Imagine, if you will, a car so advanced it could start itself, a car so luxurious its doors locked
themselves, a car which lowered its suspension so you could get out more easily, a car with polarized sun visors,his and hers
ashtrays and electric seats with memories. Well, imagine no more, simply feast your eyes on the 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham
- the most expensive car in the world.
The automotive dream became reality in 1957 when General Motors' Cadillac Division
introduced a new ultra-luxury range and once again entered a a rarified market it had left 17 years before. Pitched against
up-market competition of the likes of Lincoln, Rolls-Royce and Bentley, the whistles-and-bells Eldorado Brougham was the car
which truly put the luxury back into Cadillac.
Designed by Harley 'Mr Fins' Earl, it was derived from a concept car
displayed at the 1955 GM Motorama, a travelling roadshow designed to showcase GM products. The concept car featured the suicide
rear doors and pillarless lines later perfected on the '57 Eldorado Brougham. Earl's maxim was reported to be "go all the
way, then back off some", which he clearly ignored with this car.
Over the top is not superlative enough to describe
the technical specifications and unadulterated opulence of this grandest of Cadillacs. From stem to stern, wing-tip to wing-tip,
the Brougham epitomised the fascination of American car designers with the 'jet age'. From the twin-bullet front fender to
the high-cut tail-fins, this car carried a level of equipment and finish never seen in production cars before.
Riding on air
Our feature car is pretty select in its own right - number 212 out of 400 made under
the Series 70 banner, and one of only four known in Australia. Like all '57 Cadillacs it boasts the tubular-centre X-frame
chassis, enabling a significantly lower vehicle height of only 55.5 inches, enhancing the jet-fighter image.
rode on self-levelling air suspension, providing a comfortably soft, cushioned ride, and the car lowered automatically when
either of the front passenger doors was opened. GM's answer to Citroen's high-pressure hydraulics was similar in feel to the
French design, but far simpler.
However, the early cars' suspension often leaked, and even in perfectly maintained
cars there were cases of hapless owners causing enormous damage to the underbody by neglecting to wait the necessary minute
after starting up before driving off - the time needed to allow the suspension to pump up.
Accelerating this behemoth
was simple enough, thanks to the 335bhp, 365cu in V8 nestling under the long bonnet where it breathed through twin 4bbl carburettors
before exhausting through tuned twin pipes to outlets in the rear bumpers. Injudicious application of the right foot could
invoke wheel spin, and the deep-throated roar from the exhausts may have persuaded some owners that they drove a sports car,
even if the gearbox was the relatively lazy three-speed Hydra-matic. The Brougham also came fitted with a 55 amp generator,
twice the size of the one found in the standard Cadillac. There is a reason for this.....
The sleek lines of the '57 Brougham are enhanced by aggressive detail mouldings
flowing from the front wings into a jet-like air scoop in front of the rear wheels, the lower edge of which is formed by a
stainless-steel sill panel, sweeping back and above the wheel arch to a wide stainless-steel moulding running into the chromed
The rear of the car is almost subtle compared to the snarling, gape-mouthed, chromed cast-alloy
front grille centred between the banks of twin headlights, another first for Cadillac. Aside from the slim, almost delicate
rearward-pointing fins on the rear quarters, the low, gently curved boot (or decklid) folds into a deep but not outrageous
split bumper, housing the tail lights and the exhaust outlets. The heat from these causes de-laminating of the chrome on the
alloy bumpers, so to prevent this the owner has re-routed the tailpipes to a less damaging location, but has yet to have the
Stainless-steel is a major feature on the Brougham. The vent grilles below the front windscreen
are stainless, as is the beautifully finished brushed stainless-steel roof, always left unpainted. Other metallic excess is
there in the cast alloy wheels, so much lighter - and more expensive - than steel, the style of which is repeated in the hubcaps
of the later '59 model Eldorados.
