Rare Rides Icons: The Cadillac Eldorado, Distinctly Luxurious (Part V)
Of the three high-dollar, limited-production two-door convertibles GM debuted in 1953, Cadillac’s Series 62 Eldorado was far and away the most expensive. With its drop-door styling, a loaded interior covered in additional leather, and a sky-high $7,750 price tag, Eldorado was out of the reach of the majority of consumers. And though it sold only 532 examples, GM felt the model’s future was bright. That is if they could just cut the asking price down to something more reasonable. Enter the all-new 1954 Eldorado, swimming in a sea of fins.
The tailfin era of American car design entered the mainstream in the early Fifties. It quickly spread across almost all domestic offerings, and onto European ones as well. The tailfin was a proud Cadillac creation, and first appeared in 1948.
The ‘48 Cadillacs debuted tailfins at a time when other manufacturers (particularly Nash) launched cars with bulbous bathtub styling. They often featured enclosed fender arches and streamlined flanks that concluded in a fastback design.
Harley Earl (1893-1969, pictured above) was in charge of styling at GM at the time and rejected the bathtub design for Cadillac. Employee Frank Hershey penned the rear tailfin, and Earl approved it for production. Cadillac went against the grain and featured an open wheel arch at the front, rear fenders that protruded from the body, and an extended trunk with fins.
They were the sort of styling details that let Cadillac’s late Forties designs stand out and made them more desirable to consumers. In contrast, the bathtub styling trend was dead by 1953 as other manufacturers caught up to debut their own bold fenders and tailfins. Eventually, it became a competition to see who could make the tailfin the most extreme.
But the tailfin had not reached its peak by 1954, and fin detailing on 1954-1956 Cadillacs was of the earlier and more restrained variety. We’ll talk more about fins that came with length (and height) when we reach the truly shocking Cadillacs of 1959. As seen here, Mr. Earl was a fan of appearing in the marketing pieces of the cars his department designed which was outside the car designer norm.
Like the new finned Eldorado, the rest of the Cadillac lineup was equally new for 1954. The company maintained the same models as were on sale the prior year but with new styling. The entry-level Cadillac was still the Series 62, which continued as the basis for the very expensive Eldorado.
Available in two- and four-door guises, the 62 rode on the same C-body platform as it did previously. Series 62 entered its fourth generation in 1954 with styling approved by Harley Earl. Worth noting that in his career as VP of design at GM, Earl rarely penned designs himself, but wielded the final seal of approval for production. The main changes to the Series 62 that year were a smoother-looking body, smaller, thinner bumpers, and lesser Dagmars than the 1953.
The Coupe de Ville continued as before, an upscale two-door hardtop version of the Series 62. It was joined by the four-door hardtop Sedan de Ville in 1956. Those select trims once again had nicer interiors than standard. There were different overall lengths each year for both two- and four-door models and width and height varied annually as well. It was all a part of the planned obsolescence plan Earl implemented for GM cars, where small visual changes occurred each model year.
Called dynamic obsolescence, the annual model changes ensured onlookers knew what year GM someone drove. Driving a car with current styling was important at the time, and was also to ensure used GM vehicles had higher resale value. It worked, as GM cars had better resale values than any other American made in the Fifties.
Stepping up from the Series 62 was the new fifth-generation 60 Special. It wore very similar styling to the Series 62 and was differentiated by trim, more standard equipment, and a wheelbase that was extended by four inches to 133". Though it was more upmarket than the Series 62, the 60 Special continued with a single, four-door sedan body style. Compensating for the lack of a hardtop option, the 60 Special was a full 11 inches longer than the Series 62. Like the other models, annual changes ensured that no two years of 60 Special had the same length, width, or height.
The large Series 75 was again the largest offering from Cadillac, available only in four-door sedan guise. All Series 75s from 1954 to 1956 seated eight people. The more expensive limousine variant was called the Imperial Sedan and added a partition between the driver and rear passengers.
Rear occupants sat on the bench at the very rear, or in middle row jump seats. 1954 was the final year a Series 75 limousine wore the Imperial name, as in 1955 Chrysler took the name for its super luxurious, hand-assembled Imperial. It was manufactured by the newly minted Imperial Division of Chrysler Corporation, which offered its own limousine too.
It’s worth noting there was a change in the Eldorado’s placement in 1954. Though it was still the brand’s exciting halo car, no longer was it the most expensive Cadillac. With Eldorado’s price intentionally cut to secure affordability for more buyers, both Series 75 models were a bit more expensive. In 1954 the Series 75 Fleetwood sedan was $5,900 ($67,047 adj.), while the Imperial Sedan (limousine) was just over $6,000 ($68,138 adj.).
In Cadillac’s efforts to cut retail pricing and increase Eldorado sales, the second generation was very different from the first. Most notably, the 1954 Eldorado was no longer a low-production vehicle with unique bodywork. It wore a standard Series 62 body and had shared engineering and mechanicals.
Even the wraparound windshield was no longer an Eldorado-exclusive feature, as it spread to the entire restyled Cadillac lineup in 1954. Eldorado was left to differentiate itself via some bits of trim, badges, and eventually unique rear-end styling and an additional body style. We’ll talk facts, figures, and platform details in our next installment.
[Images: GM, Nash, Hudson, Lincoln]
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