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Legendary auto designer Harley Earl liked the 1958 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz "Raindrop Car" prototype so much he kept this one for himself
In 1958, Cadillac produced a total of 815 Biarritz convertibles. Five were taken straight from the assembly line to GM's super-secret Styling Center, where they were highly modified. At least one of these cars has survived, reportedly the prototype of the "Raindrop" modification, and is presented here as part of the Wiseman Collection.
At first glance, this unique convertible, finished in its original shade of red, may look like its regular Biarritz counterparts, but the rear-end styling used on this car was a precursor to the giant tailfins later used on the 1959 Cadillacs. Likewise, the dual pointed projectile-shaped taillights were also a preview of things to come. However, the most distinguishing characteristic of this car was its unique "Raindrop" feature.
Fitted to the car was a special electronic sensor programmed to snap into action the moment a drop of rain was detected. Once this occurred, it would automatically lift the three-piece special boot cover and raise the roof to its full, snug-fitting "up" position. To further protect the interior and ensure it remained dry, all of the windows would close.
During the restoration, it was discovered that the rear portion of the car, from the door posts (or B-pillars) back, had been created by using laminated fiberglass to achieve the desired contours and deviations from the regular production Biarritz.
According to legend, the Raindrop's creation was done under the orders of Harley Earl, the man in charge of GM styling. After its completion in 1958, Mr. Earl was seen driving the car on several occasions near his home in Florida.
Once GM retired the car, it was reportedly cut into two pieces, with the chassis and running gear scrapped, and the body sent to a local Detroit wrecking yard to be destroyed. This did not occur, however, and the parts of the car were hidden away for many years until a Cadillac dealer in Ohio learned of their existence. A 1958 Cadillac chassis was sourced and restoration was completed in the mid 1990s.
General Motors rarely let concept vehicles escape, and it is by pure luck that this car has endured. What happened to the other four modified Eldorado Biarritz cars remains a mystery, and while rumors hint there may be another in the Midwest, this is the only confirmed survivor.
Its restoration was a preservation of a piece of history. As such, its sale presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and should you be the winner, and others rain on your parade, at least the top will come up automatically, because that's the way GM planned it.
The SCM Analysis
This car sold for $330,000 at RM's sale of the Al Wiseman Collection in Tarpon Springs, Florida, on December 1, 2007.
GM prototypes hardly ever come to sale because GM prototypes that do not currently live in a Sterling Heights, Michigan, warehouse were likely long ago transformed into piles of scrap iron as required by the factory. The cars that survived this GM policy are few.
More design exercise than prototype
Unlike GM's first-tier prototypes, however, this is more of a design exercise and rolling platform for secondary styling cues, not a Cadillac Y-Job or LeSabre. The essence of this car is all 1958 Biarritz, a car with a tremendous presence all by itself but inspired largely from its own prototype, the 1953 Cadillac LeMans. Harley Earl, Cadillac's senior designer, took many essential parts from the Biarritz, then finished the Raindrop's body with the convertible top arrangement, bucket seats, 1959-style fins, and a comprehensive de-trimming from the production line automobile.
Interestingly, there is evidence on this car of a research-and-development modification to the rear deck. This detail was not mentioned in the catalog or anywhere else, but was visible to the naked eye under Wiseman's fluorescent lights.
In between the trunk lid and hard convertible top boot exists a small, nearly square, sunken area in the paint. I compared its shape and dimensions with the rain sensor mounted atop the transmission tunnel (the chief reason for the bucket seat arrangement) and found it to be the same. Mr. Wiseman's chief restorer and mechanic onsite during the sale, Ron Stone, and I discussed this patch at length and wondered if it was perhaps an error made during restoration or if it indeed dated back to 1958, when the sensor might have been moved during construction.
During the automotive portion of the auction, the warm temperatures inside the bidding room chased me out to the entryway. Standing there, I attracted the company of the car's original restorer, Bill Wedge of Ohio, who said that he found the patch theremost likely marking the original location of the rain sensorwhen he redid the car some years ago. Mr. Wedge also said that when he sold the car to the Wiseman Collection in 1994, he'd taken a fairly serious loss on it and was not surprised it failed to meet its low estimate here of $500,000.
Restorer debunked mythic tale
Wedge also debunked much of the mythic tale surrounding the car's presentation in the catalog. According to him, while the car was indeed the property of and used extensively by Harley Earl in Florida, it had not been cut in half and removed from its frame. Wedge did replace the engine with another 1958 365-ci powerplant with Tri-Power carburetion, but said the frame was the original, not a replacement necessitated by the apocryphal sectioning of the secret prototype.
As presented, the Raindrop Car's older restoration was holding up rather well, with little apparent signs of use or deterioration. Apart from the top that was never operated during the sale, everything was out for inspection, and the sole glaring flaw to body and paint was the aforementioned and perhaps historically significant square patch.
The car's history was still not completely clear, and its status as a less-than-top-tier GM prototype contributed to a hammer price well below expectations at this no-reserve sale. That said, in my opinion, one would be hard-pressed to do better anywhere else, and the seller and buyer should both be satisfied.
Years Produced: 1958
Number Produced: (prototypes): 6 est.
Original List Price: $7,401
SCM Valuation: $330,000 on this date
Tune-up Cost: $125$250
Distributor Caps: $15
Chassis # Location: Left front frame rail in engine compartment
Engine # Location: Right rear corner of block at oil pan
Club Info: Cadillac & LaSalle Club, PO Box 360835, Columbus, OH 43236-0835
Website: click to visit
Alternatives: 195860 Lincoln Mk III/IV/V, 195760 Imperial Crown Convertible, 195460 Mercedes 300 Cabriolet
Investment Grade: B