These days, electric windows
are passˇ, but in 1957 they were still considered a luxury-car-only item. Controlled from an elegant panel on the driver's
door, there are buttons for the four door windows, and two extra buttons for the ventipanes (that's quarter windows to us
The centre-opening doors swing on ball-bearing hinges and lock electrically and automatically when
the gear selector is moved into Drive. Conversely, should a rear door be open, the gear selector will not engage any gears
in the Drive range. The doors can also be locked by pressing the small button in the centre of the door latch.
too, is the seat adjustment, with controls for fore-and-aft and height, but not only that, this Cadillac has a feature which
is not even common on cars today - seat 'memory' positions for two different drivers, set by twiddling the control knobs on
the driver's door armrest. Another interesting feature of the seat controls is that they lower automatically when the door
is opened, returning to the pre-set position when the door is closed and the ignition switched on.
If all of that
doesn't impress the you, how about the electric self-starter? When the gear lever is in Neutral or Drive and the ignition
is turned to the On position, the car starts itself! If extra cranking is required, say in cold weather or after flooding
the engine, turning the key another notch over-rides the auto-starter so that it starts like any other car. Imagine being
able to start the engine with a remote control, you can't even do that today, 40 years later!
Our 1957 owner could
also cruise into the drive-through at the shopping mall, roll down the window, and direct the attendant to place the weekly
groceries in the boot. A quick reach into the glovebox to activate the electric lock and motor-drive for the bootlid, both
opening and closing, and one might almost never have to leave the car.
Another unusual feature of the '57 Brougham
is the 'Autronic Eye', a small black plastic fitting on the dashboard near the driver. It is basically a light sensor, which
detects the high beam of oncoming traffic at night, and electronically dips the car's headlights. A manual override switch
allows the driver to flash inconsiderate drivers who don't take the hint! Or they could choose to give them give them a blast
on the triple 'sea-shell and trumpet' airhorns as they go past. No such thing as 'road rage' legislation back then!
The pillarless design gives the low roof line an uncluttered and airy feel, and as
can be seen by our picture of the open doors, only the 14in high pillar holding the door catches intrudes into the opening,
leaving nothing to snag the stockings or the ball gown.
Once seated in the rear on the wonderfully deep-cushioned
seats, the belle of the ball could fold down the centre backrest below the rear radio speaker to reveal a storage compartment
containing a note pad, pencil, and a bottle of Arpege de Lanvin eau de toilette. Kicking off her shoes she could curl her
toes in the thick mouton sheepskin carpets, and stretch out on the leather and fabric seat. If her toes were cold, she could
reach down below the seat and open the vent grille to the separate under-seat rear heater, or if she was too warm she could
press the separate electric rear window control on the rear armrest and slide down the window for a cooling breeze.
our belle was more driver than passenger, up front she would find the already mentioned seat memory, previously set for her
comfort. In front of her she would see a futuristic dash in keeping with the car's ostentatious exterior, all chrome and lights
clustered around a strip speedo topped by the twin peaks of the indicator flashers. At the base of the dash are the comfort
controls, to the left of the steering column are the heater and demister levers, while on the right are those for the air-conditioner.
In the centre of the dash, within easy reach, are the controls for the transistorized radio, a world first which, when
it was switched on or off, automatically raised or lowered the aerial. Further still to the right is the revolving drum-type
clock, unusual but in keeping with the design. Below this, between the his and hers matching ashtrays and cigarette lighters
(hidden behind the drop panel which reveals the ashtray) is the glove compartment.
Of course, it is no ordinary glovebox
for this extraordinary car, the drop-down lid contains a polished stainless steel mirror, which itself folds up to reveal
a beauty compartment. When sold new it contained a special compartment for a box of tissues, a vanity compact and lipstick,
a stick cologne (for hubby) and six magnetized stainless-steel cups! This is luxury with a capital 'L'.
windscreen, ready to fold down in the case of excessive sunshine, are translucent, polarized perspex sunvisors. Fortunately
intact and unmarked on our car, as these items are irreplaceable.
