Cadillac designed and manufactured the Eldorado model from 1953 until 2002. The name for this model may have been based on the Spanish words “el dorado”, meaning “gilded one.” There is also a French resort community named Eldorado located on the Bay of Biscayne, north of the the Spanish border.
In the late 1950s, the US automobile market was filled with flamboyant cars with large, sharp tail fins and a lot of chrome. The 1959 Cadillac led the way in the big fin realm, and also featured distinctive twin bullet tail lights. It seems these large fins were a direct response to the large fins that first appeared on the market on 1957 Chrysler automobiles. In all fairness, Cadillac was the first to design a car with fins, and I suppose they felt that they should win the fin wars, and so they did with the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado.
There can be no doubt that the world of aviation had a profound influence on the designers at Cadillac. Cadillac was the first to introduce fins on a car, with the P-38 style tail fins of the late 1940s models. In 1959, airplanes had become an every-day thing, and the space program and rockets were now big news. The 1959 Cadillac Eldorado boasted the tallest tail fin ever found on a production vehicle at 45 inches in height, and the bullet-style twin tail lights, all reminiscent of rocketry.
Hand-built by Paninfarina in Italy, this model marked a significant change in style for the Cadillac. There were two different roof lines and roof pillar designs. The grill featured a jeweled styling with matching deck lid beauty panels, and of course there were the distinctive tail lights and tail fins. The 1959 Cadillac was Americana — it reflected the self-satisfaction and excitement of great success through hard work, all wrapped up in American steel and chrome, rolling on wide white wall tires.
All of the 1959 Cadillac Eldorados had a three-deck, jeweled rear grill insert, and featured a 130 inch wheelbase. Other features varied on the different models. The Biarritz and the Seville featured full-length body sill highlights that curved over the rear fender profile and back along the belt line. These models had the Eldorado name in chrome just behind the front wheel.
Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertibles were among the most expensive luxury cars made by the manufacturer in 1959 with a whopping sticker price of $7401. This high price translated in to low sales numbers for Cadillac. There were only 1320 of these (the Biarritz) produced, making them a bit rare and valuable in today’s collector market. General Motors also introduced the brand spanking new four-door Eldorado Brougham hardtop, also hand-built in Italy, and priced at an astounding $13,075. There were only 99 of these sold. Oddly enough, the Brougham had unique tail fins that were much lower than those on the other models.
The 1959 Cadillac Eldorado featured three Rochester two-barrel carburetors and a 390 cubic inch engine that delivered a steady 345 horsepower. This model came standard with power brakes, power steering, three-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmission, back-up lights, two-speed windshield wipers, vanity mirror, six-way power seats, power windows, fog lights, remote control deck lid, radio with rear speaker and power antenna, power vent windows, air suspension, electric door locks, and license plate frames. Other options were available including air conditioning for an additional $474, cruise control for $97, tinted glass for $97, and bucket seats could be installed in the Biarritz convertible for no additional charge.
The 1959 Cadillac Eldorado was fitted with drum brakes that sometimes wore out pretty fast. It took a lot of friction to bring the big, heavy car to a stop. If the driver needed to make a U-turn, a parking lot might be required. The turning radius on these Eldorados was 24 feet.
These big cars seated six people comfortably. The head lights would turn on automatically at dusk, and switch from high beam to low beam automatically for oncoming traffic. They air suspension provided a comfortable, soft ride, and significant body roll when cornering. The big engine would take the huge car to sixty miles per hour in eleven seconds. These cars were built for style and comfort, not for sport.
Cadillac designed the 1959 Eldorado, but contracted the Italian Pininfarina to assemble the machines, and the cars were hand-built in Italy. Most experts are of the opinion that the build quality of the 1959 Cadillac Eldorados was not up to the standards of the Detroit hand-built models from previous years. These models do seem to be less desirable although they retain a high collector value, the Biarritz in particular. The current average value for a Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz in good condition is around $125,000.