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?