1953-1966 Cadillac Eldorado


To get at the grandeur of the 1953-1966 Cadillac Eldorado, one should turn to poetry.

"Shadow," said he, "where can it be
This land of Eldorado?"
"Over the Mountains of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,"
The shade replied,
"If you seek for Eldorado!"
-- Edgar Allan Poe

Eldorado -- in proper Spanish, El Dorado -- means "The Gilded One." In the lore of the ancients it was a legendary golden kingdom, a place of fabulous riches located -- or so it was believed -- high in the snowcapped mountains of what is now Colombia.

Classic Cars Image Gallery

1958 Cadillac Eldorado
The Eldorado Biarritz convertible for 1958. Just 815 were built. See more classic car pictures.

­Over the years, "Eldorado" thus came to represent the best of everything: opulence, wealth, the good life. So it was also a completely logical choice as the name for a stunning new convertible that arrived as Cadillac's style leader and its ultimate prestige car for 1953.

Cadillac had startled the automotive world back in 1930 with America's first 16-cylinder motorcar. The V-16 line never made a nickel in its 11 years of production. Possibly it wasn't intended to. It was an image-builder. And with the help of these magnificent machines, Cadillac was indeed able to elbow its way past Packard to become the country's most prestigious luxury make.

The original Eldorado can be viewed in the same light, though the image it projected was vastly different. Instead of staid, classic dignity, it had flair, élan, panache. But like the Sixteen, it cost the world: $7,750, fully 87 percent more than the standard Series 62 convertible. Also like its distinguished 1930s forebear, it was scarce: only 532 were built in that inaugural model year.

Many people first saw the Eldorado on television. The date was January 20, 1953, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, easily the most popular American hero of World War II, was being driven down Pennsylvania Avenue to his first inauguration as President of the United States.

Setting a jaunty tone for the new administration, our soon-to-be-anointed leader was shown in the back seat of the exotic new Cadillac we'd been reading about. (And how strange to recall a time not all that long ago when a president could greet a crowd from an open car without the need for a bulletproof barrier.)

Of course, in the minds of committed car buffs the Chief Executive had been upstaged: We couldn't take our eyes off that gorgeous Eldorado, the most glamorous machine yet seen from postwar Detroit.

See the next section for details on the first few model years of the Eldorado.

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1953, 1954, 1955 Cadillac Eldorado

At the root of the 1953, 1954 and 1955 Cadillac Eldorado line was a 1952 show car based on the normal Series 62 convertible as modified under the aegis of General Motors design chief Harley Earl. Along with the 1953 Chevrolet Corvette, it was the first of GM's Motorama dream machines to be offered for public sale.

1953 Cadillac Eldorado
Inspired by a 1952 Motorama show car, the Eldorado arrived the following year as a Series 62 convertible sporting a cut-down wrapped windshield, a rakishly dipped beltline, and chrome wire wheels.

Among its features were the new "Panoramic" wraparound windshield -- a harbinger of things to come -- plus a stylishly notched belt-line and a flush-fitting metal cover to conceal the folded cloth top. Standing some three inches lower than its Series 62 cousin, the Eldorado had a longer, slinkier appearance, though its overall length was the same.

Its interior was upholstered in the finest leather, and a sparkling set of chromed wire wheels added a final touch of elegance. Standard equipment included radio, heater, white-sidewall tires, power steering and, of course, Hydra-Matic transmission. If there were any doubts that Cadillac reigned supreme in the prestige class, the Eldorado forever laid them to rest.

Yet only a year later, the division evidently felt it had sufficiently made that point. It was time for a new kind of Eldorado, one that could be sold in significant numbers and thus turn a substantial profit. Accordingly, the 1954 model was of a different breed -- and it sold for a different price: $5,738, more than $2,000 less than the '53.

Cadillac styling was heavier and more massive for 1954. The new models outweighed their 1953 counterparts by something like 140 pounds, due in part to three-inch longer wheelbases across the line. Whether their more slab-sided appearance made them better-looking may be open to question, but they were nevertheless well received.

Power was still supplied by the division's milestone 331-cubic-inch overhead-valve V-8 that had first appeared for 1949. Though rated horsepower now rose from 210 to 230, there were no engine changes from the previous year. In fact, the 1953 figure had been deliberately understated in order to facilitate this corporate sleight of hand.

The Eldorado still carried the basic Cadillac engine and its predecessor's impressive list of standard features, but it now used the exact same bodyshell as the Series 62 convertible, with no sheetmetal modifications as on the '53. Although the 1954 could be readily identified by ribbed bright metal on the lower rear fenders and gold Cadillac crests on the door uppers, it was much less distinctive than the original.

