Press releases from new car manufacturers these days focus on more. Of everything. More horsepower, more luxury, more storage space, more electronic stuff and, of course, more attractive lease and financing terms.
But 41 years ago today, Cadillac issued a press release informing the media about something it was taking away from customers – convertible tops. This wasn’t going to be just for a year or two. Cadillac officials were slamming the coffin lid shut on open air motoring, as the rest of the U.S. auto industry had, in the wake of slumping sales and in anticipation of tough new Federal safety regulations that never materialized:
“Like the running board and rumble seat, the convertible is an item which history has passed by,” Edward C. Kennard, Cadillac’s general manager said in the April 21, 1976 release.
That statement accompanied the production of a white 1976 Fleetwood Eldorado convertible — heralded as the final American convertible — which was stashed away by Cadillac so that future generations might marvel at this relic with the curious folding roof. It even got a set of special Michigan license plates embossed with the word LAST.
Lucky buyers could purchase their own replica of the last example — one of 200 identical 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado convertibles. These cars were all white with white tops and white wheel covers, as well as U.S. Bicentennial-appropriate red and blue hood stripes. On the inside they were furnished with white leather seats with red piping, red carpet, red dashes and a special commemorative dash plaque.
Prices for the replicas started at $11,049, but piling on the options (as Cadillac owners tended to do) could put you closer to $13,000 — way more than double the average new car cost back then and about $57,000 in today’s dollars. Dealers slapped on heavy markups on top of the MSRP and customers still lined up.
Sales of all Eldorado convertibles in 1976 soared to 14,000, up from 8,950 in ’75. Cadillac would’ve built and sold more but it couldn’t get its hands on enough folding top hardware, as suppliers had been winding down production.
Of course, we know the rest of the story. With convertibles no longer available, buyers began craving them again. The voids left by the absence of Eldorado convertibles at Cadillac dealers were filled by third-party coachbuilders. Hess & Eisenhardt’s Le Cabriolets based on Coupe de Villes are one of the more well-known examples. Those cars, in 1979, stickered for double the price of a ’76 convertible selling for $25,977.
The flood gates opened when Chrysler rolled out the LeBaron convertible in 1982 and sold more than 12,000. Other new open-top cars soon followed. Cadillac reissued the Eldorado convertible for 1984-’85, prompting a class-action lawsuit from Cadillac owners who’d purchased what they thought was an instant collector’s item back in ’76. (The suit was dismissed).
Today these cars are prized among Cadillac fans and are priced accordingly. Hagerty, for instance, puts the average value at $36,200, with a range of $21,000 on the low end to $68,000 on the high end. NADA tacks on a 20 percent premium for the Bicentennial package over a standard 1976 Eldorado convertible.