Saturday, June 4, 2011
1953 Cadillac Eldorado
The Gold Standard
Text and Photos by David W. Temple
The first four years which followed the end of World War II were important ones for Cadillac. In 1947, they outsold Packard for the first time since 1934 (and continued to do so from that point onward), the 1948 models began a styling fad that would last throughout the decade of the ‘50s and into the early ‘60s, and then with the ‘49s came Cadillac’s advanced overhead valve V-8; it arrived just in time for the start of the post-war horsepower race. Such credentials helped solidify Cadillac’s image of being the “standard of the world” as they had long claimed to be.
The tail-finned Cadillac began to take shape during 1939. During this time Harley Earl and his team received an invitation to Selfridge Air Force Base to view one of the newest and most advanced fighter planes of the day, the P-38 Lightning. General Motors’ connection to the P-38 was their Allison Division which built the engines for the Lockheed-designed plane. The twin boom fighter aircraft later proved its worth in the skies over Germany, Burma, and the South Pacific during the second world war. Beyond its importance to the Allied war effort, the plane has the distinction of being the inspiration for the tail fin craze that consumed the Detroit auto industry and car buyers for many years.
Harley Earl, the VP of GM Styling and his team of stylists made the cars of GM look exciting and thus desirable. In particular, a Cadillac was something to which to aspire because in the eyes of many it made a statement like no other automobile could. It said of its owner, “I have arrived at the top.” However, there were a few Cadillacs that made that statement a little more boldly. A limousine, the two-door hardtop Coupe de Ville, and a Series 62 convertible said so a bit more clearly. There was one more way that surpassed these beginning in 1953 – the Eldorado.
The first Cadillac Eldorado (actually the El Dorado – two words – and named for the legendary lost city of gold) was a prototype built for display on the 1952 show circuit . It was shown with two other prototypes, the Buick Skylark and Oldsmobile Fiesta. All three went into limited production the following model year.
Cadillac presented its new production Eldorado at the 1953 General Motors Motorama, a traveling exhibition featuring concept cars and the current crop of cars available from GM. The first production Eldorado, painted Artisan Ochre, premiered at the GM Motorama’s opening show at the Waldorf-Astoria in January, while the fifth and sixth production Eldorados, both painted Azure Blue, were used as GM Motorama display cars, too. Eldorado number two was also used as the Inaugural Parade Car for President Elect Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953.
The virtually hand-built Eldorado featured a wraparound windshield, deep downward curves along the top of the doors (the so-called “Darrin dip” named for the stylist Howard “Dutch” Darrin), chrome-plated wire wheels, padded dash, special leather upholstery, and a white or black Orlon (a shiny synthetic fiber) convertible top that when down was completely concealed underneath a nearly flush-fitting cover. Only the drivetrain, front fenders, quarter panels, deck lid, and floor pan were shared with the other Cadillacs in the lineup; even the dashboard was different so as to fit the dogleg created as a result of the wraparound windshield. This latter item did not interchange with the wraparound windshield of the Olds Fiesta, thus making it a unique component of the Eldorado. The special bodied cars were lower than the regular Series 62 convertible; road clearance and overall height was one inch and three inches less, respectively. Extensive use of lead was required in building these cars and no two were exactly alike – a consequence of handmade modifications.
Additional standard equipment for the limited production Eldorado included Hydra-Matic transmission, power windows and seat, power steering, heater, wide whitewall tires, fog lights, signal-seeking pre-selector radio, windshield washer, oil filter, license plate frame, and outside rear view mirror. Incidentally, a fire at GM’s Hydra-Matic transmission plant in August 1953 resulted in the top-of-the-line Eldorado and Series 75 limousine receiving priority for the Hydra-Matic while other automatic transmission-equipped Cadillacs got Buick’s Twin-Turbine Dynaflow. Very few options and accessories were needed for the well-equipped 1953 Eldorado. Two factory-installed options were offered – E-Z-Eye tinted glass, and “Autronic Eye” automatic headlight dimmer. An Eldorado-specific spotlight kit and door-edge guards were accessories offered by the dealer.
Though some 1953 Eldorados today are equipped with a Continental kit, they were not offered as a factory option or dealer accessory. Air conditioning was not available on Eldorado convertibles until 1956, though a few 1953 Eldorados have been retro-fitted with A/C.
Not available at the time was power brakes. However, a power brake installation kit (part #146 2266) for retrofit became available for the ’53 Eldorado and other Cadillacs (1950-53) the following model year.
List price for the 1953 Eldorado is often quoted as having been $7,750, though there seems to be no surviving dealer-to-customer invoice to support the claimed figure.
One could argue the 532 1953 Eldorados built were prototypes of the 1954 Eldorado. The latter shared all of its body components with other Cadillacs making it much less costly to build, thus substantially lowering its retail price.
Today, the exclusivity of the 1953 Eldorado makes it one of the most desired and valuable cars of the 1950s. Examples rated in number one or two condition sell well into the six-figure dollar range. The low production and unique components of the ’53 Eldorado also means replacing damaged or missing parts will most often be expensive. Replacing body components such as doors will usually require more than the usual amount of body work due to the hand-built qualities of such parts. Eldorado parts cars are either non-existent now or are very nearly so. Owning a 1953 Eldorado was for the wealthy in 1953; nearly six decades later, the same is true.
The 1953 Eldorado shown here was owned by Ronnie and Linda Branch of Weatherford, Texas at the time of the photo session. The car has since been sold to another collector also living in Texas.