When I was a kid in the fifties, my cousin Jerry showed up at a Detroit family shindig. His arrival was dramatic, pulling up in front of my parents’ house in a very strange vehicle. From the back, the car looked like a Cadillac Eldorado, but it was much shorter. From the front, it looked like a Chevy Bel Air, but it had Caddy tailfins. My cousin called it a Chevrolet El Morocco. Others had nicknamed it “the poor man’s Cadillac.”
Some of my relatives whispered that it was ugly (don’t forget that 1956-57 was the year of the Ford Edsel). I thought it was cool as hell. I think he owned that car for a year or two, but I’ll never forgot it.
Even though I don’t know where my cousin Jerry is these days, I’ll bet that there isn’t a day that goes by where he isn’t kicking himself in the ass for selling that car. There were only about 35 of them ever made.
Jay Leno owns one of them. His is a 1957 black 2-door convertible. While the Chevrolet El Morocco was technically a custom car, according to Leno’s web site, the El Morocco was the “first time that Chevrolet let an outside contractor make modifications.”
The Chevy El Morocco was the brainchild of Reuben Allender, a Detroit war surplus dealer. A longtime Cadillac owner, Allender felt that there would be a market for a smaller, easier to maneuver, more affordable Cadillac. After seeing certain design similarities between the Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz and the Chevrolet Bel Air, he believed that an “everyman” Chevy could be easily customized to look like a millionaire’s Cadillac.
With the help of tool and die maker Robert Thompson and fiberglass auto body customizer Cyril Olbrich, Allender turned his war surplus warehouse into a makeshift auto assembly plant. Unfortunately, this so-called plant was a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants operation with the electric power source supplied by one cord running from a socket two floor upstairs.
1956 Chevrolet El Morocco
In 1956, its first year of production, only twenty Chevy El Moroccos were made. For this model, Olbrich fabricated fiberglass Biarritz-style tailfins and two front bumper bullets dubbed “Dagmars” after a stacked Swedish television actress who was popular at the time.
Frustrated by the primitive working conditions, Olbrich eventually left Allender’s company.
The 1956 Chevy El Morocco wasn’t exactly a runaway hit. Its cross between a Cadillac and a Chevy created an identity problem for buyers. And, although it was much less expensive to produce an El Morocco than a Cadillac, the El Morocco was much more expensive than a Chevy.
1957 Chevrolet El Morocco
The 1957 Chevrolet El Morocco model was to be modeled after the Cadillac Brougham rather than the Biarritz, and they were to have a solid steel body rather than a fiberglass customization. Only sixteen of these models were made. This was the last year of production.
The End of the El Morocco
Unfortunately Reuben Allender never had an outlet to sell the car, and customers could only buy the El Morocco from Allender’s Detroit office. Also the body design of the 1958 Chevy wasn’t conducive to Cadillac customization.
While it was a noble experiment, a failure to some, the 1956-57 Chevrolet El Moroccos have become a hot collector’s item. While Cadillac collectors look down on the everyman El Morocco, Chevrolet collectors have more than welcomed it into the fold.