- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2006

By 1953 Cadillac, Buick and Oldsmobile had all been in business at least a half century. The economy was booming and Cadillac had usurped Packard to dominate the luxury market so General Motors decided the time was right for each of the three makes of cars to offer an extravagant convertible model to the motoring public.

The flashy limited editions, all with outrageous prices, included the Oldsmobile 98 Fiesta that sold only 458 copies. Buick’s Skylark was much more successful with a total of 1,690 manufactured. The Eldorado offered by Cadillac carried a price tag of about double the rest of the Cadillac line but still managed to attract 532 buyers.

One of those 532 Cadillac Eldorados is believed to have been shipped to Baltimore, probably to the Chesapeake Cadillac dealership, where it was sold with a base price of $7,750. Sketchy records indicate that the second owner of the rare car was a man named Clark.

As the tale is told, Mr. Clark was planning to discard the body and use the powerful engine and transmission in an enterprise he was planning. That’s when the third owner, a man named Jacobsen, heard of what was in store for the beautiful Cadillac and pleaded with Mr. Clark not to destroy the car but to use some other powerplant instead. Mr. Jacobsen’s plea was heard and he became the third owner.

At the time, the Cadillac was merely an old used car. Mr. Jacobsen reportedly kept the car about 20 years, during which time he kept it running and made the sort of improvements that are usually found on the basic old car.

The third owner, who had saved the car from oblivion, had by the early 1980s squeezed all the enjoyment he could out of the car and put it up for sale.

Bart Mitchell answered the ad and was taken with the Eldorado. The car left the factory painted black but when Mr. Mitchell first saw the Cadillac, “It was painted an illegitimate blue,” he says. The odometer had registered slightly more than 80,000 miles which, from the condition of the car, Mr. Mitchell assumed was actual mileage. He bought the car.

Home was Baltimore, only 15 miles away, so Mr. Mitchell fired up the big 331-cubic-inch V-8 and with 210 horsepower transferred to the rear drive wheels via the Hydramatic transmission and motored away in Cadillac style.

Research revealed to Mr. Mitchell that Cadillac manufactured 109,651 cars during the 1953 model year and of the 532 Eldorados built that first year, his car was body No. 43.

All of them weighed 4,800 pounds and rode on a comfortable 126-inch wheelbase.

Among other custom specialties, each of the original Eldorados featured a custom interior, a cut-down panoramic windshield, a notched beltline and a solid, as opposed to a fabric, boot to cover the lowered convertible top.

The car sat for a couple of years while the new owner decided what was to be done.

Mr. Mitchell discovered a common truism that finding a restoration shop can be a problem.

He had several false starts before he eventually found a facility in Williamsport, Md., that took on the restoration project in 1990.

All the brightwork on the stunning car is outstanding including the sills of the car from the rear of the front wheel well all the way to the exhaust tips protruding through the bumper on the Continental kit, including the 4-foot-long fender skirts. The continental kit was a dealer-installed accessory.

Accessories such as power steering added $176.98 to the price while the AM signal-seeking, pre-selector radio boosted the price by $120.60. The chrome-plated spoked wheels cost $325, but that was for five authentic wire wheels.

The power windows, spotlight, right-side vanity mirror and power radio antenna were also accessories but the hydraulic top was included as standard equipment.

When the time came to repaint the Eldorado, Mr. Mitchell was inspired by the 1953 Cadillac Eldorado brochure that showed:

• Aztec Red.

• Azure Blue.

• Alpine White.

• Artisan Ochre.

Even though his car reportedly had left the factory painted black, that wasn’t one of his choices on the official Cadillac color chart, so he settled on the Azure Blue, with a blue-and-white interior complemented by a white top with a plastic rear window.

Of course, all the bows supporting the top and all the convertible mechanism are chrome-plated.

Shop manager Mike Jones has shepherded the handsome Cadillac through the laboriouss restoration process, with careful attention to the authenticity and accuracy of the effort. The car since restoration has only accumulated a few hundred miles.

Mr. Jones keeps in mind the historical aspects associated with any 1953 Cadillac Eldorado. A white version of this car was employed to drive the 34th president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, down Pennsylvania Avenue in January 1953 in his inaugural parade.

The Cadillac will accumulate a few more road miles, on a trailer, thank you, when Mr. Mitchell takes his car to the Capitol Cadillac Eldorado Extravaganza featuring rear-wheel-drive Eldorados from 1953 to 1966.

The Cadillac LaSalle Club-Potomac Region has planned the show at the Greenbelt dealership from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday with the public invited at no charge to witness the gorgeous cars on display.

Capitol Cadillac is located just off the Beltway at Exit 23, Kenilworth Avenue, toward Greenbelt.

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