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Eldorado • Fiesta • Skylark

General Motor's Showcars for the Public

 

 

 

 

1953 Cadillac Eldorado • Images (c) Copyright GM Media Archives

For General Motors, 1953 was a very special year. It marked the 50th Anniversary of two of their brands, Buick and Cadillac, plus over a half century of production for the Oldsmobile, which had gone into production officially in 1896.

To celebrate these events, and to draw traffic to local showrooms, each of these prestige divisions at GM was authorized to create a limited number of special convertibles based on styling cues from some of the first Motorama display vehicles. (Chevrolet also was granted permission to do something special, which they did with a little item called the Corvette).

Buick's Skylark (top) and the Oldsmobile Fiesta were also part of GM's "dream car" offerings for 1953.

Fiesta
Oldsmobile responded with the Fiesta, which was based on the Ninety-Eight convertible. The body was reworked by hand, a special one-piece curved windscreen and luxury appointments inside and out were added. Powered by the Rocket 303ci V8 with a special 8.3:1 compression ratio, the Fiesta delivered 170 horsepower and was backed with the dependable Hydramatic transmission. These cars featured two-tone paint schemes not seen before in the American market and became another feather in the cap of the head of GM Styling, Harley Earl. Officially known as model 53-3067SDX, just 458 of these beautiful cars left the Lansing production line.

The Fiesta is the least known of these three primarily because the name was not continued as a special edition after 1953. However, those who love these models have worked hard to preserve the few remaining examples. Prices in the past two years have jumped nearly 25% in some cases with collectors from Florida to Michigan realizing just how special these cars are. In recent sales action restored examples have surpassed the $100,000 mark, far above the level they achieved at any other time. It is interesting that the name Fiesta wasn't revived until the 1957 model year, and then it was applied to Oldsmobile station wagons.

Skylark
Buick's entry, the Skylark, was something immediately recognizable as different. Like the Fiesta, the top-line convertible from the Roadmaster series was the basis for this special edition, which also featured the cut-down one-piece windshield. The body was lowered and wheel wells opened up to show off the wide whitewall tires mounted on sparkling Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels. Credited with this design was a talented stylist in the Buick Division, Ned Nickles, who had been toying with a few ideas for his own personal car. A new Buick V8 had been introduced for 1953, and the Skylark received the Roadmaster's V8 with 322 cubic inches, 8.5:1 compression ratio, and 188 horses delivered to the standard equipment Dynaflow transmission. 1,690 of these unique model 53-4767SX convertibles were produced.

The Skylark became legendary as the series was continued one more model year into 1954. Many think that the 1954 Skylark is even more special that the 1953 edition. With scalloped wheel wells, often in contrasting colors, wire wheels, and unique cut-down tail pieces on the rear quarter panels, only 836 of these cars were produced. In today's market the 1953 and 1954 editions both can approach the $80,000 mark. The reason for the lower value of the 1953 Skylark when compared to Oldsmobile is probably fromthe original production number being higher, and a larger supply from surviving examples. 1954 editions have also enjoyed a relatively high survival rate due to their being recognized as a special car early in life. While the Skylark is today a "hot" Buick collector item, when it was new the reception from the public wasn't as enthusiastic, which led to the demise of the series name until it was reborn in the early 1960s as a mid-size car.

 

Eldorado
But the real star of the GM triplets was the Cadillac Eldorado. Based on the series 62 convertible, each of these unique open cars featured channeled body work, the wrap around windshield, Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels, full leather interior, and a parade boot to cover the lowered top mechanism. So impressive was the Eldorado that it was selected as the car that newly elected President Eisenhower used in his inauguration parade in Washington D.C. in January 1953. Under the hood was the proven 331 cid Cadillac V8 with an 8.25:1 compression ratio and 210 horsepower, coupled to the Hydramatic transmission. Again, production was very limited, with just 532 of these vehicles produced for public consumption.

Several restorers of this model have taken their passion for perfection to a level that rivals the finest cars in the world. Today's restorers put much more time, and money, into these cars than the factory did, and the results on recent auction blocks have borne this out. In 1995 the $100,000 mark was not only met, but was surpassed at the Barrett-Jackson sale with a perfect light blue example bringing an astonishing $135,000 bid. This past year that mark was again met and conquered as a equally perfect red example took the level to $145,000! But to attain these record high prices they have to be perfect, top and bottom. Of these three special models the only the Eldorado lived on as a top-of-the-line model, which has contributed to its sustained popularity and value to collectors.

1954 brought updated styling, especially on the Eldo.

Market Conditions
In the big "boom" of American car collecting in the late 1980s, these three models saw tremendous growth in interest from collectors and investors in the hobby. When the bottom fell out of the market in the early 1990s, many of those who had only looked to collector cars as an investment lost a lot of money. But for those who loved the cars it was a field day. Prices dropped and some beautiful examples were left for the choosing. However, in the past decade the market, now fueled by more affluent collectors looking to enjoy their gains rather than making a buck off collector cars, has climbed back up to record status. These special convertibles are at the top of the ladder in prices, eclipsing their late 1980s highs.

As the market continues to grow, so too will these special General Motors limited edition convertibles. It is hard to say where the price level for the 1953 Eldorado will go, except to say that as tastes and pocketbooks grow larger-and as long as the economy stays strong-- it will be in an upward direction. The Oldsmobile Fiesta's recent rise to the $100K mark is actually quite surprising, and that one sale may have been a bump rather than a trend. Regardless, the price of these cars should always be at least equal to the Buick Skylarks. As for those, they are sure to appreciate in value too, with the 1954 models probably set to surpass the 1953s due to the more noticeable body changes around the wheel wells and the added chrome tailfins.

Regardless of your choice, if you are prepared to step-up and join this elite segment of postwar American collector cars, their solid and proven mechanics and stunning design will make you the envy of other collectors.
 

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Current Values:

Buick
Cadillac
Oldsmobile
This profile first appeared in the November 2000 issue of Collector Car & Truck Market Guide