Rare Rides Icons: The Cadillac Eldorado, Distinctly Luxurious (Part IV)

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides icons the cadillac eldorado distinctly luxurious part iv

In our last Eldorado entry, we discussed the exterior differences between Cadillac’s standard Series 62 convertible and the limited production Eldorado. Visual differences were few, and limited to a revised window line via “drop door” sheet metal, and a wraparound windshield that was fitted only to the Eldorado in ‘53. There were interior differences too, though they didn’t quite add up to the “specially designed instrument panel” claim in the marketing.

(Note: The car with the cream color on the dash and steering wheel is the Eldorado, the other car is a 1953 Series 62.)

Most of the specially designed interior appearance was achieved via an upholstered dashboard. The dash and part of the door panels’ upper edges were covered in leather, which was certainly more luxurious than the painted metal of the Series 62. Other leather-like materials included simulated plastic leather for the steering wheel grip areas. 

All gauges, the radio, and the central heater vent were identical between both Cadillacs. The Eldorado used a ridged metal material for its central dash trim, while Series 62 used painted metal. The lower half of the Eldorado’s dash was painted a contrasting color to the interior (cream in this case) which extended onto the door panels. In the Series 62 this area was body-colored, or chrome.

The wraparound leather dash appearance was necessitated by the Eldorado’s special windshield design. That change meant the door panel needed a rework, too. The panel had a cut-out portion at the upper edge to account for the revised A-pillar location. While noticing the dash and A-pillar, passengers could also gaze upon the golden “Eldorado” badge in the middle of the dash, another important model-exclusive feature.

Fleetwood’s designers (who styled Eldorado) threw in a revised interior door pull, which was more modern in design and a pull bar style. The Series 62 used an old-fashioned-looking handle that had to be turned. Finally, the seats of the Eldorado were finished in a horizontal ribbed design with a “cushion” type piping, while Series 62 seats were vertically ribbed and had no distinct detailing. 

Despite the low-volume production of the Eldorado, its high price, and the sheer variety of colors, fabrics, trims, and other options generally available to American car buyers in the early Fifties, there was little choice given to the Eldorado buyer. There were four different paint colors available, representing the colors of the American flag plus one more for good measure.

On offer were Aztec Red, Alpine White, Azure Blue, and Artisan Ochre. That latter color would best be described by your author as Vanilla White. With any of those exterior paints, a buyer could choose either a white or black convertible top, made of Orlon. 

Orlon was the trademarked name of an exciting synthetic acrylic material created by DuPont in 1941. It remained in production through 1990. Used in cars, shiny sportswear garments, and very stretchy sweaters through the 1970s, the highly flammable material had fallen out of use by the late 80s. “You won’t particularly miss it,” said Du Pont.

Though the Eldorado came as standard with almost everything Cadillac could throw at it, there were still two standalone options: Air conditioning for $620(!) ($7,125 adj.), and wire wheels at a more affordable $325 ($3,734 adj.). Your author has never seen a 1953 Eldorado that didn’t have wire wheels, so the other wheel option is unclear.

Even without either of those options, the Eldorado was extremely expensive. It carried a base price of $7,750 ($89,064 adj.). To put that into perspective, the median home price in the United States that year was $18,220 ($209,386 adj.). The Eldorado was somewhat less expensive than a Rolls-Royce of the era, but about twice as expensive as other domestic luxury convertibles from the likes of Lincoln and Packard.

As expected, the Oldsmobile 98 Fiesta was more affordable at $5,715 ($65,677 adj.). That price was double the ask of a standard Ninety-Eight convertible. But perhaps not as expected, the Buick was the cheapest option of the three. The Roadmaster Skylark asked a paltry $5,000 ($57,460 adj.). Brand hierarchy indeed!

Perhaps because of its on-par pricing with other domestic luxury convertibles, the Roadmaster Skylark was the most successful of the three models. It sold 1,690 examples during its one-year run. Oldsmobile didn’t have the relative affordability of the Buick or the prestige of the Cadillac and was the poorest seller. Only 458 were produced. 

With 532 sales, the Eldorado didn’t even manage a third of the sales of the Roadmaster Skylark. And that figure represented just half a percent of Cadillac’s sales in 1953. With its “unique bodywork” convertibles in 1953, it seemed General Motors overreached with regard to pricing on two out of three.

As a result of its utter failure, Oldsmobile’s 98 Fiesta was terminated and not replaced. Because of the Roadmaster Skylark’s success, Buick tried a new take on it in 1954. Called simply “Skylark,” the convertible was reborn that year as a smaller car. Based on the Century platform rather than Roadmaster, all 1954 Skylarks were two-door convertibles with unique bodywork. 