Still, the price was right, even if it was now "only" $1,300 higher than the 62's. Despite a somewhat abbreviated model year, the Eldorado found 2,150 buyers, a dramatic fourfold increase.

1954 Cadillac Eldorado
The 1954 Eldorado shared the more massive lines adopted for all Cadillacs that year but was less distinctive than the '53 thanks to the use of the unmodified Series 62 bodyshell.

­ Changes were more extensive for 1955. For the first time, the Eldorado got its own engine, a high-performance version of the Cadillac V-8. Fitted with dual four-barrel carburetors, it provided 270 horsepower, 20 more than available in other models that year.

Styling was more distinctive, too, with a unique rear end featuring longer, more prominent "shark" fins, plus a smartly redesigned interior. The instrument panel even carried a special gold crest on which the owner's name was engraved.

Fender skirts were eliminated, and larger wheel cutouts showed off the new chrome-plated "Sabre-Spoke" wheels, replacing the previous wires. These gorgeous wheels, exclusive to the Eldorado, would be retained through the 1958 model year.

Learn about the 1956 and 1957 Cadillac Eldorados on the next page.

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1956, 1957 Cadillac Eldorado

The 1956 Cadillac line offered buyers a choice of Eldorados for the first time. The convertible returned with the name Biarritz to set it apart from a new two-door hardtop companion called Seville. Both names were taken from
historic -- and, of course, prestigious -- European cities, Seville in Spain and Biarritz in France.

1956 Cadillac Eldorado
The Eldorado convertible was retagged Biarritz to distinguish it from the new-for-1956 Seville hardtop coupe.

Styling changes common to both included the addition of a smart, twin-bladed hood ornament -- suitable for impaling unsuspecting pedestrians -- and a pair of ribbed chrome "saddles" on the door tops. The Seville proved to be particularly popular, outselling the Biarritz by nearly 2 to 1.

Interestingly enough, their positions would be reversed within three years. Under the hood, the Cadillac V-8 was enlarged for the first time since 1949, with a 3/16-inch increase in bore (on the same 3.63-inch stroke) bringing swept volume to 365 cid. Horsepower was rated at 305 for the two Eldorados, again 20 more than that of other models.

Cadillac's completely restyled 1957 offerings borrowed heavily from the lines of the Park Avenue, a hardtop sedan "idea" car shown at the 1954 Motorama. A new X-member chassis contributed to structural rigidity as well as to a profile nearly three inches lower than before. Of course, the lack of side rails meant that the new frame afforded virtually no lateral impact protection, but Detroit wasn't particularly safety-conscious in those days.

Once more the Eldorado Biarritz and Seville had their own rear-end configuration. The work of Ron Hill, a talented 23-year-old design newcomer, it featured a sloped deck flanked by rounded fenders sprouting sharply pointed fins.

Rear wheel openings were again skirtless, and the lower rear fenders were liberally garnished with chrome. The hood ornament was eliminated, contributing to a smoother frontal appearance.

1957 Cadillac Eldorado
This like-new 1957 Biarritz shows off its handsome profile and smart interior.

­ Overall, the '57 was more readily distinguishable from other Cadillacs than any Eldorado since the original. Oddly enough, the dual four-barrel carburetion was dropped this year, and standard horsepower backed off slightly to 300 despite an increase in compression ratio. The all-out performance buff could still get the twin pots and 325 horses, but they now cost extra.

But the Biarritz and the Seville were no more than a warm-up for 1957's main event. As it had in the 1930s, Cadillac plunged into the super-luxury market with the new Eldorado Brougham, a virtually hand-built hardtop sedan on a more compact 126-inch wheelbase. Conceived largely in response to the Continental Mark II from Ford Motor Company, it came with every extra in the Cadillac accessory book -- plus a few brand-new exclusives -- but was no more successful.

Price was a formidable $13,074, for which you could very nearly buy both a Biarritz and a Seville. Demand was predictably limited, and just 400 were built for the model year, all in Cadillac's own plant, by the way. Long a certified Milestone, the Eldorado Brougham is a story unto itself.

Find details on the 1958 and 1958 Eldorado models in the next section.

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1958, 1959 Cadillac Eldorado

The 1958 and 1959 Cadillac Eldorados diverged in strategy. Cadillac stood more or less pat on a winning hand for the 1958. Styling changes involved minor sheetmetal reshaping and ornamentation shuffling, and all models acquired the new four-headlamp system, first seen at Cadillac on the Brougham, in line with an industry trend.

