In the Year Of Our Lord 1961, the Cadillac Eldorado, the most expensive Cadillac short of the factory limousines, got an all-new look. As did the rest of the line. It was somewhat scandalous at the time, but the new Cadillacs greeting showroom browsers in Autumn of 1960 were, believe it or not, somewhat smaller. Ye gods! What is the world coming to?
Cadillac retained its enviable reputation in 1961. Despite credible competition from Lincoln and Imperial, Cadillac still handily outsold both combined. No one could match Cadillac model for model. Sedan, hardtop coupe, hardtop sedan, convertible, factory limousine…they had it all.
Cadillacs were all new for 1961. As previously noted, they were a little but smaller. But the look was fresh, modern, and still very appealing.
This year, all Cadillacs, regardless or trim level or model, were powered by the same 390 CID V8 engine. Dual exhaust was no longer available, but all Cadillacs breathed through a four barrel carburetor. Power was quite satisfactory for the time, 325 hp at 4800 revolutions per minute.
Naturally, the Eldorado carried on in Bristol fashion. It first appeared in 1953 as a very limited edition; only 532 were made in its inaugural year.
Starting in 1956, a hardtop coupe was added as a companion model. Due to there now being two Eldorado models, the convertible became the Eldorado Biarritz, while the hardtop coupe was known as the Eldorado Seville. Sevilles received a vinyl roof covering.
Somewhat novel for 1956, but it would be de rigueur by the late ’60s on virtually everything, from Eldorados to Plymouth Valiants.
The Biarritz/Seville model selection carried on through the 1960 model year, but with the introduction of the 1961 Cadillacs, the Eldorado was back to a single model, the convertible. It retained its Biarritz designation, however.
What price exclusivity? In 1961, at your local Cadillac dealer, it came to $6,477. Curb weight was 4,805 pounds. For comparison’s sake, the two least-expensive Cadillacs in 1961 were the Series 62 4-window sedan and the Series 62 six-window sedan. Both retailed for $5,080. The priciest? The Series 75 Imperial sedan, at $9,748.
To compare the princely amount the Eldorado Biarritz demanded, consider the fact that a 1961 Impala convertible, not exactly a cheapskate special, sold for a suggested retail price of $2,954 with a V8 and $2,847 with a six. A plain-Jane 1961 Corvair 500 club coupe was $1,984.
So perhaps it was not a surprise that production was limited. Only 1,450 Eldorado Biarritz convertibles were produced for the model year.
But you can rest assured that each and every one of them was plush, luxurious and most certainly exclusive! One thing the 1961 Eldorado Biarritz owner could count on, he wasn’t going to see another car like his in traffic very often.
The 1961 Cadillac showroom brochure didn’t pull any punches either: “Rarely, and only to a supremely fortunate few, there comes an automobile the very sight of which summons forth visions of distant mountains, pounding surf and soft Southern skies.”
“Such a car is the 1961 Eldorado Biarritz, beyond question the most beautiful convertible ever created.” Golly GM, tell us what you REALLY think! Ha ha.
Of course, with its exclusive trim and seriously plush interior, the Eldorado Biarritz was definitely a classy, luxurious car. Certainly the most luxurious topless Cadillac available. The thing was, the Series 62 convertible was pretty darn nice too.
And other than a slightly less ostentatious interior and model designation, it was mighty similar to the Eldorado Biarritz.
Perhaps that is why the Series 62 convertible, at $5,455 about a grand cheaper than the Biarritz (and this was back when a thousand dollars really meant something), sold 15,500 copies, compared to the 1,450 Biarritzes. Of course, there were the super-rich or super-flashy types who wouldn’t have settled for less than an Eldorado nameplate on their new Cadillac, but there simply wasn’t enough differentiation between the two.
Both were certainly beautiful cars, and every inch a Cadillac. With a V8, power, luxury and of course the trademark fins. But there simply wasn’t enough specialness exclusive to the Eldorado in 1961 and 1962 for it to really be a strong seller. 1962 Biarritz sales were equally small, with an identical production run of 1,450 units.
Of course, that makes the 1961-62 Eldorado Biarritz highly collectible today. This example was at the San Marcos, Texas meet, held recently by the Cadillac-LaSalle club and spotted by Jayson Coombes and Jim Jordan. It is a multiple award winner, and I’m sure it was stunning in person, judging from the pictures! And no matter what 1961 Cadillac new car buyers chose, they could be certain that they had indeed arrived!
Everything about that car is gorgeous. Except the front end. The front end is bad in a way not often seen. I can’t even explain why I hate it so much, but hate it I do. Tom, I don’t want to harsh your mellow. I love your articles and read each one from top to bottom as soon as they appear. I click on each ad that appears. But if I owned that car, I would only park it in a garage so I didn’t have to see what it looked like from in front.
Keep them coming please!
Just wanted to add that I really love the advertising image of the couple approaching the car with the door left open by the valet. What a time to be alive that must have been. Well, as long as you were in the right place anyway. You can practically smell the greens of the country club and feel the martini fog. If you concentrate, you can hear the sound of her fingernails clicking on the buttons of your tuxedo shirt.
I always liked that ad theme, you see it used often in during this era, the welcoming lit interior of your new luxury car waiting for you.
Just beautiful. Actually, I like the front end styling, which to my eyes has more character than the flat 1962 nose. I’ll go so far as to say that the 1961 Cadillac was the stylistic and engineering equal of the splendid 1948-49 models. Usually I’m a Lincoln fanboy, but if I had been in the right tax bracket in ’61, I may well have chosen a Cadillac hardtop coupe – unless I got sidetracked at the local Buick dealer. Sixty-one was peak GM.
Peak Cadillac – tasteful flashiness, and nothing fake – that’s real metal and real leather.
“If you concentrate, you can hear the sound of her fingernails clicking on the buttons of your tuxedo shirt.”
-you are my favorite internet commenter of the week
I, too, always loved this year’s Cadillacs. Even Don Draper bought one!!
I always liked the car casting on Mad Men, for a show that was mostly an indoor set, they did a pretty good job highlighting the character cars, Don had a 1960 Buick LeSabre convertible through the first season or so, then he wrecks a totally wrong for his character Dodge pillared 4 door sedan(I guess they wanted an old car they could roll over without too many people complaining) then he gets his string of Cadillacs, first the 1962 Series 61 coupe and then later a 1965 Coupe de Ville, which he he keeps through the remainder of the show, though if I would have been in charge of car casting, I would have had Don trade the Coupe for a 1968 Eldorado in keeping with the times.
Betty Drapers string of woodsided Ford wagons, Pete Campbell and Henry Francis Buicks’, etc, the Jaguar account and finally when the agency was courting GM in attempt to get the Chevrolet account for the yet unnamed Vega, which includes a great scene in whats supposed to be the lobby of the GM building involving a 1969 Z/28, it was such a great show.
Bill Mitchell did not like the front end of the ’61, wasn’t “Cadillac” enough. ’63 Chevy copped it pretty much. I myself love the ’61 completely and agree that ’61 was a peak GM styling year. I can imagine cruising along some summer evening back in the day with the top down and my wife next to me with Percy Faith’s “Summer Place” exiting the speaker. Did they have reverb speakers in ’61?
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