The ‘54s kept their high pricing at $4,843 ($55,035 adj.) and had better performance than before, as Buick used the Roadmaster’s engine in the smaller Century-based Skylark. But customers weren’t a fan of such an expensive car on a smaller platform, as it was less prestigious. In addition, in 1954 Buick offered the grandiose Roadmaster convertible, as well as the less expensive (and same-sized) Special convertible. Skylark sold 836 examples in 1954, and the model was promptly canceled.  

Despite its failure to match the Roadmaster Skylark in sales in 1953, Cadillac felt it could shift plenty of Eldorados if it had a rethink and made them less expensive. To that end, a new second-generation model was born in 1954. The future of the personal luxury car was bright! We’ll pick up there next time.

[Images: dealer, BaT, GM]

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8 of 46 comments
  • El scotto El scotto on Sep 04, 2023

    Loud, flashy, brash and unabashedly American. That's what Cadillac was and needs to be again.

    Sadly, the ATS was cribbed Pontiac design, makes sense if you follow GM, and GM again wasted money developing a V-8 for the Blackwing when some of the best V-8's in the world are made in Bowling Green Kentucky.

    • See 1 previous
    • FreedMike FreedMike on Sep 06, 2023

      Blackwing was the right idea - an engine special to the Cadillac line. It was hard to argue a Caddy was a Caddy when it came with a Malibu engine. But I'm not sure why they didn't just customize existing designs, versus the far more expensive clean sheet approach.

  • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Sep 05, 2023

    Why do these articles keep getting posted late on Fridays?

    As someone who used to write for TTAC wrote (multiple times) Cadillac started to lose its lustre when you could get a full sized Pontiac, or even a Chevrolet with all of the luxury options and an engine comparable in size to that in a Cadillac.

    Post WW2, anything 'new and modern' was considered 'better'. Thus wood interiors were considered 'old and out of date'. Consumers wanted modern, not old school. Chrome, metal and pastel colours were aspirational. At least until Sammy Davis Jr. had his accident.

    The 1970s saw Cadillac starting to fall behind. Lincolns/Continentals, in particular the Mark series but also Town Cars sold in big numbers. And they out 'broughmed' Cadillacs. Cadillac/GM did not adequately respond and actually lowered their standards to try to increase sales. One Saturday in high school when I could not borrow The Old Man's Mark, my then girlfriend's father lent us his Sedan de Ville. His 'princess' couldn't be seen being driven in my plebian car. The de Ville fell far short of both a Mark IV and a Town Car in ride quality, NVH, comfort and luxury appointments. More importantly I noticed that the steering wheel was slightly 'off centre'. Later learned that this was common in that model for that year. An intrinsic engineering/design issue.

    The 'greatest generation' aspired to driving domestic luxury vehicles. But their children when still single or without children did not want to drive their grandfather's/father's vehicles. Just like many soccer moms don't want to drive minivans. So they purchased European 'driving machines' when they still had considerable discretionary spending money. And once they had children, they converted to first minivans and then SUVs.

    Cadillac still maintains its aspirational status with one vehicle, the Escalade. For that is what a Cadillac should be. Large, ostentatious, somewhat outrageous, and over priced for what you get. GM seems to have forgotten this.

    • See 3 previous
    • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Sep 06, 2023

      @Jeff - when my kids went to private Christian grade school the Escalade was a rather common site in the parking lot. The big Nissan Armada was also common.

  • SCE to AUX "scheme" appears 5 times in this story. We get it.I don't understand the concern. Many, many EV credits have passed to dealers/mfrs in the decade since since Cash For Clunkers, and did so for leased EVs. I've leased two EVs, and the Federal subsidy went straight to the mfr - not me. The dealer took that figure off the sale price.You'd think the dealers (especially Nissan) had never seen this before - how ridiculous.Tell you what, dealers - advise your mfrs you'd rather not take the risk, and see how that goes.
  • Crtfour It's Ford...how long before the first recall?
  • Oberkanone You get a workout driving an Opel GT compared to driving experience of today. No power steering, manual transmission, and just getting into and out of the car requires extreme physical flexibility. I favor the Saab Sonett III over the Opel GT. If I'm buying a tiny two seat 1972 odd car I'm going all in.
  • Lou_BC Ford's on strike. Using photos of Fords is like crossing a picket line. ;)
  • Lou_BC Not my problem. Buying anything on credit is a risk for buyer and seller.