In 1759, Francois-Marie Arouet, otherwise known as Voltaire, wrote Candide, my favorite book. Ironically subtitled “Optimism,” Candide chronicles its eponymous character’s hapless adventures as he crosses the globe in search of a woman he doesn’t really want. One of those adventures finds him and his resourceful sidekick Cacambo in Eldorado, where they encounter gold and jewels that the town’s citizens find as meaningless as stones, but which Candide covets. During the summer of 2019, on adventures far and near, I found several Eldorados in this best of all possible worlds, and I coveted them all.
Eldorado #1 was parked at a nearby state park in June. It’s a 1970 “Aaron Special,” which is a reference I use when a car is not only something I’d buy, but is also in a condition in which I’d buy it: nice but with the perfect knocked off. It likely spent many a stationary hour in an old garage before someone decided that it had sat long enough.
John Gardner, the author of Grendel, famously claimed that “there are only two plots in literature: a person goes on a journey, a stranger comes to town.” A Louisiana state inspection sticker from 2000 signifies that the Eldorado is the latter, in addition to offering some hope that the Eldorado isn’t a pit of Bondo-laden despair. The two pictures above were taken on two successive weekends, leading me to perhaps fallaciously assume that those who like neat cars also like state parks. I offer the picture of the Cadillac and my ’74 Firebird as a counterpoint to those who feel that cars of the 1970s offer no redeeming qualities.
The “Summer of Eldorado” also reminded me how to differentiate between a ’69 and a ’70 Eldorado: look at the grille trim. On a ’70, there is a bright strip surrounding the grille that is lacking on the otherwise similar ’69. In 1970, General Motors redesigned the Eldorado’s platform mates, the Riviera and the Toronado, and the results were, to me, like the wistful Candide’s love interest, Cunegonde. In other words, time did their appearance no favors. On the other hand, the nearly unchanged Eldorado is just as attractive as its predecessor.
In Candide, the main characters manage to lose and find each other over and over as fate (or free will?) carries them from shore to shore. Although I haven’t seen this Eldorado since June, I maintain hope that our paths will cross again.
In the meantime, my wife and I found Eldorado #2, also a 1970 model, in a place that was not as close to home as the first.
In August, we were hundreds of miles away in Marquette, Michigan, the largest town in the Upper Peninsula and home to Northern Michigan University. It’s a city in the heart of the UP’s Iron Range, and we spent an hour or two at Presque Isle Park, walking out on the breakwall and watching an ore freighter, the Lee A. Tregurtha, capture its load of taconite pellets. It’s intriguing to consider that perhaps our featured Eldorados were born from Upper Peninsula iron.
Eldorado #2, parked on the side of the road just minutes from where the Tregurtha ingested her cargo, was for sale. Although it looks hale enough in pictures, its 3300 dollar asking price was indicative of its general earthiness, although I’m certain someone could make a perfectly serviceable driver out of it.
To say the Eldorado radiated patriotism is an understatement, such as when Candide said that the city of Eldorado was “better than Westphalia,” the town from which he was expelled by way of a swift kick in the pants. The Cadillac was festooned with patriotic stickers and these peculiar eagle’s head lock covers, as if an Eldorado didn’t already scream like a bald eagle. This flag-waving beast wasn’t, however, the only Eldorado in Marquette that day.
Being a toy, a ’67 model, and something I actually bought rather than drooled on, Eldorado #3 works best as a sidebar. Minutes after discovering the white ’70 on the side of the road in Marquette, I found this Auto World toy, in its appropriate golden hue, on the pegs at Walmart. Yes, I shop for toys on vacation. Judge me as you will.
A month later in September, back at home, we found Eldorado #4 less than a mile from our house. Notice the lack of a bright grille surround, the easiest way to identify it as a ’69. In sinister black with a black vinyl top, this is my favorite of the bunch, except for some troubling signs that this car may be a Michigan native.
See the bubbles underneath the edge of the vinyl top? If this car were for sale and I were a truly interested party, that would be enough reason to suspect the whole car, even though I’d have no problem cutting and welding a patch into that flat expanse of c-pillar. If Candide has taught me anything, it’s to take trouble as it comes and try to maintain one’s equanimity.
Therefore, it’s important to remember that anything man built can be repaired, providing one is prepared to bear some buffets and blows along the way. In fact, I prefer to think of my hobby as the best way to make sense of life, a way to simply stay busy, or as Candide might say, a way to “cultivate our garden.”
And on that note of subdued optimism, our summer of Eldorado ended. Although our journeys did not take us to the faraway lands of South America or offer us a horde of gold and jewels, they offered us plenty of evening adventures and atmospheric pictures of beautiful machinery. And even though I have no current plans to buy an Eldorado of my own, mostly because it wouldn’t fit in my garage with the rest of the collection, I must maintain the disciplined, dispassionate philosophy of a man who casually endures life’s minor disappointments.
Therefore, I’ll let Voltaire wrap this up for me, as Candide discusses his fate, one he finally must accept with composure, with the foolish philosopher Pangloss:
Pangloss sometimes said to Candide:
“There is a concatenation of events in this best of all possible worlds: for if you had not been kicked out of a magnificent castle for love of Miss Cunegonde: if you had not been put into the Inquisition: if you had not walked over America: if you had not stabbed the Baron: if you had not lost all your sheep from the fine country of El Dorado: you would not be here eating preserved citrons and pistachio-nuts.”
“All that is very well,” answered Candide, “but let us cultivate our garden.”