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Two days ago I saw, parked on the street in SE Portland, a spectacular automobile.  I had to drive around the block, hop out, and take some pictures.  This turned out to be a 1953 Cadillac Eldorado convertible.  This was the first year of the Eldorado brand, and this particular style was model number 53-62, body style 6267X, of which only 8,367 units were built.  (link

IMG_0161
      Image 1: 1953 Cadillac Eldorado.  The artillery-shell style projections
      on the bumper are the so-called "dagmar" projections, named after
      an actress of the time with ostensibly similar physiognomy.
This of course was a classic American automobile, assembled in Detroit at the Detroit Assembly plant, located at 2680 Clark Street, where Cadillacs were produced from 1921 to 1987.   This was once the most advanced auto assembly plant in the automobile industry, and comprised 13 buildings on 47 acres.  

In 1953, Detroit Michigan was near its high point in population (1.849 million in 1950).  Likewise, GM was reaching its peak of the domestic market share, which would hit over 50% in 1954.  

GM's CEO, Charles Erwin Wilson, would be nominated in 1953 by Eisenhower for Secretary of Defense.  Known as "Engine Charlie", Wilson was famously misquoted as having said "What's good for GM is good for the country."  (What he actually said was " for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa".) which has a rather different and less self-centered meaning.)


IMG_0163
       Image 2: 1953 Cadillac Eldorado, rear view showing moderate tail fins
     and rear-projecting "dagmars".
Photograph_of_President_Dwight_D._Eisenhower_and_First_Lady_Mamie_Eisenhower_waving_to_crowds_as_they_ride_in_the..._-_NARA_-_200425
         Image 3: President Eisenhower riding in 1953 Eldorado, 1/20/53.
Cadillac manufactured a limited number (532) of a special edition 1953 Eldorado (model 53-62, body style 6267SX).   The 6267SX was about 300 pounds heavier than the 6267X, lower to the ground, and included a lot of hand-construction in its manufacture.  

The most obvious visual distinction between the 6267X and the 6267SX was the wrap-around windshield.  In 1953, the special edition is said to have sold for $7,750, almost twice that of any other Cadillac, and the most expensive car built in Detroit.  (For a lower sales price with research, see here

Image 3 shows Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower riding in a special edition 1953 Eldorado convertible in the inaugural parade on January 20, 1953.  It appears that the car that Eisenhower rode in the inauguration was car no. 2 of the production line (link), which was returned to Cadillac in August, 1953, was then sold and resold to multiple owners, and is still in existence today.

Nowadays, for a mere $215,000 (save your pop cans, Oregonians and Vermonters!) you can add this fine vehicle to your collection of classic cars.  While the price is no doubt well beyond the reach of most of us, it reflects, as it necessarily must, the hundreds and sometimes thousands of hours necessary to bring a 60 year-old automobile into top-rate condition.  

A quick internet surf shows that 1953 Eldorado convertibles in reasonable condition are now being offered for sale for about $46,500, but with the price varying widely depending on condition and location.  (link)

In a broader sense the existence of these classic vehicles, long after their manufacturing plant was demolished, raises some important social questions.  The decline of Detroit is well-known to all, and Cadillac was no exception.  All buildings of the Detroit Assembly plant, (except the Engineering Department were demolished in the 1990s.  (link -- .PDF)

It is dangerous to confuse history with nostaglia.  Our country in 1953 had many serious problems, and the fact that one can admire a piece of finely crafted union-built machinery does not mean that we have to whole-heartedly endeavor for the return of the society which produced that machinery.

But with that caution, there is something of great value that we seemed to have lost from those days, and that is the idea of a vibrant private industry with good jobs for ordinary people who produce extraordinary products.  Instead we have the Walmartization of the labor force.  As Bruce Springsteen would say:

All of Main Street's white-washed windows and vacant stores,
Seems like nobody ever wants to come down here no more.

Originally posted to Plan 9 from Oregon on Thu Mar 14, 2013 at 05:38 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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