1958 Cadillac Eldorado
Styling became more glittery on the 1958 Biarritz. Price was up by $762.

ldorado performance was substantially improved with the adoption of three two-barrel carburetors, which boosted output to 335 horsepower, 25 horsepower up on the single-four-barrel engine used elsewhere in the line.

The Brougham's astronomical price was unchanged, but the Seville and Biarritz, which consistently bore identical price tags, rose a startling $762. The timing of such a substantial increase proved to be ill-advised in this deep recession year, and sales fell by more than half. The Brougham fared little better, production stopping at a mere 304 units.

Model year 1959 brought another complete restyle for the entire Cadillac line and -- except for the Eldorado Brougham -- the wildest tailfins Detroit would ever produce. Cadillac historian Walter McCall described these appendages as "flamboyant," "ludicrous," and "of questionable taste." Other critics have said harsher things, but the public seemed to go along with the excess. The economy had picked up somewhat and, as elsewhere in the industry, Cadillac sales improved a bit.

Air suspension, pioneered by the Brougham two years earlier, was now standard for Biarritz and Seville. Though it offered a cloud-like ride and the convenience of automatic self-leveling in response to changes in load, the airbag setup was leak-prone and troublesome. Cadillac would abandon it after 1960 as Detroit's fascination with such gimmicks waned in proportion to a growing number of customer complaints.

1959 Cadillac Eldorado
The Eldorados became more like their lesser linemates for 1959, losing their unique
tail treatment and wheels.

­ Eldorado horses again numbered 20 more than on other Cadillacs. Thanks to a longer 3.88-inch stroke and another compression tweak, the figure was now 345 for the newly enlarged 390-cid V-8, which would prove to be the all-time power peak for a rear-drive Eldo.

Echoing 1954, the Biarritz and Seville lost much of their previous styling distinction this year. Their only differences from comparable Series 62s were a chrome swath along the upper rear fender contour and the Eldorado name in neat block letters along the lower edge of the front fenders.

The Brougham was another matter entirely. Now bearing coachwork built and styled by Pinin Farina of Italy, it was far different in character than the 1957-1958 design and actually predicted a number of styling features that would be adopted for the regular 1961-1962 production models.

To learn more about the 1960, 1961, and 1962 Eldorado model years, see the next page.

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1960, 1961, 1962 Cadillac Eldorado

Cadillac tempered its outlandish fins for the 1960 Cadillac Eldorado, the year that marked the division's last use of triple two-barrel carburetion as standard Eldorado issue. For the remaining six years of its production life, the rear-drive Eldo would have the same engine specs as its less exotic linemates. As mentioned, air suspension was also abandoned after 1960. So was the Eldorado hardtop.

1960 Cadillac Eldorado
Model year 1960 marked the end of the more powerful Eldo engine. Styling was less garish, via shorter fins and more restrained ornamentation

­With lower sales than the Biarritz for the second year in a row and with two other hardtop coupes in the Cadillac line, the Seville had by now become superfluous. So, too, had the Brougham, and Cadillac rang down the curtain on its super-luxury flagship after building only 200 of the 1959-1960 models.

After riding a 130-inch wheelbase for 1959-1960, all 1961 Cadillacs except the big Series 75 dropped back to the 129.5-inch length of the 1957-1958 Series 62. Though they weighed about the same, the new models looked tighter and crisper, with even less prominent fins and -- for the first time since 1954 -- no wrapped windshield.

Unfortunately, the Eldorado seemed to be in a state of decline. There was now only one model, the Biarritz soft-top, a situation that would hold through 1966. The Biarritz name itself would be phased out after 1963 in favor of Fleetwood Eldorado.

Along with a reduction in horsepower from 345 to a still ample 325 horsepower, 1961 brought a substantial reduction in the Eldorado's price. At $6,477, this year's Biarritz was $924 cheaper than its 1960 counterpart, though that still represented a premium of more than $1,000 above the less prestigious Series 62 convertible. One almost had to look for the nameplate to distinguish the Biarritz from other Cadillacs.

Yet even if it had lost much of its former distinction, this remained a top-quality automobile characterized by such luxury touches as a premium interior lined with ostrich-grain leather. Production rose slightly, presumably in response to the reduced price, but the '61 was hardly cause for excitement.

The 1962 Biarritz was somewhat more distinctive, thanks to its thin upper body side moldings, but it was far from striking or individual. Production remained at 1,450 units, exactly the same as the year before, while the division's overall production rose substantially.

