Ford executive Robert McNamara saw a way to increase sales of the hot two-seat Thunderbird sports car by expanding it to a four-seat configuration for 1958, a move that doubled sales while creating a new market segment, the personal luxury coupe. General Motors finally answered with its Buick Riviera for 1963. Based on its success, the General decided to introduce even more competitors.
The personal luxury coupe market pioneered by Ford’s T-Bird exploded in the sixties with the Buick Riviera, Lincoln Continental, and Oldsmobile Toronado duking it out for sales. The 1966 Toronado was General Motors' first front-wheel drive car. In order to recoup the new model’s development costs, the Eldorado utilized the Toronado’s platform, but powered it with a Cadillac engine.
Cadillac applied the Eldorado name to a long history of vastly different cars. The first Eldorado was introduced as a hand-built, limited-production model for 1953. Later, the name was applied to a variety of Cadillacs from the 1957-58 Eldorado Brougham, a hand-built, Rolls-Royce competitor, to what was little more than a fancy trim package by the mid-sixties.
Legendary GM design chief Bill Mitchell dictated the new Eldo’s classic long-hood, short deck look and knife-edge fender lines, giving it swagger that still turns heads. With its sharply angled bodywork painted black, the new coupe came off looking like something Bruce Wayne would drive while his Batmobile was having its parachute repacked.
General Motors expected to move 20,000 Eldos in its first year, but had to settle for 18,000 sales. That figure rose to 24,528 the next year before dropping to a still respectable 23,330 for 1969. As the most expensive Cadillac of its day, GM booked serious profit on every Eldorado sold. The coupe became a long-term success through five generations, right up to the 2002 model year when car buyers began turning away from personal luxury cars in favor of sport utility vehicles.
Though still affordable, Cadillac's first generation, knife-edged Eldorados are garnering growing interest amongst collectors. They might not appear often at classic car auctions, but the Eldorado’s striking styling and Cadillac pedigree should ensure its steadily growing appreciation as time goes by.
Story by Jim Cherry