1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible: Past blast

By: John Bowe, Photography by: Nathan Jacobs

Presented by

1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible
1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible
1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible
1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible
1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible
1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible
1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible
1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible
1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible
1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible
1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible

John Bowe gets behind the wheel of a mega Eldorado Biarritz convertible...

1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible: Past blast
Past blast: 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible

 

1960 Cadillac

A cadillac was once the pinnacle of the American dream. JB gets behind the wheel of a mega Eldorado Biarritz convertible...

Check this out. It’s a 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible. It belongs to my good mate Dave Rayner, who has a very eclectic taste in cars. I’ve been lucky enough to drive a few of his toys, including an injected Tickford-powered Ford Granada. Dave bought this Caddy from America – of course – and it’s part of his collection.

It’s enormous, just huuuge. It’s nearly 20 feet long and has enormous bumpers at both ends. The doors are heavy – I reckon a door weighs as much as a Lotus Elise – and you could land a helicopter on the boot, or trunk as our American cousins call it. This car is so large it takes half an hour just to walk around it.

This car, and the Cadillac brand, is an icon from an era when the American automobile industry was the centre of the industrial universe and everyone had a job and carried a smile. In many ways, it represents the absolute pinnacle of the "American Dream".

Those glory days are long gone – there and here in Australia – and I’ll admit I don’t know a real lot about Cadillacs, but this one is a lovely example that is surprisingly original. Being the Biarritz version, it features extra equipment and chrome compared to the regular Caddy. It’s also rarer and, according to some enthusiasts, is less ostentatious, with more subtle rear fins than some of its brethren.

This one is equipped with what is known as the Tri-power engine – three carbies rather than one for a bit of extra sing and sting from its 390ci V8. It weighs 2400kg and you can see where the weight is when you look through the features of this car: it has an electric roof, windows and seats. It’s loaded with power steering and air-con and – get this – a push-button radio. It would have been the absolute height of luxury and decadence in 1960.

I really can’t think of any car from any country that would have had more equipment packed into it. I’ve driven a few Rolls Royces and the like and I don’t recall them being so comprehensively specified. The Rolls is like a gentlemans’ club and this is like the Playboy mansion. You could just imagine driving down Sunset Boulevard with three or four voluptuous 60s girls in it… you sitting there, grinning, with sideburns and slicked-back hair.

The front seat is a cloth and leather bench and I reckon four people could sit across it. Being a two-door convertible, it’s a car you get noticed in. I reckon it would have been the sort of car a Hollywood star – real or ‘aspiring’ - would have driven. Elvis Presley had Caddies, but I’m not sure if he had one of these.

Apparently, the legendary Pinin Farina (the house became Pininfarina later in 1960) was involved in some of the detail work on its styling. Even though it was based on the late-50s cars, it has an emerging 60s crispness to it. The fins are smaller and the cliched ‘jet engine’ tail lights are gone. But don’t get me wrong; it is still an in-your-face car.

You twist the key and it fires into life beautifully. I think these were rated at 345hp, so it’s no powerhouse, especially given the weight it has to shift, but it’s not meant to be a performance car. Like a lot of American engines, if they are nicely tuned you can barely hear them – they simply tick away at idle. But give it a kick on the throttle and the whole car rocks. Torque is the name of the game here; big, lazy cubes are what’s required to get the best part of three tonnes moving from rest.

Speaking of rest, the suspension is like an old bed. It’s very soft. Incredibly so. That’s not much good for an enthusiast driver, but these were not cars for enthusiastic driving. They were cars for captains of industry; if the ash was jolted from the end of your cigar while piloting it, things were too harsh! Because of the soft suspension, it rides beautifully. There’s a lot of body roll and it doesn’t cross your mind to hustle it along because it’s not that sort of car. Instead, it is made to wander along boulevards looking swank, rather than being slung into corners.

The steering is also feather-light – one-finger light; there is just about no road feel at all. That’s how it was in the US in the 50s and 60s. In fact, the American design philosophy of massive steering assistance continued – and not just with luxury cars – right up to the 1980s. But you look around America and you can understand why: it reflects the roads in America. Thanks to geography and the society of suburbia, they had big, wide roads; freeways and boulevards. Road conditions were totally different to much of Europe, and their cars were made for the local conditions.

Slot the column shift auto’s selector into D and get it up to 60 or 70mph and it just wafts along. There’s very little noise and, being so large, that super-light steering seems to come into its own. It’s not like something smaller, say a Mustang, which is affected by a sneeze, or by you leaning over to tweak the radio. The trannie is smooth; I don’t think it’s as smooth as a Chrysler Torqueflite, but it’s smoother than what I recall in Holdens of the 1960s.

Driving it, you understand why enthusiasts, both here and in America, savour these older Cadillacs. It’s leisurely and cruisy and just lovely.


IT'S MINE...

Car nut David Rayner has owned his Caddy for two years. "I bought it in the US. It was in a dealer called Heritage Classics – I saw it in the window and thought, ‘I like that!’. They only made a small number of these Biarritz with the extra chrome and extra electrics. This one had just 35,000 miles on it. It was stored in a garage for 28 years but had been started and run regularly. It was just about original, but needed a few things such as the exhaust – it crumbled when you looked at it. The brakes were also shot, but were reconditioned without too much effort. It’s been resprayed and I rate the paint as an eight out of 10.

"It’s rare, but it’s not an orphan – parts are available. Of course, I wouldn’t want to be trying to get panels for it, but there are specialists in the US who can provide all the usual maintenance items, so keeping it on the road is easy. For its size and vintage, it’s not too bad on fuel – 16 miles to the gallon. I’ve done 8000 miles since I bought it."


SPECIFICATIONS

1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible

Engine: 390ci V8, ohv, 16v
Power: (claimed) 257kW
Torque: (claimed) 548Nm
Weight: 2400kg
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Wheels: 15x7-inch steel
Brakes: Power-assisted disc (f); drum (r)
0-100km/h: 11.3sec
Top speed: about 200km/h

 

Sign up to our free weekly newsletter for more unique car reviews and features plus see the latest unique and classic cars for sale.

Subscribe to Unique Cars magazine
- Print edition
- Digital edition