El Morocco: The Eldorado-flavored Bel Air that never took off

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1956 "El Morocco" Scott Mead

In the 1950s, Cadillacs were the standard-bearers of American style. Featuring a long wheelbase and powerful OHV V-8 engines for comfortable, effortless cruising, the Eldorado was the pinnacle of personal luxury. Canadian businessman Reuben Allender was fond of Cadillacs and owned several himself, including a 1955 Eldorado. Allender saw the huge gulf in prices between the low-volume Eldorado and the new, small-block-powered ’55 Chevy Bel Air; he determined he could offer a product combining the best of each car and capitalize on a sweet spot in the market.

Allender, with the help of Robert Thompson and Cyril Olbrich, began customizing a 1955 Chevy by adding fiberglass fender extensions to the Bel Air that mimicked the fins of his beloved ’55 Eldorado. A few pieces pulled from other cars helped disguise the pedestrian Chevy roots a bit, including 1937 Dodge headlight pods turned backward to emulate the Cadillac’s pointed bumpers. The car needed a new name that fit its upscale aim, so Allender borrowed “El Morocco” from the popular Manhattan nightclub.

By the time Allender could actually produce El Moroccos, 1956 Bel Airs were on the market, so the prototype ’55 never went into production. Instead, the modifications were rolled into 1956 models. Over the next two years, around 32 1956 and 1957 Bel Airs were converted to El Moroccos, and just one 1956 convertible is known to exist: this one. The drop-top has recently been restored in full and shows just 108 miles since the total overhaul by Tel Powney of D’Elegance in Fallbrook, California. It is up for sale as part of Mecum’s Marv Siesel Collection, along with a pair of 1957s—a hardtop and a convertible that have also been recently restored. Those low production numbers were due in part to the El Morocco conversion adding around $1000 to the $2275 sticker price of a Bel Air, closing the gap between run-of-the-mill Chevy and entry-level Cadillac.

1957 El Morocco front three quarter
The V-shaped hood emblem carried over from the Bel Air, but the Chevrolet script was replaced with block lettering proclaiming that this was “El Morocco.” The ’57 grille ditches the Chevy’s center bar and wears an elegant crosshatch. Scott Mead

Looking back, it might seem a bit strange to think about so much effort put into modifying an iconic ’57 Bel Air. It is perhaps the quintessential ’50s car and the most recognizable interpretation of the decade’s signature styling element, the tail fin. Still, the El Morocco treatment did meld well with the remaining Bel Air sheet metal in 1956, and even more so in 1957 when Chevrolet got pointed Dagmar bumpers of its own.

We have to admit, the Eldorado fins aren’t bad. With only about 32 produced and around half surviving today, the El Morocco is a rare collector piece that brings unique style with the easily-serviced and -maintained Tri-Five Chevy drivetrain.

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