To get at the grandeur of the 1953-1966 Cadillac Eldorado, one should turn to poetry.

"Shadow," said he, "where can it be
This land of Eldorado?"
"Over the Mountains of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,"
The shade replied,
"If you seek for Eldorado!"
-- Edgar Allan Poe

Eldorado -- in proper Spanish, El Dorado -- means "The Gilded One." In the lore of the ancients it was a legendary golden kingdom, a place of fabulous riches located -- or so it was believed -- high in the snowcapped mountains of what is now Colombia.

Classic Cars Image Gallery

1958 Cadillac Eldorado
The Eldorado Biarritz convertible for 1958. Just 815 were built. See more classic car pictures.

­Over the years, "Eldorado" thus came to represent the best of everything: opulence, wealth, the good life. So it was also a completely logical choice as the name for a stunning new convertible that arrived as Cadillac's style leader and its ultimate prestige car for 1953.

Cadillac had startled the automotive world back in 1930 with America's first 16-cylinder motorcar. The V-16 line never made a nickel in its 11 years of production. Possibly it wasn't intended to. It was an image-builder. And with the help of these magnificent machines, Cadillac was indeed able to elbow its way past Packard to become the country's most prestigious luxury make.

The original Eldorado can be viewed in the same light, though the image it projected was vastly different. Instead of staid, classic dignity, it had flair, élan, panache. But like the Sixteen, it cost the world: $7,750, fully 87 percent more than the standard Series 62 convertible. Also like its distinguished 1930s forebear, it was scarce: only 532 were built in that inaugural model year.

Many people first saw the Eldorado on television. The date was January 20, 1953, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, easily the most popular American hero of World War II, was being driven down Pennsylvania Avenue to his first inauguration as President of the United States.

Setting a jaunty tone for the new administration, our soon-to-be-anointed leader was shown in the back seat of the exotic new Cadillac we'd been reading about. (And how strange to recall a time not all that long ago when a president could greet a crowd from an open car without the need for a bulletproof barrier.)

Of course, in the minds of committed car buffs the Chief Executive had been upstaged: We couldn't take our eyes off that gorgeous Eldorado, the most glamorous machine yet seen from postwar Detroit.

See the next section for details on the first few model years of the Eldorado.

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