The History and Evolution of the Cadillac Eldorado
To refer to the Cadillac Eldorado as a classic car is not sufficient. Even the term prestigous car doesn’t fully embrace what this legendary car has meant for its generations of owners. An unnamed member of a Cadillac forum said it best when writing that a Cadillac is a “no-compromise, no-excuse Americana luxury” vehicle with “a distinct look, stance, and presence”- the car for “the American patriot”.
The Cadillac company website describes that its discontinued vehicle has a “true driver’s luxury coupe”. The car offered its owners top handling and performance, and interior systems comfort and convenience. Owners would either enjoy standard or extra features depending upon the generation they owned. These were things such as fingertip controls on the steering wheel for climate and audio systems.
As the generations evolved, a full range of luxuries was available. A single slot CD player, digital signal processing, remote keyless entry, dual zone recirculation, genuine Zebrano wood and others were added to the lineup. All of these, including the V8 engine which gave the car its powerful ride, were part of the experience package.
The Eldorado name was first proposed for the company’s 1952 Cadillac Golden Anniversary show car. A company in-house competition was held to name the car marking the company’s anniversary. A company secretary from the merchandising department, Mary-Ann Marini, won that competition. Her winning name was adopted for the new Cadillac, a limited edition convertible, added to the company’s line when the car was produced in 1953.
There were only 532 units of the 1953 Eldorado produced. It was a unique integration of elements from the 1952 Golden Anniversary concept car and dagmars, the bumper bullets from General Motor’s 1951 show car, the Le Sabre. Only four colors were offered, and they were unique color blends. Alpine White, Artisan Ochre, Aztec Red and Azure Blue were the official names for the colors. The convertible tops were offered in only two choices; white or black. The dashboard featured a special nameplate badge of “Eldorado”, but other than that, there was no other badging included.
A tonneau hard cover which was designed to enclose the convertible Orlon top was installed flush so that the cover was hidden when the car was completely open. Other design features included a stylish belt line and wraparound windshield. Both elements were favorites of Harley Earl, Styling Chief for the company. Other car brands would copy these two elements, but the Eldorado had led the way with these two stylish firsts.
The Cadillac Eldorado has a significant history. From 1953, when the first Cadillac Eldorado was introduced by General Motors, there have been ten distinct generations of the specialty convertible assembled in Detroit, Michigan:
First generation (1953)
The 532 units of this generation cost $7,750 USD. They were based on the Cadillac Series 62 convertible, using the same engine, but were almost twice as expensive. It was 80.1 inches wide and 220.8 inches long. The car’s standard features included a heater, power windows, windshield washers and a signal seeking radio. Sales of the Eldorado model accounted for just .50% of sales that year.
Second generation (1954–1956)
GM took away the unique sheet metal design from the Eldorado, which shared its body shell with the standard Cadillac line. This allowed for a price reduction and subsequent increase in sales in 1954. In 1955, stylish, high and slender tailfins were added to the rear end, which distinguished the El Dorado from the standard line. Other car brands had bulky fins, but Eldorado’s were sleek and new. In 1956, the Eldorado Seville was introduced; which was a hardtop two-door coupe.
Third generation (1957-1960)
The rear end was revised to feature a pointed fin at the end of a low fender. The in-board styled fin caused the rear fenders to earn the nickname of chipmunk cheeks. But this 1957 year also introduced the Eldorado Brougham, which was so luxurious that the price tag went up to $13,074. It was a hard top with four doors and rear doors which were rear-hinged.
Its roof was stainless steel, and it had power seats (the first memory version ever), all the comfort features General Motors had available, and tiny perfume bottles to top it all off. There were problems with its air suspension, so owners actually opted to have the system replaced with the more common coil springs.
In 1959 and 1960, the company had its assembly of the Eldorado Brougham done by the Italian company Pininfarina. These were hand-built, Italian Eldorado cars. These cars were not as quality built as those hand built in Detroit for the 1957 to 1958 versions, and did not sell as well as expected. The Brougham was its own Series 6900 for the last two years it was produced. The Eldorado Biarritz and Eldorado Seville belonged to their own Series 6400 from 1959 through 1960.
Fourth generation (1961–1964)
During this time period, the Eldorado was distinguished by removing its fender skirts. From 1963 forward, the Eldorado was produced with the Fleetwood body. For this reason, the Fleetwood crest was placed on its rear quarters. It was the first use of a Fleetwood body on a Cadillac convertible.
Fifth generation (1965–1966)
The Eldorado was branded as the Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado, and marketed within the Fleetwood product range.
Sixth generation (1967–1970)
By 1967, a redesign took place. The Eldorado shared the same body as the Buick Riviera and the Oldsmobile Toronado. Significant changes were made to the transmission and the Toronado’s front wheel drive system was adopted. The car had a new style, thanks to the design changes of Styling Chief Bill Mitchell.
The car became more angular in profile, more powerful, easier to handle and more performance oriented. Sales of 17, 630 units were recorded. Disc brakes became standard in 1968. The car was updated to reflect new federal emissions and safety legislation. In 1969, power sunroofs became an option. In 1970, a new 500 cu V8 engine was introduced which was exclusive to Eldorado until 1975.
