The elegantly understated, ultra-luxury Continental Mark II of 1956 was Ford’s salvo directly across the bow of the dreadnought that was General Motors. Lincoln’s on-again-off-again standing in the American luxury car market dominated by Cadillac was entrenched by this hand-assembled, $9,966 coupe; Cadillac would have none of that, and their retaliation, the Eldorado Brougham of 1957 and 1958, came to embody a post-war Duesenberg Model J. Amazingly complex and fabulously luxurious, the Eldorado Brougham became the most expensive American car on the market, one whose value would fall and rise like its famous air suspension.
When it was introduced in March 1957, the flagship Cadillac cost a jaw-dropping $13,074, this in a year when the average yearly salary was $4,657 and a “base” Bentley S1 saloon cost $12,000. Justifying that McMansion-like price were a slew of new engineering and luxury features to set the Eldorado Brougham apart from other big-dollar cars.Its design derived from a GM Motorama show car, this pillarless sedan with rear-hinged doors and a 14-inch-tall center door lock bar sported a brushed stainless steel roof, chrome-plated aluminum bumpers, true quad headlamps and forged aluminum alloy/steel composite wheels. The Eldorado Brougham rode on the first automotive air-spring suspension, which replaced traditional coil and leaf springs with air-filled bags that smoothed the ride and kept the car level under any load. The 365-cu.in. V-8 under the hood sported two four-barrel carburetors and made 325hp in 1957, while a switch to three two-barrel Rochesters meant a 10hp bump for 1958; a Hydra-Matic automatic was standard both years.
The Brougham was fitted with many special interior features to raise it above run-of-the-mill Cadillacs, including standard air conditioning (still a rarity in the late 1950s, and an option on the Mark II), separate front and rear heaters, a six-way power “memory” front seat, a two-speaker transistor radio, automatically latching electric door locks, Autronic Eye automatic headlamp dimming, polarized sun visors, power side and vent windows, a power trunklid release, an electric clock, and more. No fewer than 44 standard trim and color groupings were available, as well as a special combination option.Most unusual were the flagship’s vanity items; pampered owners enjoyed a set of personal accessories that included a notepad with a silver Cross pencil, a plastic cigarette case holder, a color-coded ladies’ compact and beveled glass hand mirror, a tissue dispenser, six magnetized-bottom drinking tumblers and, the pièce de résistance, a one-ounce atomizer of Arpège perfume from France.
“Our goal was to build the finest car possible, and the experiment has been a success,” said James M. Roche, Cadillac’s General Manager, upon the car’s introduction. Cadillac assembled a total of 400 Broughams for 1957, with an additional 304 built for 1958.The complexity of the original Eldorado Brougham–a car that dealer mechanics were told must receive priority over all other service assignments–meant that issues did arise. A reputation for being pricey to maintain kept purchase prices surprisingly low for the cars’ first 40 years, but while the expense of replacing unique parts and restoring these hand-built cars has remained prohibitive, today’s classic car marketplace now understands their unique place in America’s automotive history, and values these cars far above their contemporary Cadillac siblings.