In 1958, five Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertibles were pulled from production and sent to GM’s Styling Center for modification. These design-exercise Cadillacs hinted at upcoming styling and boasted a unique humidity sensor that would close the power top and raise the windows when rain was detected. Of the five built, two are known to survive, and the example once enjoyed by Harley Earl himself will cross the auction stage in May, as part of the Andrews Collection sale in Fort Worth, Texas.
At first glance, the most noticeable difference between the prototype and a regular 1958 Eldorado Biarritz convertible is the pronounced vertical tailfins, which would appear in very similar form on 1959 Cadillac models. Look closer and it’s apparent that much of the car’s chrome trim has been deleted, too; gone are the headlamp surrounds, front fender gills and rear fender vents, giving the prototype a sportier appearance and further hinting at 1959 styling.
Unlike all-steel production Cadillac models, the Raindrop prototypes used a hand-laminated fiberglass rear section, from the doors back, a fact rediscovered during the car’s restoration in the 1990s. Their rain-sensing and auto-closing top, a feature that never saw production, was previously deployed on the 1951 GM Le Sabre concept, also styled by Harley Earl. Though currently located on the transmission tunnel between the front seats, evidence suggests the senor was originally positioned on the rear deck, forward of the trunk lid, a fact confirmed by vintage photos of the other surviving example.
Following its development (and, perhaps, limited exposure at auto shows), this example was shipped to Florida, where it was reportedly used by Harley Earl during his retirement. What happened to the car next is something of a mystery, though popular urban legend says the prototype was shipped to a Detroit scrapyard, where it was cut in half to await its trip to the crusher. As Chip Lamb related to Bloomberg in 2008, the original restorer, Bill Wedge, received the car intact on its original frame, and replaced only the 365-cu.in., 335-horsepower V-8 engine. Could another Raindrop prototype have been bisected prior to crushing? That seems like the most likely explanation, though in the absence of further evidence, it remains nothing more than a guess.
What is known is that the Raindrop prototype used by Harley Earl was acquired by a Dayton, Ohio, Cadillac dealership, but only after protracted negotiations with the car’s previous owner. It then passed to the Wiseman Collection in partially restored form, and the work was completed in time for the Cadillac to appear on the cover of the March 1998 issue of Cars & Parts. It remained in the Wiseman Collection until its sale at auction in December of 2007, when it was acquired by Paul and Chris Andrews for a price of $330,000.
That’s considerably more than the $220,000 realized by the other surviving Raindrop prototype in 2010, perhaps because of this car’s documented ties to Harley Earl. RM Sotheby’s is predicting a selling price between $400,000 and $600,000 when the Cadillac crosses the stage on Saturday, May 2.
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily, written by Kurt Ernst.