Car of the Week: 1958 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham

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By Angelo Van Bogart

While Rick Payton was away at college, he suffered the ultimate indignity in 1990 at the hands of his parents: his collector car was sold out from under him.

“My first Cadillac was a 1964 Coupe deVille that I dragged out of a barn,” he said. “I moved that car all over the state of Indiana and went off to college. While I was away at college my parents sold it; it was very frustrating.”

He never even had a chance to drive that Cadillac, but he literally avenged the loss ten fold and has since seen more than a dozen Cadillacs come and go through his collection.

“I got my next one when I was out of college and was working — it was a 1966 Coupe deVille. My friend and I had a thing over a ’55 Coupe deVille at auction and he got it, so the next real, real big Cadillac I bought was a 1960 Coupe deVille in Persian Sand. From there, there have been so many.”

One of the most special Cadillacs currently in Payton’s collection is the 1958 Eldorado Brougham that he displayed at the 2014 Iola Old Car Show’s “Four for All in ’14” theme area. Not only is the Eldorado Brougham special to Payton, it’s special in the world of cars, of Cadillacs and among fellow surviving Eldorado Broughams.

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A ‘dreamy’ Cadillac

Cadillac was maintaining its position as “Standard of the World” through the 1950s through quality cars with innovative engineering and top-shelf promotion. The General Motors Motorama was key in that promotion, and it was there that Cadillac lifted the curtain to show off its futuristic ideas on concept cars. For the Eldorado Brougham, the 1953 Cadillac Orleans was perhaps the harbinger of the forthcoming halo four-door. The Orleans looked like a production Cadillac, but was a four-door hardtop, a body style GM was first to offer. Four-door hardtops first graced the Cadillac line in 1956, one year after it was available on Buick and Oldsmobile models.

Just before GM was ready to debut four-door hardtops, Cadillac dreamed up the four-door 1954 Park Avenue concept car for the auto show circuit. The Park Avenue followed the Orleans by a year, but had fixed frames around the side windows. However, it had the upcoming Eldorado Brougham’s concave body line trimmed with a side scoop and stainless-steel roof, and it also had a hood lower than the font fenders.

Cadillac may not have been first with a four-door hardtop, but from behind the scenes, GM styling chief Harley Earl and his staff were working on a very special Cadillac four-door hardtop as early as May 1954. Unlike the first Buick, Oldsmobile and even Cadillac four-door hardtops, this special Cadillac sport sedan would not share its styling with its siblings.

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The public received its first view of the special Cadillac Eldorado Brougham four-door hardtop in concept form at the New York Auto Show in January 1955. This car had quad headlamps, center-opening doors, a thin wrap-around windshield frame, seats designed for just four passengers and front wheel openings that flared back from the wheels. The stainless roof returned for this show car, which was 20 inches shorter than the 1954 Park Avenue dream car, and 17 inches shorter than the 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special in production that year. Unlike most GM concept cars that preceded it, the 1955 Eldorado Brougham concept car was crafted in steel — perhaps a hint this car was dedicated to production and heading to a Cadillac showroom soon.

Indeed, in a letter dated Aug. 25, 1955, Cadillac General Sales Manager J.M. Roche wrote to Cadillac owners and explained that the Eldorado Brougham was going from dream to reality. GM had learned that Ford Motor Co. was building a new luxury car that would carry on the prestige of the original Lincoln Continental. A new Ford Motor Company division had even been dedicated to building this new luxury automobile, dubbed the Continental Mark II. Aimed at the top stratosphere of car buyers, the second-generation Continental Mark II would be available only as a coupe, and priced in the $10,000 range — about twice the price of a new Lincoln Premiere hardtop coupe.

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In his personalized letter, Roche urged prospective luxury car buyers to wait for two upcoming special Cadillac models, the new-for-1956 Eldorado Seville, and the forthcoming Eldorado Brougham. One of those letters to a potential buyer in Stockton, Miss., follows:

“Knowing of your interest in fine cars through Mr. John Thompson, your Cadillac dealer in Stockton, I am writing at his suggestion to tell you of a special project under way at Cadillac.