Should the fortunate couple have young ladies and
gentlemen in the back (they could hardly be referred to as mere children), concern for their safety could be alleviated by
electrically locking all the doors by depressing the button in the centre of the door-locking lever. Childproof locks in 1957!
If by chance some passing oaf brushed against the left wing mirror, upsetting it, it could be realigned from inside the
car without winding down a single window, using the mirror adjustment remote control. How long did the rest of us wait to
get this feature on our lowly Commodore?
Lady Luck, or lucky lady?
If you were wondering
about the feminine allusions above, there are two reasons for this. The first is the current owner, Lorraine Morris, whose
Cadillac collection featured in ACCM last month. She believes her car was imported to Australia in October 1987 by a dealer.
A well-known Cadillac enthusiast, she was approached as a potential purchaser for the car, and was able to snap it up for
a good price prior to its advertised auction date, causing heartache for at least one other enthusiast, who has fortunately
Lorraine managed to trace the original owner in the USA through the US Cadillac Club, receiving a polite
note in reply, on watermarked, embossed (and probably scented) personalised notepaper. Perhaps not too surprisingly, the first
owner was the wife of a good-ole Texas oil-man, who struck it rich in the postwar Texas oil boom when he discovered 'black
gold' on the family ranch.
Lorraine was later surprised by a 3.00am phone call from a distinctly 'southern-drawl'
male voice asking for "Lorraine from Osstralia". When she replied in the affirmative, still half asleep, the voice declared,
"I believe you've got ma daddy's car!" Introducing himself as the son of the second owner, he insisted Lorraine go immediately
to the car to confirm it was his father's. Protesting (not too strenuously, curiosity getting the better of her), Lorraine
went out to the garage searching for a hole in the underside of the front bumper. On returning (thankfully) to bed and curious
husband Michael, she confirmed this feature to the caller. "Hell, damn! That's my daddy's car, for sure!", he bellowed."I
put that hole there ma self when I got a flat after 'borrowing' daddy's car one night with a couple of friends. We didn't
know the bumper was cast alloy, and the durn jack punched a hole straight through it!" It isn't often Lorraine gets 3.00am
phone calls, but this one she was (reasonably) happy to receive.
Rare ..... and expensive
owning the car, Lorraine and Michael have repaired some of the electrics which were not operating as they should, and given
the car a fresh coat of paint in the original colour. The most spectacular thing about Lorraine's Brougham is its absolute
originality, and the pristine original condition of all the fittings and fixtures. Even the upholstery and carpets are barely
worn, which may be explained by the low 39,000 miles on the odometer, which is believed genuine.
Where Eldorado Broughams
are concerned, particularly the rarer 1957 model, missing parts or trim are almost impossible to replace. Thus an original
and intact car like Lorraine's commands a premium from collectors way in excess of restored cars, particularly those with
non-original replacement parts. This car is to all intents and purposes irreplaceable and almost priceless. I did ask Lorraine
if she would consider selling it, (are we paying Walker too much? Ed.) and her immediate reply was a vehement "never!" Pressing
her further I got the impression that she might be persuaded by an offer as outrageous as the car itself, so after I win the
Lotto, (phew! Ed) Lorraine, expect a call!
By any standards the 1957 Eldorado Brougham is in a class of its own. More
expensive than a Lincoln Continental, then the benchmark for opulence, three times the price of a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud
Mk III, and loaded with every bit of electronic and technological know-how Cadillac was able to throw at it. It is a supreme
automotive tour-de-force, and I don't care how much they cost, I want one, which is probably the same sentiment expressed
by the original owner when he bought it for his young wife. Oh, well! At least I've driven one!
Grateful thanks to
Lorraine and Michael Morris; to Peter Ratcliff, and to MotorBooks, Cremorne NSW 02 9909 1144 for research assistance