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From Motorama to Main Street – A concours example of Cadillac’s 1950s style pinnacle comes to Hemmings Auctions

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Since we launched Hemmings Auctions in August its momentum has been building, with some very interesting and special vehicles turning up in our submissions. Most recently we’ve been given the opportunity to offer an excellent example of one of the most impressive and alluring American cars of the 1950s, a Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz.

After the U.S. moved past WWII and the initial demand for new cars to replace the duty-worn prewar machines Americans had been forced to nurse through the duration, consumer tastes began to escalate, fueled in part by newfound prosperity. It was during this period that Cadillac really came into its own as an aspirational symbol of success.

1956 Cadillac Eldorado

Once the world was again safe, GM’s style chief, Harley Earl, began to lead his team—which by then included Bill Mitchell—to create “dream cars” to be shown at GM’s Autorama shows in New York City. For 1953, these events were renamed Motorama, and GM took the show on the road to expand their audience and influence. The highlighted concept vehicles were indeed the objects of fantasy for automotive enthusiasts, but their appeal was powerful enough to reach well beyond car fans, dazzling the general public and conjuring visions of motoring in high style.

It was also during 1953 that General Motors introduced a series of limited-production models that were inspired by the Motorama concept vehicles, bringing many of the designs and features that made viewers swoon to local showrooms.

1956 Cadillac Eldorado

Among these was the Eldorado, a convertible Cadillac with a wraparound windshield, a dipped beltline, a contoured, body-colored steel convertible top boot, chromed wire wheels, and a lowered ride height, all of which drew lineage from the unobtainable show cars of the Motorama. It was loaded with features, offered in only four colors, and cost $7,700—more than $2,000 beyond the price of the Fleetwood 75 limousine that had been Cadillac’s most expensive offering. Only 532 Eldorados were built for 1953, and thus the bar had been set—this was a very special car available to a select few buyers.

The Eldorado would return for 1954, but admirers were somewhat disappointed by its lack of unique styling features, and while its lower price significantly boosted sales, it also made the model seem far less exclusive. Cadillac recognized the need to make Eldorado unique so it would stand apart from the rest of the line, and bestowed a new rear-end styling treatment upon the ’55 models with dramatic tail fins and “jet tube” taillamps. The model also got its own version of Cadillac’s V-8, with two four-barrel carburetors and 20 additional horsepower, totaling 270.

1956 Cadillac Eldorado

Packard had been well aware that Cadillac was pushing it out of its spot as the top luxury brand in the U.S., and introduced an all new line for 1955, highlighted by the top-of-the-line Caribbean, which seemed to be aimed squarely at the Eldorado, but that only fueled the fire.

For 1956, Cadillac would add a coupe variant to the Eldorado line, dubbing that model Seville and making the convertible the Biarritz. The cars had a longer appearance, with revised tail fins, and an updated grille. Cadillac added more displacement, boring its engines out to yield 365 cubic inches, which in Eldorado form would be good for 305 hp. Also for 1956, the forged-aluminum-center “Sabre Spoke” wheels, introduced the year prior, could now be finished in gold, with a matching gold grille, and air conditioning was offered for the first time in an open car. The Biarritz exuded the exclusivity Cadillac intended, and only 2,150 were produced for 1956.

1956 Cadillac Eldorado

This example is owned by Charles-Andre Roy and his father of Quebec, Canada. The pair have been car collectors for some time, so when they heard of a ’56 Biarritz languishing in a Connecticut barn, they wanted to know more. The car proved to be in worse shape than they’d hoped, but the pair remained undeterred.

“The car wasn’t rusty, but it was old and worn, and someone had changed it to white—it had been black with gold wheels and black trim. But it was solid, so we decided to bring it back,” explained Charles. After hauling the Biarritz home to Quebec, the father-son team turned it over to Levy Vachon of Restoration 2000, a noted restorer of postwar cars in Canada. The process took four years, but the results were outstanding. Good enough, in fact, to take the top award in its class of postwar cars at the Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance in Ontario just weeks ago. During that event weekend, Charles finally had the opportunity to drive the Biarritz and says it motors perfectly, and that all of its electrics function as intended.

1956 Cadillac Eldorado

But the Roys have their sights set on new projects, and so their Biarritz must find a new home. It will be offered on Hemmings Auctions next week, with bidding starting on Monday, October 7.