Seventh generation (1971–1978)
Some design changes included the return of fender skirts and a convertible version. An opera style window replaced the rear windows. The car was also selected to be the Indianapolis 500 pace car for the 1973 race. There were 566 pace cars produced, of which, 33 paced on the track during the week of racing. Each distributor in the United States was also give one to sell. The 1974 model had a newly designed instrument cluster added. The 1977 version had a redesigned sleeker grille added. After 1976, no convertibles were produced. This generation of Eldorado versions was often customized for use in films.
The 1976 Eldorado convertible was advertised as “the last American convertible”. The company sold 14,000 of them. Two hundred of the final ones produced commemorated the 200th birthday of America. These were the “Bicentennial Edition”. They were made in white with two red and blue pinstripes running along the upper body.
The Eldorado Biarritz was featured with a brushed stainless steel roof from 1979 through 1985. The interior had luxurious leather or velour upholstery. It also had various option packages at various prices. These luxury packages were introduced to solidify the Biarritz as a distinct styling option.
Eighth generation (1979–1985)
In 1979, the trim and slim Eldorado was presented. It had better fuel efficiency, and options for a diesel 350 model. By 1980, the air conditioning gave the Eldorado what was advertised as the quietness of a hospital zone.
Several design changes took place, in line with the sleek new appearance. Electronic instrumentation was made available by 1983. By 1984, 100,000 units had been sold. The extremely limited “Commemorative Edition” was introduced in 1985, and these had special emblems on the sail panels and trunk lids, plus gold keys and door lock knobs.
Ninth generation (1986–1991)
Beginning in 1986, the Eldorado was downsized. It continued to have the same chassis, but designers shed about 350 pounds and 16 inches from its length. It still had its V8 engine, a 4.1 liter size. Its asking price was now $24, 251 USD, but it was the same size as other GM compact cars. Other brands had much larger and more spacious vehicles, which affected the way consumers looked at the Eldorado. For the first time, it seemed small. The Eldorado had also lost its framed door glass and convertible styling. Sales dropped by 60%.
By 1987, a new 5 year 50,000 mile warranty was put into place, but a drop in its price did not increase sales. An option to include cellular telephone was offered at an extra price. In 1998, the Eldorado went through another extensive restyling and this improved the sales. Multiple changes in the terms of exterior and interior design took place. The next time a new version was introduced would be in 1992.
Tenth generation (1992–2002)
In 1992, a larger Eldorado was revealed. The frameless windows of the past returned, and a Northstar V8 was available once again. For the next ten years of this generation, changes were added in increments, with such things as passenger side airbags, updated bumpers, a new grille design, newly styled upholstery, larger gauge cluster, updated stereo faces and other similar improvements.
Once 2002 arrived, the Eldorado’s 50th anniversary year, the company decided that the year would be the last for Eldorado models. To mark its end, 1,596 cars were produced in white or red. These were the original colors available in 1953 when the first convertible was introduced. As a symbol of the first production year, 532 cars in three separate batches were produced. Even the exhausts were tuned to sound just as the 1953 cars did.
Ended Production in 2002
Each car had a plaque mounted on its dash which noted the car’s sequence in the production process. The very last Eldorado ever produced was taken to the Cadillac Museum to honor Don Massy, one of the largest US Cadillac dealers. The second to the last in the final production line was sold to the Italian jeweler Nicola Bulgari, where it was added to his personal collection located in Rome, Italy. The Lansing Craft Centre ended production of the Eldorado in April of 2002, and retooled for building the Chevrolet SSR.
Though the Eldorado hasn’t been in production since 2002, there are hundreds of classic car clubs that feature the vehicle in its various generations. Some owners belong to clubs that are generation specific, while others are part of Cadillac clubs and forums that keep in touch so that they continue to have access to information about car club rides, and the all-important search for replacement parts as these cars age.
Eldorado fans are a breed unto themselves, because they not only are authorities on the cars they own, they are also history buffs with plenty of first hand experiences to share. Some grew up with the original cars and still own them. Others have spared no expense to restore an ailing Eldorado to its former glory. Eldorado owners can tell you more about the times and culture of the car they own than conventional history books. They share their passion for their car’s history with others to ensure that their cars and culture continue. They can often be “My Car Will Go On” kind of people.
Latest Concept Car
The latest Cadillac concept car, the Elmiraj, was introduced at the 2013 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. It is named for the dry El Mirage lake bed, where timed speed runs by the Southern California Timing Association have been conducted for more than 50 years. Many classic car experts looked at this latest concept as the Eldorado reincarnated. The comparisons by those in the know indicate that much of what made the Eldorado wonderful are included in the Elmiraj.
The V8 engine with its 4.5-liter twin turbocharge, the 2-door luxury coupe styling, the hardtop sans pillar which hasn’t been seen in the United States since the 1970s, and the finest in performance capabilities are all echoes of the Eldorado. For passionate Cadillac bloggers, this new concept car is the closest they’ve seen to the Eldorado in years, and it has caused considerable excitement.
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