1961 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz: Style For The Fortunate Few
In the Year Of Our Lord 1961, the Cadillac Eldorado, the most expensive Cadillac short of the factory limousines, got an all-new look … as did the rest of the ’61 Cadillacs. It was somewhat scandalous at the time, but the new models greeting showroom browsers in Autumn of 1960 were, believe it or not, somewhat smaller. Ye gods. What is the world coming to?
Cadillac retained its enviable reputation in 1961. Despite credible competition from Lincoln and Imperial, Cadillac still handily outsold both of the other American luxury makes combined. No one could match Cadillac model for model. Or for the cars’ sheer presence in front of fine homes, supper clubs, and golf courses throughout the country. Sedan, hardtop coupe, hardtop sedan, convertible, factory limousine … they had it all. And then, success still spelled Cadillac.
Cadillacs were completely restyled. Fins, naturally, were still a key identifier. But the look was fresh, modern, and still very appealing. And despite the changes, you still couldn’t mistake it for anything but a Cadillac, thanks to GM Styling and Bill Mitchell’s careful oversight.
This year, all Cadillacs, regardless or trim level or model, were powered by the same 390-cubic-inch V-8 engine. Dual exhaust was no longer available, but all Cadillacs breathed through a four-barrel carburetor. Power was more than ample, 325 horsepower at 4800 rpm. Automatic transmission, GM’s smooth Hydra-Matic Drive, was likewise standard equipment.
Naturally, the Eldorado remained the premium Cadillac convertible. It had first appeared in 1952 as a GM Motorama show car to celebrate Cadillac’s 50th anniversary, then in 1953 as a very limited edition. Only 532 were made in its inaugural year.
Starting in 1956, a two-door hardtop was added to the Eldorado roster. Due to there now being two Eldorado models, the convertible was rechristened the Eldorado Biarritz, while the hardtop coupe was known as the Eldorado Seville. Sevilles received a vinyl roof covering as standard equipment.
Somewhat novel for 1956, but it would be de rigueur by the late ’60s on virtually everything, from Eldorados to Plymouth Valiants and Ford LTDs.
The Biarritz/Seville model selection carried on through the 1960 model year, but with the introduction of the 1961 Cadillacs, the Eldorado was back to a single model, the convertible. It retained its Biarritz designation, however.
What price exclusivity? In 1961, at your local Cadillac dealer, that came to $6477 (that’s about $60,200 today). Curb weight was 4805 pounds. For comparison’s sake, the two least-expensive Cadillacs in 1961 were the Series 62 4-window sedan and the Series 62 six-window sedan, which both retailed for $5080 ($47,000). The priciest? That would be the Series 75 Imperial sedan, at $9748 ($90,600).
To compare the princely amount the Eldorado Biarritz demanded, consider the fact that a 1961 Impala convertible, not exactly a cheapskate special, sold for a suggested retail price of $2954 with a V-8 and $2847 with a six. A plain-Jane 1961 Corvair 500 club coupe was $1984.
So perhaps it was not a surprise that production was limited. Only 1450 Eldorado Biarritz convertibles were produced for the model year.
But you can rest assured that each and every one of them was plush, luxurious, and most certainly exclusive! One thing the 1961 Eldorado Biarritz owner could count on, he wasn’t going to see another car like his in traffic very often.
The 1961 Cadillac showroom brochure didn’t pull any punches either: “Rarely, and only to a supremely fortunate few, there comes an automobile the very sight of which summons forth visions of distant mountains, pounding surf, and soft Southern skies. Such a car is the 1961 Eldorado Biarritz, beyond question the most beautiful convertible ever created.”
Yes, GM marketeers really ladled it on, but Cadillac was, of course, GM’s crème de la crème marque.
Of course, with its exclusive trim and seriously plush interior, the Eldorado Biarritz was definitely a classy, luxurious car. Certainly the most luxurious topless Cadillac available in 1961. The thing was, the Series 62 convertible was quite nice too.
And other than a slightly less ostentatious interior and the Eldorado badging, and price, it was mighty similar to the Eldorado Biarritz.
Perhaps that is why the Series 62 convertible, at $5,455 about a grand cheaper than the Biarritz (and this was back when a thousand dollars really meant something), sold 15,500 copies, compared to 1,450 Biarritz convertibles. Of course, there were the super-rich or super-flashy types who wouldn’t have settled for less than an Eldorado nameplate on their new Cadillac, but there wasn’t quite enough differentiation between the two.
Both were certainly beautiful cars, and every inch a Cadillac. With a V-8, power, luxury and, of course, the trademark fins. But there simply wasn’t enough specialness exclusive to the Eldorado in 1961 and ’62 for it to really be a strong seller. Biarritz sales were equally small in 1961 and ’62, with an identical production run of 1450 units.
Of course, that makes the 1961–62 Eldorado Biarritz highly collectible today. This example was at the Cadillac-LaSalle Club national meet in San Marcos, Texas, in June 2018 and spotted by two of my friends, fellow Cadillac fanatics Jayson Coombes and Jim Jordan. It is a multiple award winner, and I’m sure it was stunning in person, judging from the pictures.
No matter what 1961 Cadillac new-car buyers chose, they could be certain that they had most certainly arrived. And not just at their destination.
Note: This car, as the 1953 Fleetwood Sixty Special, 1958 Eldorado Biarritz, and 1958 Fleetwood Sixty Special featured in my previous columns, was photographed at the 2018 Cadillac-LaSalle Club national meet. As you know, Texas is a natural habitat for Cadillacs with fins. Thanks for the photos, Jayson!