Our story wraps up on the next page, with the last model years of the Eldorado.

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1963, 1964, 1965, 1966 Cadillac Eldorado

A more distinguished-looking Cadillac Biarritz arrived for 1963. The lower body "skeg" lines of 1961-1962 were erased on all Cadillacs, and wide brushed-finish rocker panel moldings gave the Biarritz closer kinship with the svelte Sixty Special. The price remained stable -- a nominal two dollars less than the year before -- and production, though still limited, increased significantly.

The off-again/on-again rear fender skirts were gone again for 1964. Otherwise, this year's Fleetwood Eldorado convertible looked very much like the 1963 Biarritz.

1964 Cadillac Eldorado
The newly named Fleetwood Eldorado saw 1,870 copies for 1964.

Price went up by a paltry $22, but performance went up in a big way as both bore and stroke were increased (to 4.13 × 4.00 inches) for 429 cid and 340 horsepower. A significant development was the arrival of GM's new Turbo-Hydramatic transmission.

Except for the Series 75, the entire Cadillac line was again totally redesigned for 1965. Appearance was smoother and more rounded, thanks in part to the division's first use of curved side glass, and the tailfins -- a Cadillac tradition since 1948 -- were gone.

The big V-8 was repositioned six inches forward of its previous location in a new box-section perimeter frame, replacing the old X-type. A completely new four-link rear suspension system combined with front suspension refinements for an even smoother ride, and a revised exhaust setup brought an already quiet automobile even closer to silence.

1964 Cadillac Eldorado
Another handsomely restored 1964. Eldo’s rear fender skirts were off again that year.

­It had been a long time since Cadillac had made so many significant advances in a single model year. Naturally, the Fleetwood Eldorado convertible shared in these. Like the Sixty-Special, it was again bereft of bodyside trim apart from the wide rocker moldings, but the fender skirts were back once more as standard. Predictably, Eldorado sales, like those of the entire Cadillac line, increased markedly.

Little change was evident for 1966, the final season for the rear-drive Eldorado. This was a record sales year for Cadillac, its fifth in a row, and 1966 Eldorado production was exceeded only by the 1955 total. And that's as it should be, for a car with such a great heritage should end on a note of triumph.

But by now, Cadillac had decided it was again time for something truly new. It appeared the following year in the form of the first front-wheel-drive Eldorado, which would set a new standard for personal-luxury transportation. This car would only strengthen Cadillac's dominance in the upper end of the market. In first-year sales alone it exceeded its predecessor's combined total for the previous 10.

Nevertheless, this success wouldn't have been possible had it not been for the memorable Eldorados of the 1950s and early '60s. With the best of everything Cadillac had to offer in those years, they left an indelible impression in the minds and hearts of owners and would-be owners everywhere, and you can't ask much more than that.

Find specifications for the Cadillac Eldorado in our final section.

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1953-1966 Cadillac Eldorado Specifications

The 1953-1966 Cadillac Eldorado was probably the most glamorous machine the world had seen from Detroit since before World War II. Find specifications for this classic car in the chart below.

1953-1966 Cadillac Eldorado Production and Brief Specifications






Convertible Hardtop
Year cidbhp C.R.(:1) Carb. Price Prod. PriceProd.
1953 331 210 8.25:1 1-4 bbl
$7,750 532

1954 331 230 8.25:1 1-4 bbl
$5,738 2,150

1955 331 270 9.10:1
2-4 bbl
$5,814 3,950

1956 365 305 9.75:1
2-4 bbl
$6,014 2,150 $6,014 3,900
1957 365 300* 10.00:1
1-4 bbl
$6,648 1,800 $6,648 2,100
1958 365 335 10.25:1
3-2 bbl
$7,410 815 $7,410 855
1959 390 345 10.50:1 3-2 bbl
$7,401 1,320 $7,401 975
1960 390 345 10.50:1 3-2 bbl
$7,401 1,285 $7,401 1,075
1961
390
32510.50:1
1-4 bbl
$6,477
1,450


1962
390
32510.50:1
1-4 bbl
$6,610
1,450


1963
390
32510.50:1
1-4 bbl
$6,608
1,828


1964
429
34010.50:1
1-4 bbl
$6,608
1,870


1965
429
34010.50:1
1-4 bbl
$6,738
2,125


1966
429
34010.50:1
1-4 bbl
$6,631
2,250


*325-horsepower dual four-barrel optionally available

­

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