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

As we learned in our last installment, when the second generation Eldorado debuted in 1954 it was repositioned at Cadillac. No longer was it an ultra expensive and largely hand-built conveyance for a select few who could afford it. Rather it appeared as a sort of premium trim package on top of the company’s bread and butter Series 62. No unique body panels, no special interior design, no single-model windshield. Was there much left to differentiate Eldorado from its sibling?

Though Cadillac’s lineup wore sleeker bodywork in 1954 and all models were new, they continued on the same platforms used in 1953. That meant the Series 62, Eldorado, and Sixty Special all used the same C-body chassis. Stretched for 1954, all examples of the Series 62 had a 129-inch wheelbase, compared to 126 inches the previous year. As before, Eldorado matched its wheelbase to the Series 62.

In their debut year, new third-gen Series 62 models were 223.4 inches long in two-door guise, or 216.4 inches as a four-door. The longer, lower trend was evident immediately as the sleek new Series 62 cars gained almost three inches in length with two doors, and just under an inch as four-doors. Overall height dropped from 62.7 inches in 1953 to 62.0 in 1954, and though the Eldorado of 1953 was notably lower in overall height than its more common sibling, that distinction did not carry through to 1954. The only area where the 1954 Series 62 and Eldorado shrunk was width: An 80.1-inch width of 1953 was reduced to 79.6 inches in 1954.

The extra length and trim changes meant roughly 100 pounds of extra weight across the board. Series 62 models weighed between 4,500 to 5,100 pounds depending upon body style and trim. The Eldorado of 1953 weighed an even 5,000 pounds in any guise given its very limited options, but in 1954 its heft ranged between 4,900 and 5,100 pounds.

The Monobloc 346 cubic inch (5.7L) V8 bowed out after 1953, which left the Series 62 and Eldorado powered only by the 331 OHV V8 from 1954 to 1955. In 1956 a new OHV (overhead valve) V8 debuted that was larger and more powerful than the 331. The 365 cubic inch (6.0L) engine directly replaced the 331 in the Series 62 and Eldorado of 1956. 

The 331 was the first Cadillac OHV developed, and debuted in 1949 across the Cadillac lineup. Rated at 210 gross horsepower (160 net), the 331 continued unchanged through its final usage. But change to a new engine was needed: With quite a bit of heft to move and a four-speed automatic, Popular Mechanics found the 1954 Series 62 and Eldorado managed 60 miles per hour in 17.3 seconds. How luxurious!

The 365 was created by increasing the 331’s bore to 4 inches, while keeping the stroke the same 35⁄8”. 1956 Series 62s equipped with the 365 could be fitted with a single 4-barrel carburetor, which meant the engine produced 285 gross horsepower. The Eldorado had dual 4-barrel carbs as standard, which meant a more impressive 305 horsepower figure. 

Worth noting, the dual-carb version of the 365 was available in Series 62 and other Cadillac models. The 365 improved acceleration drastically, and when the Series 62 was tested again in 1956 the 0-60 time dropped to a much more respectable 12 seconds flat. In exchange for those 285 horsepower the engine managed 8.3 miles per gallon.

Carried over from the prior generation Series 62 and Eldorado was the four-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmission. Previously an option on Series 62 but standard on Eldorado, in 1954 it became the only transmission choice available. American transmission tastes were already changing, and a three-speed manual in a luxury car of the Fifties did not have a high take rate.

The 1954 Series 62 and Eldorado were an early example of power equipment and technology becoming expected as standard on luxury cars. While in 1953 the heater was optional even on Cadillac models (except Eldorado), things began to change circa 1954. Series 62 gained new whiz-bang features like automatic windshield washers, a 12-volt electrical system, and power steering. Drivers were reminded their parking brake was on via a new light on the dash. 

Features still separated as optional extras were power windows, power steering, seats, and automatic headlamp dimming. Still reserved for the wealthy was that most expensive luxury option, air conditioning. GM purchased a Frigidaire system that was self-contained for use in Cadillacs. The system was fitted by the dealer upon customer request.

In addition to developments in the appearance of Series 62 and Eldorado each model year, there were new features added as standard. For 1955 tubeless tires became a standard feature. And safety was enhanced generally via new reversing lamps and turn signals fitted as standard equipment. In 1956 power steering moved from optional to standard. 

The annual visual changes and additions to the standard equipment helped to push Cadillac’s sales to new heights, particularly for the Series 62 model range. In particular to the Eldorado, at the end of its run an exciting new hardtop version debuted: the Eldorado Seville. While the Seville name turned out to be very long-lived, so did a new top trim of the convertible called Eldorado Biarritz.

In our next installment we’ll review the initial exterior styling of the Eldorado that appeared in 1954. We’ll check it out in context to the unique styling of the 1953 Eldorado, and highlight the differences between Eldorado and the very similar Series 62 convertible.

[Images: GM]

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