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).
(top) and the Oldsmobile Fiesta were also part of GM's "dream car"
offerings for 1953.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
- end -
This profile first appeared in the
November 2000 issue of Collector Car & Truck Market Guide