adillac’s 1953 Orleans (Shop Order # 1619) was a pillarless four-door hardtop with “suicide” rear doors. The gun-metal gray (called Damascus Steel Gray in a GM press release) Cadillac also had a champagne RM grain Naugahyde covered top. The Orleans looked essentially like a six-passenger production car and, in fact, was the first production 1953 Cadillac built (but using a leftover 1952 Coupe de Ville body shell). Its engine number was 5362 00001. The car was sent to GM Styling for numerous modifications such as the installation of a “Panoramic” windshield and its suicide doors. Locks for the rear doors were designed to release only when the Hydra-Matic shift lever was in neutral. To make the body rigid, the rear of the front seat served as a structural brace for the car. Another unusual feature of the Orleans was the inclusion of a standard household electrical outlet. A converter changed the generator's direct current into alternating current to permit the operation of radios and other electrical appliances. Perhaps this was done as a reminder to the public that GM owned Frigidaire, a manufacturer of home appliances. Other accessories installed included power windows, air conditioning with airplane style swivel controls in the center of the dash, Series 75 type heater with registers under the seat plus a signal-seeking radio with pre-selector, rear speaker, and power antenna. A compartment in the back of the front seat contained an electric shaver and a vanity case.
The gray and champagne-colored interior adornments of the Orleans were especially appealing. Its seat cushions and backrest inserts were champagne-colored nylon and were surrounded with gray leather. The headliner was champagne-colored, perforated Naugahyde decorated with chrome-plated roof bows and scalp moldings. Roof rail moldings were gun-metal gray. The upper door panels were covered in gray leather while the lower portion of each was gun-metal gray. Carpeting was gray and champagne Craftex fiber with gray leather binding.
A copy of the original build sheet in the files of GM’s Heritage Center says nothing about engine modifications; therefore, it was most likely a completely stock 331 V8.
The Orleans had great appeal to those who bought Cadillacs, preferred hardtops, but wanted four doors for convenience. Reportedly, Harley Earl got the idea for the four-door hardtop with no center pillar during a visit to Italy where he saw a production Lancia sedan so built. Cadillac placed a four-door hardtop into production for 1956 called Sedan de Ville sans the suicide doors and with a short B-pillar. The Eldorado Brougham with suicide doors and no B-pillar went into limited production the following year. Buick offered a four-door hardtop in 1955 ahead of Cadillac’s Sedan de Ville and Chevrolet brought out one for the 1956 model year. Both the Buick and the Chevrolet versions had a door and B-pillar arrangement like that used for the Sedan de Ville.
The fate of this car is not clearly known, but it was not scrapped. Matt Larson, who has exhaustively researched 1953 Cadillacs, said he heard, through a credible source, that the car was in the San Diego area in the 1970s, although he never personally saw the car. In addition, he spoke with a former employee of the GM Styling facilities who had the chance to purchase the car in Louisville, Kentucky in 1961 or 1962. Records within the GM Heritage Center show the car was transferred to Charles E. Wilson on March 31, 1953. (Wilson had been appointed Secretary of Defense in the Eisenhower administration two months earlier.) Moreover, a GM-issued press release from 1956 that included an index of experimental cars from the company referred to the car as “Cadillac Custom 4-door hardtop Coupe de Ville for C.E. Wilson.” The Shop Order number given in the press release was the same as that issued for the Orleans – 1619. Approximately 35 years after the claim the car was in California, the car has remained out of sight. If the Orleans still exists, where is the car today? If anyone can supply any photos of this car please contact me. Photos of the Orleans seem to be rare. Also, if you think you may have a clue as to whether or not the Orleans ever was in the San Diego area or what has become of it, please contact me through this blog.