(first posted 3/16/2014) How many of us would like to call the local Cadillac dealer at midnight, order a Fleetwood or two, and pick them after waking up at about 3:30 in the afternoon or so? Well, one person did just that. By all accounts, Elvis was smitten by the same bug that haunts all of us: He couldn’t stop thinking about those darn horseless carriages. Unlike most of us, he could literally drive anything he wanted.
It wasn’t always that way, though, as he grew up in public housing, and his first car was a 1941 Lincoln that he had in the early fifties. I’ve seen a B&W scan of it, and it was indeed black as his trademark hair (fun fact: Elvis’s natural color was more of a dirty blonde–just look at Lisa Marie).
His first record, That’s All Right, was more of a local hit, but it was good enough to earn him, Scotty Moore (electric guitar), and Bill Black (acoustic bass) a one-night stand on the Grand Ole Opry where he wiggled too much for the folks in Nashville. The Opry’s rival, the Louisiana Hayride, was more willing to take a chance on the “Memphis Flash,” and signed the trio to a year’s worth of appearances in Shreveport every Saturday night. With the exposure, the trio became a quartet, as DJ Fontana (drums) was added to help fill out the sound in the halls they were now playing. This, and the fact that they now had a hefty touring schedule (see Scotty Moore’s website) led him to the purchase of his famous Pink Cadillac, or Cadillacs, as he had two.
He bought the first one (a 1954) used in January of 1955. On June 5, 1955, the brake linings caught fire between Texarkana and Hope, Ark. Not to worry, as he soon bought the one that’s preserved at Graceland today, although it came from the showroom blue with a black top.
And one was never enough for the King, as he was like a kid in the candy store, only the name of the candy store was Bud Davis Cadillac. The 1955 was soon joined by two limousines, a 1954 and a 1955, and since the 1955 pink and white sedan had been handed down to his mother, he bought a 1956 Eldorado in Houston and had it painted a shade he demonstrated by squashing a bunch of grapes against the fender (that’s June Juanico, his flame at the time, posing above).
Image: Bentley Schulz on Pinterst.
And an Imperial or Lincoln wasn’t beyond his reach. After all, he was now the richest man in Memphis at the age of 21, although he does seem to be photoshopped into this Texas car.
You would think that being drafted and sent to Germany would quench his flames for all things automotive, as a sergeant’s pay wouldn’t float the note on a Cadillac, but he leased a BMW 507.
Of course he’d dabbled in European cars before, giving his manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, a red Isetta, and he bought a Messerschmitt to toy with before he was sent off to make the world safe for democracy.
After his tour of duty, he bought a 1960 Fleetwood limousine for a cool $100,000. As you can imagine, sitting in the back wasn’t his style, and it languished until Colonel Parker came up with the idea of sending the car out on tour. You see, Tom Parker was really Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk, an undocumented/illegal immigrant from the Netherlands. Elvis was never allowed to go on international tours, as Colonel Parker did not have a passport, and applying for one would reveal his secret. The limo was sent “down under” to satisfy the fans’ desire to be close with The King (details here) without the hazard of the Colonel’s star property breaking free of his grasp.
I haven’t been able to find much about his car buying habits during the sixties. I imagine the “grind them out” schedule of B movies that the Colonel insisted was the right way to maximize income kept him out of the dealership. Still, there were rumors that he would buy cars for his friends in need, almost always Cadillacs, despite the fact that the recipients would have been better served by something from Oakley-Keese Ford, where my father always insisted on buying his Galaxies. And of course, no one would dare criticize The King. After all, was he not the sugar daddy that the Memphis Mafia depended on for their existence? Eventually, Elvis got tired of the movie circuit, and went back to his first love: music.
And it started his second most famous association with a marque, as he received the first Stutz Bearcat off the line. Much like his dress at the time, the Stutz was truly over the top in its garishness. And being Elvis, one was never enough. After all, he was still selling out arenas, so who cares if he was strung out so bad he had to wear sunglasses all the time?
Much the same way he shot out one of his three television sets, he shot this Pantera that was bought for then girlfriend, Linda Thompson, at least twice on account of it being so unreliable.
But the good times must end, and indeed, the last known photo of Elvis was him at the wheel of his beloved Stutz after he had gone to a midnight “dental appointment.”
