Car: Cadillac El Camino, 1954

There’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to extraordinary Cadillacs, but this racy number is a highly significant car. It heralded several key design features that became synonymous with Cadillac’s production cars of the late 1950s.

1954 Cadillac El Camino
Cadillac’s compact El Camino coupé would never reach showrooms, but its styling and gimmicks did find their way on to production models.

The El Camino—short for El Camino Real, or Royal Highway, another name for America’s Highway 101—was one of a trio of Cadillac show cars, together with the Cadillac La Espada and Park Avenue. They were part of the 1954 Motorama, General Motors’ traveling showcase of futuristic concept cars that toured the US that year. The El Camino’s distinctive roof styling, with fiberglass “saddles,” a brushed aluminum top, and curved glass, previewed the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham of 1955, while the tailfin designs were also introduced gradually from 1955 until every Caddy had them by 1958. It was similar for the winglike bumpers culminating in bullet-tipped overriders and the quadruple headlights—all universal on Cadillacs by 1958.

1954 model car Cadillac El Camino
1954 model car Cadillac El Camino

The pearlescent silver painted El Camino paved the way, and softened the impact of some radical styling ideas of the near-future. General Motors’ press release for the car frothed with hyperbole, explaining how the car was “regally styled to blaze across the highways of our great land.” Ironically, though, it was a non-running mock-up, made from fiberglass. The compact El Camino hinted at a Cadillac luxury two-seater to come, but no such model hit showrooms until the Allante of 1987.

“This is a two-passenger hardtop coupé bearing a Spanish name which means ‘the highway’ and features what its designers term ‘aircraft styling’ and ‘supersonic’ tail-fins on the rear fenders.”

Motor life magazine, 1954

Video model car Cadillac El Camino

Specification model car Cadillac El Camino

YEAR REVEALED: 1954
PLACE OF ORIGIN: Detroit, Michigan
HISTORICAL: STATUS prototype
ENGINE: V8-cylinder, 331ci (5,422cc)
MAXIMUM POWER: 230bhp
LAYOUT: front-mounted engine driving the rear wheels
BODYWORK: two-door, two-seater coupé
TOP SPEED: unknown
NUMBER BUILT: one