Cadillac Eldorado Brougham

As General Motors turns 100, one of its most luxurious and technologically equipped car celebrates its 50th anniversary. The 1957 & 1958 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. Conceived as a Motorama concept vehicle and built to be the ultimate luxury car, it encompassed the latest styling trends and technology of the day. With a price tag of $13,074 and production limited to only 400 in 1957, and another 304 in 1958, the clientele for this car ranked among the most elite in the world, firmly positioning Cadillac as the standard by which others were measured.

The lineage of the 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham can be traced through a series of Motorama Concept vehicles. Harley Earl, GM’s Styling Boss, used them to monitor the public reaction and evolve them into his dream for a compact ultra luxury car. At the 1953 Motorama, Cadillac showed the Orleans, a pillarless four-door hardtop with suicide doors and panoramic windshield. Then in 1954, with the Park Avenue, El Camino and La Espada concept cars, Harley Earl introduced the brushed stainless steel roof. As cars were getting lower, the roof could now become a styling feature. It was the compact sporty yet elegant four-door Park Avenue that attracted the attention of the wealthy. In 1955, at the Waldorf Astoria, Cadillac introduced the first concept to carry the name Eldorado Brougham. Finished in specially formulated chameleon green paint on its clean custom surfaces, it combined the brushed stainless steel roof, four-door pillarless hardtop and panoramic windshield. The introduction of new technology such as quad headlights, Autronic Eye and aluminum wheels were enhanced with added luxury features like swivel seats and air conditioning.

The 1956 Motorama saw the introduction of the production intent Eldorado Brougham. Initially styled with single headlights, a duplicate front end was built with quad headlights (illegal in many states) for a Cadillac management decision. The quad front was picked and then grafted on to the full size vehicle in time for its premier at the Paris Auto Show. With only minor changes like full stainless rocker trim and a short stub frame for the door locks, this design became the production Eldorado Brougham. One final concept vehicle was built as a highlight to its name and to maintain the hype as the production car was being readied, the Eldorado Brougham Towncar was also displayed at the 1956 Motoramas.

Styling of the Brougham fell under the direction of Ed Glowacke, Cadillac Chief Designer, with Bob Scheelk, a young designer, doing much of the design work. But this was Harley Earl’s baby and all of the styling was orchestrated personally by him as was typical in the day. Up front the Dagmar bumpers, patterned to look like the fuselage and wings of an aircraft and named after a well endowed TV personality, were designed to be the focal point, with the grille and hood falling away from them. The stainless steel roof along with suicide style doors, are perhaps the most distinguishing features of the Brougham. Compound curved panoramic windshield, GM’s Florentine roofline and swept-back fins contributed to the Brougham’s design reflecting the contemporary styling idioms of the day.

At a price of $13,074 it was more expensive than Lincoln’s Mark ll and the standard Rolls Royce. In fact rumor has it GM’s cost was far more as one employee found when he inquired as to the possibility of purchasing one at cost, with the response being positively as it would mean and additional $10,000 over the sticker price.

As a statement of pure luxury, every Eldorado Brougham came with a set of vanity items preciously sought after by today’s owners. The glove compartment had special areas for tissues, cigarette case, six stainless steel tumblers with magnets built in so they could balance on the back of the full width mirror and a specially made Evans Carryall, containing ladies powder, lipstick, comb and nickel holder. The rear armrest housed a beveled mirror, leather bound note pad with Cross sterling silver mechanical pencil and a one ounce atomizer bottle of Arpege Extrait de Lanvin perfume.

The individually numbered 704 cars were hand built on a special line at the Clark Street plant in Detroit and had a unique shorter X-frame, body and interior. Even the shared Eldorado driveline, 365ci V8 with dual quad carburetors (three 2-barrel carbs were used in ’58) and 4 speed Hydramatic transmission, were specially built and tested with only the quietest going into the Brougham. Each Brougham was test driven prior to delivery.

Technologically the Brougham was fitted with the latest innovations and comforts. Full air suspension with automatic leveling, central door locks which also disengaged the rear interior door handles when in drive, and memory front seats, which moved back and down upon entering or exiting the vehicle and resetting itself to one of two owner predetermined positions. An automatic start and restart feature was included along with full power trunk lid.

With concept vehicles being visions into the future of styling, technology and market potential, the Eldorado Brougham is a rare example of a one off concept vehicle put directly into production without change or modification. The lineage continued in 1959 and 1960 with new designs that were styled by GM Styling in America, but were built by Pininfarina in Italy. These vehicles were unique in other ways, but visually did not stand out as much, primarily due to the lack of the stainless steel roof and with the following years production Cadillacs closely resembling the previous years Brougham.

This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in August 2009 at the Portola Hotel & Spa and Monterey Conference Center, Monterey, California, in July of 2011 at The Inn at St. John's, Plymouth, Michigan and in November of 2010 at the Robson Estate, Gainesville, Georgia.

Sources: GM Heritage Center, RM Auctions and Mecum Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel

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