- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 3, 2003

Befinned Cadillacs have long held a fascination for nuclear analyst Chris Lapp. About six years ago he set his sights on a 1957 Eldorado Biarritz convertible. That was the car for him. He liked the looks of the last model with just two headlights and the rounded rear end capped with sharp, sharklike tail fins.

Mr. Lapp searched far and wide for a Cadillac that wasn’t so bad that he would be embarrassed to drive it nor one that wasn’t so good that he would be afraid to drive it. Because Cadillac manufactured only 1,800 Eldorado Biarritz convertibles in 1957, the search was difficult.

Finally, in the autumn of 1998, after a year of looking, he located the car he wanted in Delafield, Wis., just west of Milwaukee. It was being sold as part of an estate. Five minutes before the end of the final day of the sale, Mr. Lapp called and made a bid with the caveat that the estate would pay the freight to have the car transported to Virginia. His offer was accepted and the 4,930-pound, 18.5-foot-long Cadillac arrived in Alexandria on Oct. 24, 1998, on the back of a truck.

Mr. Lapp was especially pleased that his Biarritz convertible was one of 180 built that year equipped with air conditioning. When the gleaming white Cadillac with the silver blue interior arrived, the odometer read 61,500 miles.

Records from 46 years ago indicate that the base price for the top-of-the-line Cadillac was $7,218. The well-equipped car has dual parking lights at the front to match similar outlets at the rear that house the exhaust ports and the backup lights.

Atop the front fenders, each one housing a single headlight, are chrome-plated dual fender ornaments in lieu of the more traditional hood ornament.

Between the wide fenders supporting the dual fender-top ornaments is an enormous hood, beneath which is a 365-cubic-inch, V-8 engine the develops 325 horsepower, compliments of a dual four-barrel Carter downdraft carburetor setup.

Standard goodies on the car (remember this is 1957) include:

• AM radio.

• Power top.

• Autronic eye.

• Two speakers.

• Power antenna.

• Power windows.

• Six-way power seats.

• Power trunk release.

• Visor vanity mirrors.

• Adjustable left mirror.

• Four cigarette lighters.

• 27-spoke sabre wheel covers.

• Variable-speed vacuum wipers.

With the mighty engine attached to the four-speed automatic transmission, the 120 mph figure on the speedometer appears to be attainable. The gear indicator from the left reads: Park-Neutral-Drive 1-Drive 2-Low-Reverse. Mr. Lapp acknowledges that the unfamiliar pattern takes some getting used to.

Seated behind the shoulder-wide, two-spoke steering wheel graced with a chrome-plated 360-degree horn ring, the driver has easy access to the power window controls below the wraparound windshield dogleg on the driver’s left.

The gargantuan Cadillac stands 51 inches high and 80 inches wide with a ground clearance of 6.5 inches. To bring all that mobile mass to a halt, the Cadillac is equipped with 12-inch-diameter brakes. The entire package rides on a 130-inch wheelbase equipped with B.F. Goodrich 8.20x15-inch, four-ply, white-sidewall tires.

Even with 325 horsepower, the Cadillac has a reported top speed of 105 mph. Mr. Lapp reports mileage figures of 12 to 14 miles per gallon in city driving and 15 to 17 on the highway.

On one economy run he actually recorded 18.5 miles per gallon. The gasoline tank has a 20-gallon capacity.

In 1999, Mr. Lapp loaded his Cadillac onto the Auto Train and took it to central Florida. From there he drove on to Miami for the 2000 New Year’s celebration.

“Driving that old car in South Beach was like being in a 1950s movie with all of the restored hotels. It was like going back in time,” he says.

In 2001, back in Virginia, while driving his Cadillac in a parade, Mr. Lapp was hit from behind by another motorist. Fortunately, a repair shop was found that could handle the curvaceous convertible’s lines.

The most difficult part to repair was the chrome-plated trim behind the skirtless rear wheels. These sheets of chrome wrap around the rear corners of the car and curve downward at the rear to create what appears to be split bumpers. Of course, because the chrome is mounted directly on the metal body, the bumper is strictly an illusion.

He has added almost 8,000 miles to the odometer, which now registers more than 69,300 miles.

“It’s a great car to drive around in,” Mr. Lapp reports. “You feel like a movie star.”

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