And much like his death left rumors that it wasn’t so, due to the fact that the tombstone of Elvis Aron Presley has an extraneous “a,” the question of what car he bought the last has several answers . I’m partial to this 1977 Trans Am, surely from Covington Pike Pontiac.
And then there’s the Triumph TR6, purchased for his fiancée, Ginger Alden. And of course, the usual raft of Cadillacs and Lincolns have been put forth.
As with most Americans, his “last ride” was in a Cadillac, although it appears that even in death he had to have one more spin down the road. The Memphis police spotted several people trying to break into the Presley family mausoleum late one night, and questioning revealed that they were planning on holding The King’s final remains hostage, despite the fact that Priscilla had him laid to rest in a 900 pound vault to prevent such a thing. So Elvis took one more trip back to his beloved Graceland, probably in a Corner’s van.
My 1979 lincoln was originally purchased from oakley-keese, usually a dealership drilling two holes in a trunklid to put their logo on would be a no go for me, but theirs is rather quite nice.
This is fascinating. My father took his senior high school trip to Memphis in 1961 and somehow they ended up near Graceland. Suddenly, a black Cadillac limo emerged through the gate. When the female contingent saw Elvis sitting in the back, several almost lost all bladder control due to excitement while the male contingent all had some amount of disgust.
To each their own.
The blue Lincoln Mark IV in the top picture looks like it could be the one I saw at the Tupelo Automobile Museum last fall.
Could very well be, as he as born in Tupelo.
Thanx for the article .
Don’t forget, the King died on the throne.
Thank ya, thank ya vera much.
Nope they have him on the floor in the bathroom, the doorway, past the doorway in the bedroom, by the bed on the floor, halfway on the bed, everyone have different places! I think he faked his death and flew out of Memphis down to Buenos , the next morning.
… as will most of us. That’s how my dad went. What makes Elvis’ death really sad is that Lisa Marie found him.
I read that it was Ginger Alden who found him
I think you may be right, now that I ponder it.
I’ve either never seen or never paid attention to a Forward Look Imperial before. Chrysler can’t have been pleased to see how much the front clip of that ’57 Imperial looked like a ’57 Ford.
Part of that was they were both designed to accept either single or Dual headlights,
Except they don’t. By the way, the paint scheme on that Ford is not how it would have originally been done. This is:
Went on the Graceland Tour this past summer while on the way to Nashville to visit relatives. The tour is expensive for what it is but I enjoyed the motor focused portion of the tour with his snowmobiles converted to run on the grass, golf carts he would race, Rolls Royce that belonged to a few other stars…
Long live the king of rock ‘n’ roll!
Well, he is still alive, still with “No Particular Place to Go.” Mr. Chuck Berry.
Chuck used to have a collection of his own (reference the 1987 documentary “Hail Hail Rock & Roll” and for the more complete story the 2007 DVD version with a documentary about the making of the documentary) in Wentzville MO very close to where I now live.
I read Elvis got so mad at his Pantera’s temperamental starting he emptied a revolver into it.When they were going they were beasts,the rear end swing caught out many drivers.Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle was killed in one sadly only a few days after his 21st birthday
Yes he did, and claimed it ran better afterwards.
Tim Hortons, hockey player and founder of the Canadian donut chain was also killed in a Pantera too.
and Razzle was the passenger in a Pantera driven and owned by Vince Neil, lead singer of Motley Crue! Luckily for Vince, they were still going a little easier on drunk/drugged drivers who cause fatal accidents back in the early 80’s and he ended up with little or no jail time, although he had to pay out quite a bit of money to his victims. Lucky again for him, Motley Crue was one of the biggest things going in rock music at that time, so he still had enough left to keep partying! These days, he’d likely be locked up for years for killing one and severely injuring a couple other people!
Seeing that a BMW 507 just auctioned for $2.4 million a few days ago(http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/automobiles/in-florida-new-stars-on-block.html?_r=0), Elvis’ leased BMW 507 might be the most valuable car in the world if it were for sale!
Great picture of the King with his 57 Imperial.
I have always thought the single headlight 57 Imperials looked like a space creature of some sort, from appropriately a 50’s Sci fi movie.
That being said If I was given the choice of owning a single or dual headlight 57 now,I would take the single headlight imp !
Really? I think they look awful with the single headlights.
I would be happy with either. The stylists were apparently thinking they would have dual headlights and had to come up with the single alternative when many state laws didn’t change quick enough. I think they did a good job making the single headlight fill the space.
I just noticed that the single and dual headlight versions had different grilles!
