Article reprinted from the September, 1998 Car and Driver Magazine.

Coach Builders Limited Cadillac Eldorado Touring Convertible

A pricey way to stand out during weekend outings to the clubhouse.

BY BRADLEY NEVIN

What do a Ferrari Testarossa, a BMW 850i, a Mercedes-Benz 560SEC, a Dodge Stealth, a Jaguar XJS, a Buick Riviera, a Cadillac Eldorado, and a Lincoln Mark VIII all have in common? Each has been artfully decapitated by Coach Builders Limited, a company that turns hardtops into convertibles at its facility in High Springs, Florida.

Coach Builders currently converts just one model, the Cadillac Eldorado. Since 1992, the aftermarket company has built a convertible Eldorado that uses a soft boot, one of those snap-down fabric covers that hide both the top and its unsightly support structure. Now there’s a hard-boot model that conceals the top with a metal panel between the trunk and the rear seat. With the touch of a dash-mounted button, the panel rises and the top moves downward into the well, and the panel closes over it-a procedure similar to a BMW 328is’s. Covering the top mechanism completely requires that you install two little panels to cover the openings behind the rear side windows. This Eldorado is Coach Builders’ first ever hard-boot design.

Lowering the top takes about 28 seconds after two latches are released and the top button is pressed. But there are two steps that the owner must follow with the hard boot. First, make sure the trunk is closed, lest the boot collide with the trunk-lid. (Coach Builders disconnects the trunk release button on the dash to prevent accidents.) Second, when lowering the roof, the top’s latches must be closed after they clear the windshield or they may damage the fabric when the top is down.

To find out how a chop job would affect the Eldorado’s driving manners, we borrowed a model from Don Gooley Cadillac near Detroit. On the freeway, we noticed extra wind noise, much of it coming from the T-joint where the front and rear side glass meet the folding top. Our sound meter logged 71 dBA while cruising at 70 mph–2 dBA louder than an Eldorado Touring Coupe. Acceleration from 0 to 60 mph is an eye blink slower in the convertible—6.9 versus 6.8 for the stock Eldo Touring Coupe. Braking from 70 mph to a standstill is identical at 196 feet.

The lack of significant body flex impressed us. As we drove over railroad tracks, the structure felt stiff and secure. Twisting and creaking of the body were never concerns. What we did notice, however, was some vibration and shudder in the steering wheel over bumps and potholes. On that subject, Coach Builders’ sales manager, Larry Moran, says: “No, it isn’t the same as the coupe, but we think we have it soundly reinforced. The car is very strong.” Coach Builders adds structural reinforcements under the top well, behind the rear seat, and between the rear wheel wells and door jambs, and welds extensive bracing to the undercarriage. The finished convertible’s weight is 4020 pounds, 20 pounds less than the last Eldo we tested.

With the top down, trunk space shrinks by only 10 to 15 percent, according to Moran, which leaves enough room to carry two sets of golf clubs. Rear-seat room, at 45 cubic feet, is exactly the same as in the Eldorado Touring Coupe. (In Coach Builders’ soft-boot Eldorado, rear-seat room is slightly narrower.) Only the $360,000-plus Bentley Azure convertible, with 40 cubic feet of rear-seat room, comes close to matching the Eldo’s.

Coach Builders converts Eldorados for a dozen dealers across the country. If you own an Eldorado and live near one of these dealers, Coach Builders will refer you to that dealer to handle the conversion. “Wherever we have a stocking dealer, we won’t sell to a customer,” says Moran. If you live outside the dealer’s area, you must contact Coach Builders directly.

Coach Builders requires five weeks to convert an Eldorado into a convertible. In February, however, the wait was 13 weeks because of high demand. Coach Builders has so far made only about 50 hard-boot Eldos and 600 to 700 soft-boot models so if you desire the most uncommon car on the block, this hard-boot Eldo may be your ticket.

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