The Eldorado model was part of the Cadillac line from 1953 to 2002. The Cadillac Eldorado was the longest running American personal luxury car as it was the onl...More »
The Eldorado model was part of the Cadillac line from 1953 to 2002. The Cadillac Eldorado was the longest running American personal luxury car as it was the only one sold after the 1998 model year. Its main competitors included the Mark Series and the lower-priced Buick Riviera. The name Eldorado was derived from the Spanish words "el dorado", the "gilded one"; the name was given originally to the legendary chief or "cacique" of a S. American Indian tribe. Legend has it that his followers would sprinkle his body with gold dust on ceremonial occasions and he would wash it off again by diving into a lake. The name more frequently refers to a legendary city of fabulous riches, somewhere in S. America, that inspired many European expeditions, including one to the Orinoco by England's Sir Walter Raleigh.
The name was proposed for a special show car built in 1952 to mark Cadillac's Golden Anniversary; it was the result of an in-house competition won by Mary-Ann Zukosky (married name = Marini), a secretary in the company's merchandising department. Another source, Palm Springs Life magazine, attributes the name to a resort destination in California's Coachella Valley that was a favorite of General Motors executives, the Eldorado Country Club. In any case, the name was adopted by the company for a new, limited-edition convertible that was added to the line in 1953.
Although cars bearing the name varied considerably in bodystyle and mechanical layout during this long period, the Eldorado models were always near the top of the Cadillac line. Nevertheless, and except for the Eldorado Brougham models of 1957-1960, the most expensive models were always the opulent, long wheel-based "Series 75" sedans and limousines.
The 1953 Eldorado was a special-bodied, low-production convertible (532 units in total). It was the production version of the 1952 El Dorado "Golden Anniversary" concept car. Available in four unique colors (Aztec Red, Alpine White, Azure Blue and Artisan Ochre - the latter is a yellow hue, although it was shown erroneously as black in the color folder issued on this rare model). Convertible tops were available in either black or white Orlon. There was no special badging on the car, other than the "Eldorado" nameplate, in "gold", in the center of the dash. A hard tonneau cover, flush with the rear deck, hid the top in the open car version. Although it was based on the regular Series 62 convertible and shared its engine, it was nearly twice as expensive at US$7,750.
This first Eldorado had a wraparound windshield and a cut-down beltline, the latter signifying a dip in the sheetmetal at the bottom of the side windows. These two touches were especially beloved by General Motors Styling Chief Harley Earl and subsequently were widely copied by other marques. In fact, throughout the 50s, Eldorado was GM's styling leader, and since GM led the industry, where the Eldorado went, everyone else would tend to follow.
In 1954, Eldorado lost its unique sheet metal, sharing its basic body shell with standard Cadillacs. Distinguished now mainly by trim pieces, this allowed GM to lower the price and they were rewarded with a substantial jump in sales.
For 1955, the Eldorado's body gained its own rear end styling with high, slender, pointed tailfins. These contrasted with the rather thick, bulbous fins which were common at the time and were an example of Eldorado once again pointing the way forward.
For 1956, a two-door hardtop coupe version appeared, called the Eldorado Seville.
1957 saw the Eldorado (both the Biarritz convertible and the Seville hardtop) once again present an innovative rear-end design, a low, downswept fenderline capped by a pointed, in-board fin. The rear fenders were commonly referred to as "chipmunk cheeks". This concept was used for two years, but did not spawn any imitators.
1957 was chiefly notable, though, for the introduction of one of GM's most memorable designs, the Eldorado Brougham. This four-door hardtop with rear-opening rear doors was an ultra-luxury car that cost an astonishing $13,000+, more than the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud of the same year. It featured a stainless steel roof, air suspension, the first dual headlights, the first memory power seats, and every possible kind of appearance and convenience feature that GM's most inventive minds could devise. This design ran for two years and of course sold in very small quantities (704 units in total) owing to the price. It has been estimated that GM lost $10,000 on every one, but these virtually hand-assembled cars are today among the rarest and most collectible of all postwar American models.
A different Eldorado Brougham was sold for 1959 and 1960. These cars were not quite so extravagantly styled but were very unusual pieces in themselves. Priced at $13,075, they cost $1 more, each, than their older siblings. The design was 100% Cadillac but the company contracted out the assembly to Pinin Farina of Italy, with whom the division has had a long-running relationship, and these Eldorados were essentially hand-built in Italy. Their discreet, narrow taillights, nicely integrated into modest tailfins, contrasted sharply with the "rocketship" taillights and massive fins of the standard 1959 Cadillacs and were an indication of where Caddy styling would go in the next few years. However, build quality was not nearly to the standard of the Detroit hand-built 1957-1958s, and the 1959-1960 Broughams are less desirable, it seems, than the 1st generation Broughams, although their value and collectibility remain high.
The last Eldorado Seville was built in 1960. After that, the Eldorado convertible became essentially a trim version of the standard Cadillac convertible. With the end of the importation of the Italian-built Eldorados in 1960, the name entered something of a fallow period.
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