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

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

We return to our Rare Rides Eldorado coverage this week, after a thorough review of the exterior and interior of the new-for-’54 Eldorado. The new model was meant to continue the excitement of the limited-run, very expensive 1953 Eldorado at a price that was notably more affordable to the American luxury car buyer. A more cynical take on a halo convertible, the 1954 went without any unique styling and instead focused on trim and badges to differentiate it from the garden variety Series 62 convertible upon which it was based. Normally this is the point where we’d talk about trims, but there weren’t any at the second Eldorado’s debut. It was not until after the model became a sales success that Cadillac debuted more variants.

In hindsight the conservative approach was a smart move, hedging against a potential product failure if customers saw through the application of the exclusive Eldorado name upon what was a trim and options package. But customers voted with their wallets, and in 1954 Eldorado sales quadrupled over 1953. In addition to the 2,150 standard Eldorados produced that year, there was a noteworthy one-off ordered by a wealthy businessman. 

The president of Reynolds Metals, Richard S. Reynolds Jr., fancied the new Eldorado. Perhaps its extruded aluminum panels struck a chord of familiarity. He ordered a custom hardtop Eldorado from Cadillac, who was happy to oblige. The creation was not a monumental task, as the Series 62 already had a two-door hardtop version. Cadillac designers applied the Eldorado trim and interior to a Series 62 hardtop and voila, a one-off was born. 

After that, the car seemingly vanished into history. There are just two photographs of this vehicle, this one the better of the two. The 1954 Eldorado coupe’s photograph was part of a Cadillac photo album from the 1950s. The album was found in a dumpster behind the Detroit Cadillac (1921-1997) plant on Clark Street in the 1990s. 

So much for preserving history! The one-off is worth a mention here since it was an early glimpse at a car that would not enter production for another two years. More on that soon.

Back on the standard side of Eldorado production, 1955 heralded the arrival of bolder, more exaggerated styling. Front and rear designs were updated as the Eldorado leaned into love it or hate it looks. At the front end the hood, headlamps, and general front profile remained intact while the Dagmars had some enlargement surgery.

Reduced in the transition from 1953 to 1954, 1955 saw the Dagmars larger and pointier than ever. They stuck far out in front of the bumper in a rather lewd way, still perched at the end of the separated bumper segments that wrapped around the front end. The bumper segments were now nearer to the edge of the grille than in 1954.

The Dagmars’ size increased to such an extent they didn’t leave enough room for the driving lamps within the grille area. They migrated to the corner of the fender instead, and appeared in an area that was filled with grille the prior year. Their rectangular lens shape was decidedly less elegant than the circular lamps of the 1954 Eldorado.

The lower edge of the bumper got a thicker chrome treatment and was also slightly more pointed than it was the prior year. This more aggressive front end treatment was applied across the Cadillac line for 1955, as an expected annual update to the corporate styling. The same was true of the new thicker chrome body trim. It ran along the fender and door as before, but for 1955 continued past the door and formed a new chrome decoration around the rear fender vent.

Unique to the Eldorado was new, thick chrome trim applied to the top of the doors. It enveloped the door handle area, and continued into the rear fender for a few inches. Of its time, the treatment was very heavy-handed and almost looked like an afterthought. Cadillac called the fully ribbed trim “saddle molding.”

Past the chrome in the middle of the Eldorado, the rear fender arrangement and bumper were both new for 1955 and unique to the model. The smoothed rear fender line of 1954 was no more, replaced with a more exaggerated fin that was taller, longer, and topped with thick chrome. The aluminum fender cladding of 1953 ended up a one-year experiment as it vanished. Also gone was the skirted rear fender, as Cadillac opened the area for a “sportier” look.

The aforementioned fin started halfway down the fender, making it a few feet long as it grew to a pointed terminus perched above the trunk lid. The fin turned sharply downward and headed toward the rear wheels, seeing its end just above the new brake lamp design. Now located in the middle of the fender rather than atop it, brake lamps were simple circular lights ringed with chrome and joined by identical looking reversing lamps. 

Eldorado’s rear bumper of 1954 looked like an exercise in restraint compared to 1955. Its shape was generally the same, but it was made of thicker chrome and wrapped further around either rear corner. Additionally, the subtle integrated exhausts of the prior year were enlarged for stylistic reasons. Much more noticeable in 1955, they perhaps attempted to distract from the six chrome appliques that appeared in sets of three at either side of the license plate. 

There were no notable mechanical or interior changes for the 1955 Eldorado since the model was a visual refresh. And although it was garish, the new look was what luxury buyers wanted. After 1954 quadrupled 1953’s sales, they nearly doubled again in 1955! And Cadillac wasn’t finished yet, as the second-gen Eldorado had another year in it. When we pick up next time, we’ll see the appearance of two new trim names that would see decades of use at Cadillac: Biarritz and Seville.

[Images: GM, dealer]

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Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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2 of 17 comments
  • FreedMike FreedMike on Dec 03, 2023

    Didn’t Elvis have one of these?

  • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Dec 04, 2023

    During my lifetime I have seen a considerable number of Caddies of this era with the small tail light treatment but cannot remember seeing one with the larger fins of the red Caddy in the pictures. Was that unique to the 1955 model year? And stating that a pair of Dagmars are too larger is something of an oxymoron.

  • Slavuta At least, with this one you can put gas/diesel generator into the truck bed to have the cheap electric power
  • Jwee Very true. Have a look at take home pay. It amplifies your point .
  • 28-Cars-Later "Many have accused Tesla of ignoring those problems over the years, and it’s now feeling the pressure of  intense Chinese competition." I thought Corn Pop took care of that?
  • 28-Cars-Later "While the situation isn’t a total defeat for the UAW, it will have to wait a year to try again, and America’s political climate could have shifted dramatically by then."Chattanooga will likely be further along and everyone can judge from the results by then."it could succeed in the next round." I doubt it, what's interesting is how shortsighted and greedy roughly 40% of the populace seems to be.
  • IBx1 I had high hopes but forgot that people from Alabama live in Alabama