In the early 1950s American automakers were exploring new ideas and design directions with show cars, special editions and grand auto shows. At the forefront in this endeavor was General Motors, who with their Motoramas, presented tomorrow's designs today. In 1953, GM brought to life four concept vehicles to "wow" the crowds. Chevrolet showed off its new Corvette sports car, while Buick, Oldsmobile and Cadillac introduced a trio of special edition convertibles with the Skylark, Fiesta and Eldorado, respectively. Building on the success of these limited edition models, Cadillac returned in 1954 with a deluxe version of its Series 62 convertible and called it the new Eldorado. The nameplate was the top rung of Cadillac's line-up, and in those days virtually oozed "over-the-top" luxury.
Cadillac's ultimate postwar model
Troublesome air suspension
Unique trim nearly impossible to find
High maintenance and service costs
A new member to the Eldorado family was introduced for 1956 in the form of a pillarless hardtop coupe. This new model was christened the Seville, and at the same time the convertible was officially marketed at the Biarritz.
Competition was strong among these "image" cars of the 1950s, and in the fall of 1955, Ford Motor Company introduced what it billed as the most luxurious factory-built American car ever with the Continental Mark II. It retailed at $10,000, well over the three times the cost of a well-appointed Ford Fairlane hardtop, and more than twice the price of the Seville. Despite its record-setting price, Ford was reported to have lost about $1,000 per Mark II it produced.
Not willing to be outdone, the Cadillac Division introduced its own ultimate model a year later, the Eldorado Brougham. This stylish four-door hardtop, while featuring traditional Cadillac looks, used very few parts from other Cadillac models. Based on a 1955 GM Motorama show car, the Brougham featured a brushed stainless steel roof, "suicide" style doors that were secured with a single chrome plated stanchion, and interior appointments and materials that were top-of-the-line all the way. Toned down rear fins spoke of elegance, and the Brougham was the first production car to use the new quad-headlight system as standard equipment, which technically made it an illegal vehicle in a few states. It was also the pioneer in using a narrow white sidewall tire, a trend everyone would follow by 1962.
There were no extra cost items available, as they were all included in
the package. This included the 365cid V8 equipped with dual-four
barrel carbs, automatic transmission, air suspension, power steering
and brakes, and forged aluminum wheels. Interiors were available in --
get ready for it -- 44 different choices of full leather, and several
varieties of carpeting.
Eldorado Broughams were loaded with amenities that even today are considered "extras". An automatic deck-lid opener and memory power seat were just the beginning. For the ladies a full compliment of specially crafted cosmetics were offered, including lipstick and cologne, Arpege atomizer and Lanvin perfume, plus a compact with powder puff and matching leather encased notebook. Also included was a magnetized glove box door designed to accommodate the custom created drink tumbler and glasses, a feature that would undoubtedly be frowned upon today! Also on the standard equipment list were a signal-seeking radio with power antenna and twin speakers, Autotronic eye, polarized sun visors, air suspension and cruise control.
With a base price of $13,074, it was America's most expensive car. Production was intentionally limited to just 400 units in 1957. Interestingly, just as the Brougham was coming to market, Ford announced it was pulling the plug on the Mark II. For 1958, the Brougham returned with only one major change, the upper interior door panels were now covered with real leather, color-keyed to match the seating materials. Prices were unchanged, but tougher economic translated to just 304 units produced.
At this time, Italy was considered to be the world's premiere industrial design center. GM turned to the shops of Pininfarina for the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. One hundred specially equipped chassis were sent to Pininfarina and the results were nearly as stunning as the original examples, but without the over-the-top flash and chrome. Both sets of doors this year were hinged at the front, with a rear quarter window retracting into the C-pillar when the rear door was opened. While the finest interior fabrics available were continued in the production of these cars, many of the amenities, such as the drinking set and cosmetic items were dropped. As in the previous editions, the 1959 Eldorado Broughams maintained their Cadillac heritage, but none of the parts used will exchange with any of the other model from that season, not even the Biarritz convertible or Seville hardtops. Prices inched up just one-dollar for the thrill of owning the most expensive American car with exclusive "continental" coachwork.
Legend has it that while one of the 1959 units was being prepared for shipment from Italy, it was damaged as it was about to be loaded on the ship. This is the reason given why there were just 99 Brougham produced for 1959.
As the 1960 model year dawned, Pininfarina again built a limited
number of Eldorado Broughams with a design that was virtually
unchanged from the previous season. Base price remained at $13,075,
which included all the usual power equipment, the dual-four-barrel V8,
the air suspension and air conditioning. Making up for its loss of a
unit from 1959, the 1960 Brougham production has been placed at 101
In the end, realizing that these last two years added little to the image of Cadillac, it was decided to pull the plug on the Eldorado Broughams after 1960. Almost immediately afterward they became sought-after vehicles, especially the first two years with their American coachwork and stainless steel roofs.
In today's market, these cars have a small but strong following. With
all their advanced mechanical, electrical, hydraulic and
pneumaticsystems, the Broughams are not meant for the faint-of-heart,
or the "skimp on the details" type of owner. They are very expensive
to own and maintain. Finding original Brougham trim or
accessories, like the cosmetics, tumblers and glasses, or notebook, is
nearly impossible, and getting more difficult by the day.
Prime examples of the 1957 and 1958 editions can easily fetch figures well into the $50,000 range when all the systems are working properly. If one should be lucky enough to have the extras, the value can easily be increased from between $5,000 to $10,000. However, if a Brougham has some major problems such as leaking air suspension, cooling or air-conditioning, or other electrically related areas, value drops off quickly.
Surprisingly, the lesser-known Pininfarina models from 1959 and 1960 do not generate the market interest of the earlier models (2019 update: the gap has been closing over the last several years) low to mid-$20,000 range for prime examples. While those who admire a car's styling may appreciate the clean and smooth contours of Italian craftsmen, most American collectors go after the "wow" value of lots of shiny chrome and stainless steel. In either case, the only investment play here is to buy one fully restored, as you'll quickly find yourself in a restoration hole that is next to impossible to climb out of.
In the future, the best Broughams should hold their value and see steady increases. Due to very high restoration costs, it's unlikely that unrestored or poorly restored examples will rise with them.
In 1905, Cadillac boasted that it was the "Standard of the World", and the 1957 to 1960 Eldorado Brougham lived up to that reputation. It is worthy of the finest collections of vintage vehicles, regardless of continent.
(C) Copyright 2005-2020 VMR International, Inc. All rights reserved. This article first appeared in the March 2003 issue of Collector Car & Truck Market Guide.