Putting on the ’Ritz





Ultimate Cadillac Eldorado convertible from a time when tailfins ruled

THERE’S a great old joke about two used-car dealers on a Sydney Harbour cruise, when both get drunk and fall overboard. Suddenly, one of them notices a pair of tall, menacing fins in the water, heading straight for them. “Wh-wh-what the hell is that?” he asks his mate. “Well,” says the other, “unless it’s a Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, you and I are screwed.”

Cadillac launched the Eldorado nameplate for its flagship convertible model in 1953. Loaded with Cadillac’s most powerful V8s and almost every option in the luxury brand’s catalogue, the Eldorado typically cost about 25 percent more than its standard Cadillac siblings.

The introduction of a two-door coupe (dubbed Seville) in 1956 further elevated the Eldorado, the convertible now being distinguished as the Biarritz. The allusions to promised and exotic lands fitted the mood perfectly in America, in the full flush of its post-war economic and population boom.

Legendary Detroit designer Harley Earl enjoyed his last hurrah with the ’59 model year, most obviously in the new-look Eldorado.

Amid the era of the space race and rocket research, Cadillac and arch-rival Chrysler – with stylist Virgil Exner – were embroiled in the “tailfin wars”.

Earl’s team held back nothing in the low and 5.7m-long 1959 Cadillac, from quad headlamps and full-width grille to jet-exhaust reversing lamps, twin-bullet tail-lights and, of course, pointy tailfins that peaked at almost 1.1m from the ground.

Bigness naturally extended to the 6.4-litre V8 under the bonnet, its 590Nm able to propel the 2.3-tonne craft to a top speed of 198km/h. Opulence reigned, with full leather interior, power windows and locking, air suspension, four-speed automatic transmission and, in the Biarritz, an electric folding soft-top.

The whole thing was over the top. Even some US car critics, while praising the comfort, dynamics and quality, found the ’59 styling too extreme. It was slightly more restrained for the 1960 facelift (pictured, as sold by RM Auctions in Arizona for $US206,250 in 2013), with its fins cropped by 150mm, grille and bumpers streamlined and simplified, and the interior redesigned.

Just 1285 Biarritz convertibles were built in 1960 (and 1075 Sevilles, in the final year of the hardtop), following on from 1320 Biarritz (and 975 Sevilles) during 1959. Those figures make a Biarritz around 10 times more exclusive than Caddie’s standard, 62-series convertible.

Fast & factual05 Fas



Most exclusive Eldo of all is the Brougham four-door hardtop, styled and assembled by Pininfarina in Turin. Just 200 were built in 1959-60


Saving Grace

GM stylist Dave Holls compared the ’59 Caddie to frumpy vaudeville star Sophie Tucker, “but the ’60 Cadillac is pure Grace Kelly”.

In detail

Thirst for power

CADILLAC’S 6391cc cast-iron pushrod V8 was tweaked for the Eldorado flagships, primarily through the addition of a trio of Rochester two-barrel carbs that increased outputs to 257kW at 4800rpm and 590Nm at 3400rpm.

With a GM Hydramatic fourspeed auto, it would do 0-97km/h in 10.7 seconds, and guzzled 17L/100km even at cruise.

One with the lot

ABOVE the Biarritz there was still the coach-built Eldorado Brougham sedan, but the convertible buyers didn’t want for much. Standard kit included leather interior, electric roof and powered seat adjustment, door locking, windows and boot release. Front bucket seats were a no-cost option.

Indeed, there were only four extra-cost options: air-con, cruise control, tinted glass and “Autronic Eye” automatic headlight dipping.

Long boat

THE 1959-60 Caddies used a typical Yank-tank bodyon- the chassis comprising a large X-shaped backbone. but the body dwarfed it at 5715mm overall.

Braking for this behemoth was by boosted drums.

Eldorados featured Air- Ride suspension, but the leak-prone system was only used for these two model years. frame construction, The wheelbase was immense, at 3300mm, d fd


Swede temptations

One of the highest per-capita homes for ’59-60 Eldorados today is Sweden, with about 39 Biarritz and 17 Sevilles


Door to door

One of the Eldorado’s few concessions to cost-cutting was its front doors, common to GM’s contemporary C-body Buick models


Blue-sky dream

Cadillac’s tailfin styling signature dated to 1948 and Harley Earl’s fixation with the twin-boom Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter

Nex issue De Tomaso Mangusta