“Two new Cadillac creations are shortly to be introduced… both represent a dramatic departure from current automobile styling and design. Not even in Cadillac’s illustrious past is there anything against which they can be measured.”

The letter then addressed the Eldorado Seville, essentially a hardtop version of the Eldorado convertible, before following with news of the Eldorado Brougham, to be offered to even more discriminating car buyers.

“The second of these two models is the Cadillac ‘car of the future’ the Eldorado Brougham. In the 1955 General Motors Motorama it presented a concept of automotive design and engineering assumed to be almost a decade away from actual production.

“Now the decision has been made to place this car into actual production and, as you can see from the enclosed picture, it is truly revolutionary in styling. Only 54” in height and 210” in length, this four-door sedan with completely pillarless door design combines — graceful roof styling — low sweeping lines to create a motor car of rare majesty and beauty.

“An equally exciting interior is provided by unusual appointments and unusually luxurious fabrics. New engineering developments, including a special high-horsepowered Cadillac engine, bring a performance which marks another significant Cadillac achievement.

“This exclusive Cadillac creation will be available sometime in 1956 at an estimated cost of $8,500.

“Both the Eldorado Seville and the Eldorado Brougham, because of their custom built nature, will be in very limited production… and both will unquestionably be in great demand among fine car owners.

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“A representative of the Thompson Motor Company will contact you in the near future to discuss these remarkable new Cadillac models.

“You will find, I feel certain, that the creation of the Eldorado Seville and the Eldorado Brougham marks another step forward in Cadillac’s unending effort to provide America’s discriminating motorists with the finest in automotive transportation.”

The only optimism in this letter to prospective Eldorado Brougham customers was the time line and price of the Brougham. It would take until the 1957 model year for the car to reach showrooms, and by then, the price had climbed to a staggering $13,074 — a sticker price that crushed the Continental Mark II’s price, which was just a couple crisp “Andrew Jacksons” less than a similarly shocking $10,000.

 

The dream becomes reality

Definite traces remained from the 1955 Eldorado Brougham concept car from which the 1957 model was developed for buyers. Air vents atop the front fenders remained, as did the stainless steel roof, quad headlamps, center-opening doors without a pillar, Dagmar bumpers, opulent four-person interior and long and low profile in a relatively compact and European package.

However, the front and rear bumpers of the 1957 Eldorado Brougham, along with the fins, were restyled by the time the Eldorado Brougham came to market. Outwardly, the car that became available to Cadillac’s “Elite 400” customers more closely resembled the 1956 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham Town Car, an open-front concept car that bridged the production gap while Cadillac finalized the Eldorado Brougham.

At its Empire State Building-size price, the Eldorado Brougham came without options; any technology available in an automobile was already included. Buyers only chose the color and interior features. Included in the price was air conditioning and heater, power steering and power brakes, E-Z-Eye glass, five unique Alcoa forged aluminum and steel wheels shod with low-profile and high-speed whitewalls, a memory power front seat, fog lamps, radio with a power antenna, power door locks, power trunk lid opener and closer, automatic engine starting, Autronic-Eye, translucent sun visors, remote-control outside rear view mirror and a carpeted trunk compartment. Also included was the standard Eldorado engine with multi-carburetion, Hydra-Matic automatic transmission and air suspension that used a compressor to re-inflate the system upon opening a door. Full gauges with red Cadillac-shaped warning lamps lenses behind each gauge kept drivers abreast of the engine’s status in a unique speedometer cluster.

