There’s just something about 1950s Cadillacs. It really was their decade. Depending on the era, there’s always that gotta have it vehicle. In the ’30s it was a Duesenberg, in the ’40s most likely a Packard, but in the ’50s a Caddy was the American Dream on four whitewalls. Harley Earl, the head of GM Design back then, did whatever the hell he wanted. And usually, it worked. Take, for instance, the 1956 Cadillac lineup.
The 1956 is just about my favorite 1950s Cadillac. This design originally appeared in 1954, but in my honest opinion, the ’56 was the best of that three-year style. The 1954 and 1955 are great too, but in ’56 everything clicked.
The bumper bombs, the grille with that oh-so-cool “Cadillac” script, the wheel covers, “Nineteen Fifty-Six” spelled out in gold on the dashboard, the jet tubes on the quarter panels-simply perfect.
And keep in mind that in 1956, there really weren’t any crossovers, compacts, subcompacts or SUVs. Sure, you could get a Jeep, and if you wanted something smaller there were all sorts of European imports-provided you lived in a large city where they could actually be purchased and serviced at a dealer. But with the exception of the Hudson Jet, Henry J, various Ramblers and VWs, your choices in the U.S., particularly in the Midwest, was some form of the Large American Car. And if you had the cash, Cadillac was the way to go.
But just because each Cadillac was more or less a variation on the same chassis, engine and general shape, that sure as hell didn’t mean you were limited to a four-door sedan. The 1956 lineup included the Series Sixty-Two in four-door, two-door hardtop and convertible body styles.
Going one step up the ladder led you to the De Ville series, in two-door hardtop and brand-new four-door hardtop models. And if you were at the Thurston Howell III level of income, you could go for the “owner-driven” Fleetwood Sixty Special sedan or Fleetwood Seventy-Five long-wheelbase limousine. And then there were the Eldorados.
The Eldo first appeared in ’53 as a Motorama-inspired, uber-expensive convertible. Only 532 were made. In ’54 the special windshield and body modifications seen in 1953 were replaced with more or less a Series 62 convertible with every single option, super-deluxe interior and lots and lots of extra trim. By 1956, the Eldorado added a coupe, the Seville, complete with vinyl roof, and the convertible received the “Biarritz” name to differentiate it from the new steel-top version.
1956 Cadillacs got a 365 CID V8, with 285 horses, but Eldorados added a special dual-carb setup that bumped that to 305. This, coupled with Hydra-Matic drive, moved 222.2 inches of chrome, glass and steel to various and sundry downtown hotels, country clubs, and fine dining establishments everywhere.
Now, granted, luxury in 1956 was not quite the same as luxury in 2017. But in its day any 1956 Eldorado was loaded right out of the factory gates, with power brakes, power steering, dual cigar lighters front and rear (think of it as the 1956 version of iPod charging ports), whitewall tires, aluminum Sabre wheels, power windows and fog lamps. A/C was still an option, but available, as was tinted glass and and an automatic headlamp dimmer.
In its first year on the market, the Eldorado Seville sold 3,900 copies. The Biarritz convertible sold 2,150 versions, so the coupe definitely helped total Eldo sales, with only 3950 convertible-only ’55 Eldorados sold the previous year. In 1957 an all-new Cadillac would appear, with an equally new Eldorado Seville and Biarritz. The Seville itself would only last through 1960, at which point the name went on long-term hiatus until 1975 when the new ‘international size’ Cadillac would appear. But that’s a story for another time.
This ’56 Seville, in Elvis-approved colors and sporting the optional gold Sabre wheels, gold grille and air conditioning, was spotted by yours truly at a Labor Day car show in McCausland, Iowa a couple of years ago. These ’50s Eldos are not common, so I took way more pictures than are shown here. It was great to see, and from the condition, a largely original car and not an over-restored Mecum or Barrett Jackson paperweight.
I have since seen it at a couple of additional shows, so the owner is clearly not afraid to drive it, something I admire. After all, who wouldn’t want to drive such a cool old car! Cars are supposed to be driven, how else are you supposed to enjoy them?
I heartily agree with your conclusion and am glad to see a classic piece of machinery still being used as intended.
My grandfather was a veterinarian in Albuquerque from the 30’s until his death in ’59. He thought that Cadillac was the only marque which would provide both the comfort and durability to make ranch calls.
I love it, both the article and that it is here.
A few of these, some rental reviews, a few “ur-turns” + the usual fare for this site and TTAC is more or less replaced.
If occasional contributor Cameron throws down a weekly news roundup TTAC in its current form is surpassed.
Maybe a place for some pre-success auto writers to try out their voice?
I wonder how much a set of those Sabre wheels are worth today?
Pretty rad for the time.
Not cheap. Jump into ebay and have a look
I did that legwork after spotting one in BAT
I agree that cars like this are to be used and enjoyed. Nineteen fifty-six was a vintage year for premium American cars. One could choose a Cadillac, an Imperial or the new Lincoln. The more sporting buyer could go for a Chrysler 300-B. But on sheer value, I think the Cadillac won.
Isn’t that pink delicious? Bring back the pastels!
_ALL_ of the ‘Dagmar’ (not “bumper bombs”) Caddies are simply wonderful cars .
I rode in many ’54 ~ ’55 Limos in the early to mid 1960’s when they were just old beat up BIG cars to ferry 7 or 10 kids around in…..
Me, I’d prefer a ’53 Coupe….in Periwinkle if possible .
As Sobro mentions, they were like fancy trucks ~ many Ranches used them because no other American car would take the punishment .
We even cut a 49 Sedan down into a single horse carrier in New Hampshire .
I’ll have to disagree, these things are hideous.
Over-styled to distraction, bulbous and saggy at the same time.
This car says “Ugly American” all the way down to the molecular level.
Why do you hate America so much? Any other nation you say such nasty racist things about?
I’m an American and I don’t hate America.
I just have some taste and decency.
Do you go around calling other races ugly? Just curious.
“I just have some taste and decency.” — the irony.
I have little taste but i think ’56 Caddies have always been beautiful even in 1965 when they were just $350 ‘ old cars ‘ that NO ONE wanted .
This car has the Twilight Centinel, exactly the same name Holden used to call the auto headlamps feature in my 97 Calais
A/C mounted in the boot!
This thing rocks
I love these old cars, although there was a time in my life (I’m 58) when I thought they were old and ugly. Maybe that’s what Eric up there is thinking *shrug* FIFK.
BUT… I’d love to have one now. I have never owned a car older than me, but sometimes I actually do pine for a car with points and condenser, simple machinery from simpler times. Then again, some years back I told myself I’d never again own a non-fuel injected car. For an old Eldo I might make an exception. I had an Eldo in the 90s, and it was a sweet ride, but the Northstar Eldos will take many, many years before they’re worth what we paid for them.
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