Rare Rides Icons: The Cadillac Eldorado, Distinctly Luxurious (Part XVIII)


rare rides icons the cadillac eldorado distinctly luxurious part xviii

We’re back with more Cadillac Eldorado coverage this week. In our last installment (over a month ago) we reviewed the interior accouterments of the Eldorado Brougham that were far beyond the standard Eldorado. Aside from its coach door hardtop body style, the other area where the Brougham went its own way was in engineering. And some of that engineering was of the experimental variety. What could go wrong?

rare rides icons the cadillac eldorado distinctly luxurious part xviii

Despite how foreboding “experimental engineering” sounds, many of the Eldorado Brougham’s features were whiz-bang without being problematic and would later be adopted in many automobiles. The Brougham owner of 1957 surely enjoyed the two-position memory function for the power seats, a first in any automobile. Equally automatic was the trunk: It was power open and close, at a time when the vast majority of cars had neither.

With its brushed stainless steel roof soaking up heat from the sun’s rays, HVAC was of paramount concern to Cadillac engineers. The Brougham was fitted with a high-pressure cooling system with air conditioning as standard, as well as dual heating. Sun visors (tinted plastic in those days) were polarized to filter more light. Other niceties were not so shocking, like the power antenna and door locks. The starter was automatic, and had a restart function too.

rare rides icons the cadillac eldorado distinctly luxurious part xviii

Even Eldorado Brougham’s radio contained some noteworthy engineering. It was signal-seeking and fully transistor. Foregoing vacuum tubes that needed warm-up time, the Brougham’s radio contained 13 transistors at a time when other radios used six. Developed by Delco, the radio was exclusive to Eldorado Brougham in 1957.

Though not brand new, GM’s Autronic Eye was standard on Eldorado Brougham. Introduced in 1952 and exclusive to Cadillac, Buick, and Oldsmobile vehicles that year, the Eye was an automatic headlight dimmer. It contained a phototube (vacuum tube that’s sensitive to light) attached to a circuit to sense light from oncoming cars.

rare rides icons the cadillac eldorado distinctly luxurious part xviii

The apparatus was mounted to the dashboard, and was shaped almost like a spotlight. The sensor inside it was wired to a module in the engine compartment, which would control the headlight relay via the signals. The accessory was renamed to GuideMatic in 1958, when it was upgraded to a smaller dash housing and added a knob that permitted the driver to adjust the system’s sensitivity. 

GM was a leader in the auto-dimming tech space, and both Chrysler and Ford used GM’s dimmers from the 1950s through the 1980s. Ford rebranded the Autronic Eye to AutoDim, and offered it in Lincolns, as well as select Mercury vehicles and the Thunderbird. Chrysler called their usage Automatic Beam Control, and equipped it on Chrysler and Imperial cars.

rare rides icons the cadillac eldorado distinctly luxurious part xviii

Neither Autronic nor GuideMatic were ever fool-proof, credited largely to the limited technology available. The sensor used an amber colored lens, which reacted not only to headlamps but to the light reflected from yellow road signs. This caused unnecessary dimming, creating less safe driving situations. Cadillac kept GuideMatic after all other GM divisions stopped offering it in the Seventies, and continued with it as an option through 1988.

rare rides icons the cadillac eldorado distinctly luxurious part xviii

Eldorado Brougham also featured a special glove box that contained many interesting things. Chief among them was an encouragement for in-car drinking, via a silver drink tumbler for each passenger. The tumblers were magnetic and stuck to the chromed interior of the glove box lid, so no cup holder was necessary. 

rare rides icons the cadillac eldorado distinctly luxurious part xviii

There was a leather trimmed cigarette case in the glove box too, and a ladies’ vanity kit with powder, lipstick holder, a comb, and mirror. Each car also came with a small bottle of Lanvin Arpège perfume, a fragrance still in production today. Less feminine were the gold mechanical pencil and leather notebook for writing down those two-letter and five-digit phone numbers. Enjoy the great historical PR film above touting Brougham’s features.

We’ve saved the most impressive and troublesome engineering for last. Cadillac implemented an all-new self-leveling air suspension in the 1957 Eldorado Brougham. Complete with published SAE papers at the time, Cadillac wanted to improve ride quality in its cars in a substantial way. The manufacturer was not satisfied with torsion bars or metal springs.

Engineers lamented at the conflicting priorities caused by the objective desire for a better ride, with stylists’ creation of ever-lower roof heights and vehicle floors as longer, lower, wider took hold on automotive design. The result of about a decade in development, the air suspension promised a constant ride height, smooth ride, and superior handling to steel springs. 

rare rides icons the cadillac eldorado distinctly luxurious part xviii

The system included a spring, control link, and leveling valve at each corner, along with lines running front to rear. At the front end were various tanks, valves, no less than three compressors, switches, exhausts, and solenoids. All worked in tandem to keep roughly 5,300 pounds of Cadillac level and under control.

In theory, anyway. In practice the system tended to leak at every fitting within the system, and at the various control points. Additionally, the system would often freeze up in areas that experienced winter weather. There’s at least one report of a failure almost immediately after taking delivery of an Eldorado Brougham. 

When the system failed it was often sudden, and without warning. Unlike a more modern Land Rover or similar product that could be driven on its bump-stops with a failed suspension, there was no such failsafe in the Brougham. The grandiose four-door would sit with its frame touching the ground, and needed to be towed and repaired before further operation.

Owners of the exclusive cars found it was easier to convert their cars back to coil springs, rather than continue the expensive, complicated air suspension repairs. After a couple years, GM had dealers offering the conversion kits themselves. Though it debuted in 1957 as standard on the Eldorado Brougham, Cadillac offered its air suspension from 1957 to 1960 on its other models at a reported cost of $215 ($2,417 adj.). Today there’s a cottage industry for refitting or retrofitting air suspension on these large GM cars, with full systems asking between $3,000 and $4,000.

In our next installment we’ll discuss the changes made to the Eldorado Seville, Biarritz, and Eldorado Brougham for their final outing in 1958. Then we’ll discuss pricing and sales figures as we close out this generation. 

[Images: GM]

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