Of all its features, one of the Eldorado Brougham’s most memorable is its “vanity” accessories. To help it compete at the level of Rolls-Royce, which was priced only about $1,000 more than a late-1950s Eldorado Brougham, Cadillac included a Macy’s shelf full of luxury items: magnetic metallic tumblers for him that fit on a shelf created by lowering the glove compartment door; a Cadillac V-encrusted Evans vanity case for her that matched to the car’s interior filled with freshening items; a plastic cigarette case; a tissue dispenser; note pad and Cross pencil; a beveled mirror; and Arpège perfume atomizer. According to research by Yann Saunders, these items were delivered in the trunk compartment and dealers were expected to place them in the glove compartment and rear arm rest of cars before delivery. These items were also available through a Cadillac parts department.

In features, in styling, in innovation and in price, the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham was clearly the ultimate motoring sedan.

Just enough to satisfy Cadillac’s “elite 400” were built in 1957, and another 304 nearly identical examples were assembled for 1958, bringing the Eldorado Brougham assembly figure to 704 cars for the first two years. The Eldorado Brougham returned for 1959, but it was a completely different creation, albeit in the same spirit.

 

A unique survivor

Payton’s Eldorado Brougham is one of the rarer 1958 models and carries that model year’s triple-carbureted Eldorado 365-cid V-8 good for 335 hp (1957 models had a dual-quad-carbureted 365 good for 325 hp.) The original owner, asphalt company owner H.J. Hensley of Kansas City, Mo., selected Kenya Beige paint, dark brown mouton carpet and an interior with beige leather and Bayou Beige fabric. Cadillac & LaSalle Club member Charles Barnett purchased the car in 1984, and from his collection, it went to Payton, a fellow CLC member who wasn’t looking for a Brougham in 2011.

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“The Eldorado Brougham came to me,” Payton said. “I was president of the Central Texas Region of the CLC and a gentleman called and said he had inherited a bunch of Cadillacs from his brother and this was one. He listed off a bunch of 1970s Cadillacs, and then he said, ‘I have an Eldorado Brougham.’ ‘With the stainless-steel roof?’ I asked. ‘What color is it?’ He said it was a metallic beige and I said, ‘Your brother is Charles Barnett.’ I said, ‘Oh my, I know this car, I know your bother. I can’t give you a price on this car, but your dad and brother were friends with John Foust of Honest John’s Caddy Corner and I think we should have John come over and do an appraisal. If I can afford it, I would like to buy it.’”

The money was right, but there was a hook — Payton had to buy two additional Cadillacs to seal the deal. He immediately sold one of the cars and began working to make the Eldorado Brougham as authentic as possible. Fortunately, Barnett had begun some of the work.

When Barnett had bought the car in 1984, it didn’t include the vanities or the unique Alcoa aluminum and steel wheels. Loaded with foresight, Barnett went to the previous owner and paid an exorbitant $2,000 to repurchase and reinstall these items, which today are worth tens of thousands of dollars. Payton also had the correct material made to reupholster the front seat (the rear seat is original) and new material made to carpet the trunk compartment. He also repaired the original air suspension and sourced new mouton carpet from New Zealand  — all of which cost thousands upon thousands of dollars, but all worthy for such a beautiful survivor. It all adds to the story of a car that has been special to a select few for more than 50 years, shown in a paper trail that begins with one illustrious individual.

Among all the documentation that remains with Payton’s Eldorado Brougham is a copy of its pre-delivery inspection report. The form includes a checklist of the car’s fit, finish and road test signed by none other than Harley J. Earl. On Feb. 27, 1958, Earl personally inspected the Eldorado Brougham, checking each box and placing his initials at the bottom of the report. Eldorado Brougham with Body No. 590 passed with flying colors, of course.

Despite its value, Payton takes the Eldorado Brougham on his own test drives. The car starts and runs beautifully, and upon airing up the suspension, it glides down the road.

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“I drive the car a lot. I take it to brunch on occasion and take it to run errands, and I think that freaks people out.”

Perhaps Payton is just making up for time lost behind the wheel of his first Cadillac.

Information for this article was obtained, in part, from The (new) Cadillac Database, compiled by Yann Saunders. Find information about this and other surviving Eldorados at the database website at www.cadillacdatabase.org.

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