white leather interiors. Exterior emblems are gold, with a special medalion. Wire wheel covers have gold centers. The taillights have NO applique, and are basically 1979 lights.
- Aluminum rims are still offered, but are no longer color keyed for '85; all are silver.
→ASC convertibles are always '84/'85
→Bordeaux Red ETCs are always '85.
→Sable Black ETCs with silver aluminum wheels are '85.
- New seat pattern for base Eldos. Biarritz seat pattern remains consistent, 1979-85.
- Door panel woodgrain inserts (both of them) lose their silver trim border for black (see '82 red interior above for silver example)
- Steering wheel left and right horn pad surfaces gain a (much needed) perimeter relief
- 1985: Auto-Dimming rear view mirror offered (Toro first in '84)
- Commemorative Edition (1985) will have a unique steering wheel horn pad center with gold insert, and the obvious 2-tone blue/white leather seats and door panels.
Dashboard internal structure redesigned to accommodate:
- New Delco 2000 radio introduced (1984)
- Fuel Economy Data becomes Fuel Data, dimensions change to match Climate Control panel width
- Dash loses plasti-chrome surrounds; headlight knob updated to match radio
New base-model seat pattern, updated horn pad, revised dashboard with Delco 2000 radio, Fuel Data display and black trim. Note non-leather wheel.
-Click for Expanded Version-
2-Tone Commemorative Edition with exclusive horn pad.
Note gold wheel centers, borrowed from Seville.
Memory Seat option not available on convertibles due to quarter
window switch control location.
- 1979-'81 easily identifiable by yearly grille change
- 1982 looks like '82-'85 except for amber park lights and Cadillac script on grille header
- 1983 looks like '84/85, except it will have fender badges
- 1984/85- No fender badges; indistinguishable unless it's an '85 Commemorative Edition or ETC with unpainted wheels.
- Analog ATC is always a '79.
- Lowboy or "Riv" style console is always an '81.
- Digital CC & a passenger rear door handle is always 1980. Or...if you only can see the dash, a 2-button MPG Sentinel is a giveaway.
- Digital CC (without outdoor temp) & no passenger rear door handle is '81. Or...if DEFI equipped, MPG Sentinel will have a CYLS button.
- 1982 & '83 have dual-shaft radios and the updated Climate Control with Outdoor Temp.
- Delco 2000 radio is always an '84/85. 1984/85 also have a unique seat pattern on base Eldo.
- Auto-dimming rear view mirror? It's an '85 exclusive.
Wheelcover options also changed yearly, with some spanning multiple years. However, since these are easily changed, it's tough to rely on them for ID. Same with a pre-'84 that's had a repaint and badges were omitted.
There was also a dizzying (and ever-changing) array of exterior, interior, and top colors offered throughout the run. A real pro can identify a particular year simply by a unique color or 2-tone combo.
Once again, if you're interested in the yearly electrical, mechanical and design changes, check out the Engineering Changes by Year page.
What's with the WOODGRAIN?
My gut feeling has always been that 1980/81 woodgrain was different than 1982/83, and possibly 1984/85. But after spending some time with the parts catalog, I'm beginning to question that. Cadillac referred to the pattern as "Teakwood", and from a cursory review of internet images, it appears Cadillac didn't just crank out the same identical pattern on every car, but actually had multiple patterns of the same "species", all sharing the same part number. Since we know there were changes to the physical glovebox door mounting scheme, the p/n break isn't useful in determining a woodgrain difference. So, I took a look at the woodgrain-patterned glovebox door surround, and learned the same p/n was used from 1980 through 1983 (1617442). The p/n changed when the silver border was dropped for black (84/85).
Have a look at this random assortment of glove box doors. Mentally normalize the various color temps and examine the patterns... not one of these repeats.
Out of curiosity, I then compared three center panels I had on hand from '84/'85 Eldos and discovered the same thing. Identical "species", each with its own unique pattern. Maybe I should've grabbed that '82 glovebox door last time I was at the yard....
|1979 & 1980 Fender Emblem unless Diesel was ordered. Adhesive-backed.
Appears to be the same badge as used on the first-gen Seville.
|Diesel fender (and decklid) emblem 1979-85. Each GM division had their
own unique style.
|1981-exclusive V864 Fender Emblem.
|1981/82 Optional V6 (Buick 4.1L)
|1982 & 1983 4100 Emblem. No fender badges for '84/'85.