A Look Back at the Original Cadillac Eldorado, One of America’s Most Iconic Convertibles

Big, beautiful, and extremely sophisticated, the first-year Eldorado was not just Cadillac’s flagship, but an automotive piece of art.
1953 Cadillac Eldorado 15 photos
Photo: Cadillac Motor Car Division
1953 Cadillac Eldorado1953 Cadillac Eldorado1953 Cadillac Eldorado1953 Cadillac Eldorado1953 Cadillac Eldorado1953 Cadillac Eldorado1953 Cadillac Eldorado1953 Cadillac Eldorado1953 Cadillac Eldorado1953 Cadillac Eldorado1953 Cadillac Eldorado1953 Cadillac Eldorado1953 Cadillac Eldorado1953 Cadillac Eldorado
In 1952, the Cadillac Motor Car Division was celebrating its 50th anniversary. About a year earlier, General Motors management decided to mark the occasion by creating a very special, limited-production vehicle, handing the task to legendary automotive designer Harley J. Earl and his styling team.

They started with a regular, third-generation Series 62 convertible, which was initially stripped of its original body. The team eventually decided to keep the four fenders, trunk lid, and floor pan, but all other panels were painstakingly redesigned.

With an expansive, wraparound windshield, a distinctive slope at the bottom of the side windows, and the chrome bumper bullets borrowed from the 1951 GM Le Sabre show car, the final structure was a masterful example of innovative design that soon became iconic.

1953 Cadillac Eldorado
Photo: Mecum
Christened Eldorado, Spanish for the "gilded one", the car made its public debut as a concept in September 1952, being met with universal praise by those in attendance. Just a year later, it went into production, joining the Oldsmobile 98 Fiesta, and Buick Roadmaster Skylark as top-of-the-line, specialty convertibles that offered a glimpse of GM’s future design language.

With a wheelbase of 126 inches (3,200 mm) and measuring a whopping 220.8 inches (5,608 mm) in length, the Eldorado was an intimidating presence, even in an era when most full-size American cars were humongous. What set it apart was its esquisse design and abundance of high-end features.

Available in only four unique colors; Aztec Red, Alpine White, Azure Blue, and Artisan Ochre, the convertible came standard with windshield washers, a signal-seeking radio, power windows, or a heater. It was also one of the very first Cadillac models that had air conditioning available on the options list. You would think that such an early system wasn’t too efficient but with not one but two blowers, it did a terrific job of cooling the cabin during hot summer days.

1953 Cadillac Eldorado
Photo: Mecum
Speaking of which, the interior was just as upscale as the exterior. Fully lined in high-quality leather and adorned with polished metal trims, it offered ample room for six people that felt like riding on a cloud.

With an independent front suspension and a live rear axle, the gargantuan Eldorado was set up to deliver supreme riding comfort, even when the roads weren’t in the best of conditions.

Apart from being one of the most comfortable U.S.-built vehicles that money could buy in 1953, the car was also adequately powerful for its size. Under the hood, it hid GM's top-of-the-line, 331-ci (5.4-liter) overhead valve (OHV) V8, which gained revised pistons and a higher-lift camshaft that enabled it to produce 210 hp.

1953 Cadillac Eldorado
Photo: Mecum
Initially, the engine was mated to a four-speed Hydra-Matic automatic gearbox but on August 12, a massive fire destroyed GM's plant in Livonia, Michigan where this transmission was assembled, so Cadillac was forced to use Buick’s Dynaflow unit on several Eldorados.

Produced in 532 copies, the elegant convertible only accounted for 0.5% of Cadillac's sales in 1953. However, it was the division’s most sought-after model by a large margin. Everybody dreamed of driving one, but because it was eye-wateringly expensive, few could turn that dream into reality.

Excluding optional features like the $620 AC system, it had a starting price of around $7,700 ($84,295 today), making it one of the most expensive American-built cars on the market.

1953 Cadillac Eldorado
Photo: Mecum
The second example that left the factory was given to President Dwight D. Eisenhower who rode in it during his inaugural parade on January 20, 1953. In addition, many of the era’s brightest stars such as Marilyn Monroe have owned at least one example of Cadillac’s luxurious flagship.

Like the famed actress, singer, and model, the 1953 Eldorado became a timeless beauty icon and will continue to be remembered as of the most stunning vehicles designed during the 1950s.

Cadillac continued to use the Eldorado moniker for its most luxurious two-door models for the next fifty years until finally retiring it in 2002 when the twelfth iteration was discontinued.

Today, the 1953 model is highly sought-after by 1950s enthusiasts who need to pay anywhere from $70,000 to $150,000 for the privilege of owning one. Many of the 532 cars have survived and the vast majority of those that pop up at auctions benefited from a professional restoration. One such example is the Aztec Red Eldorado featured in the gallery, which went under the hammer at a Mecum auction in 2021, fetching $104,500.

In the video below posted on YouTube by Classic Promenade, you can admire possibly the most flawlessly restored example in existence.

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About the author: Vlad Radu
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Vlad's first car was custom coach built: an exotic he made out of wood, cardboard and a borrowed steering wheel at the age of five. Combining his previous experience in writing and car dealership years, his articles focus in depth on special cars of past and present times.
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