Another fun fact or two that I couldn’t work in:
1. The station that first played That’s all right, WHBQ, was part of General Tire.
2. He traded the Messerschmitt for a two hour shopping spree at Lansky’s Menswear.
Fun fact. at least to us IH people, is that there are a number of pictures of a Scout II at Graceland. It is always pictured at the guard shack which leads to the question was it a vehicle owned by Elvis for use by the guards, was it one of the guards personal vehicle, or was it purchased for one of the guards by Elvis.
more than likely the first or third, as the guards were part of the ‘Memphis Mafia’. His uncle, Vester Presley, was the senior guard.
Linking back to the Toronado story earlier in the week, Elvis owned the 2nd Toronado delivered in Memphis, a local doctor got his hands on the first one much to Elvis’ disappointment.
I wonder if that brake fire was a result of driving with the parking brake on? If so he showed no Burning Love for that car.
On Elvis’ Cadillac that burned up; it was a wheel bearing, not a stuck brake that caused the fire. The ’57 Imperial Elvis did not own; it was a car used in the 1957 movie “Loving You.” Several shots were taken of Elvis and the cast inside of the car. Elvis wasn’t really into Mopars, although through the first half of the 1960s, he had a Chrysler New Yorker Station Wagon as his ‘logistics car’ (the car that towed the trailer that held all of his wardrobe and toys). A Memphis Mafia member usually drove the wagon. Elvis normally would motor between Memphis and L.A. throughout the 1960s when he was making 2-3 movies a year. I would assume the ’77 Trans Am may have been the car he gave his stepbrother Ricky Stanley at the time.
Elvis is a fascinating example of what fame does to a person. He lived his adult life like a kid trapped in a candy store. You really have to wonder how things would have turned out for him if he’d never met Col. Parker.
That’s a good question, as Colonel Parker was both the best and worst person he could have as a manager.
In the 50’s, Parker was the Manager in Nashville, and he was the person who built Elvi’s fame by expanding his base beyond the South.
After the Army, he probably would have been best to develop a case of Suspicious Minds toward the Dutchman, as it seems that the Colonel had a case of ‘Detroit-itis’ – “It worked in 1956, by God it should work now!” without realizing the lads from Liverpool had changed the game on them.
Another thing that always strikes is the parallels between Elvis and Michael Jackson. They were both emotionally ‘frozen’ to the age when fame found them, never seemed to develop into adults, and both succumbed to their demons because no one dared say ‘No’.
I’ll leave the building for now, as this is supposed to be a car blog, not a dead celebrity one.
Elvis was one of the few people who could afford the MkII Continental,has his turned up?
http://www.elvis.com/news/detail.aspx?id=6901 here’s your answer.
Thanks Jana,the MkII Continental must be one of the most beautiful cars ever
http://www.joesherlock.com/Elvis-Mark2.html – another good one.
Nice article, Jana. Music and cars, can’t get much better than that.
Very interesting piece. Elvis is probably one of the few celebs who bought so many cars that it would be virtually impossible to document them all.
Case of the CC effect again, as last week I walked past the commemorative plaque that marks the site of Elvis last concert – Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. We have none of his cars, though, so far as I am aware.
After I bought my 2010 CTS, I was trying to come up with a name. My girlfriend and I decided this car was male, unlike Sabrina, my former 2001 Seville and Betty, my ’64 Impala. After she suggested — and I rejected — several names, she came up with Elvis, which I thought couldn’t be more perfect. The car has a certain swagger, and Elvis loved his Cadillacs.
Nancy’s cat Tom turned up in this picture of me with Elvis, and they’re the same color. She considered changing his name to Colonel Tom.
Didn’t Elvis own a ’67 or possibly a ’68 FWD Cadillac Eldorado?
I’m sure I saw pictures of him with one of the first FWD Cadillacs.He was also a bike fan and had a rare Harley Davidson KHK
As a huge Elvis fan (albeit of his later years when his voice was richer), I enjoyed reading this immensely Jana, thank you!
And even better, I learnt three things I didn’t know:
1) the King’s natural hair colour wasn’t black!
2) that car he drove back into Gracelands was a Stutz – I’d always thought it was a Lincoln Mk IV.
3) the ’57 Imperial looks hideous with those enormous single lights. I thought they only had dual lights, it’s amazing how such a simple change can completely ruin the looks of the car. It’s like the pretty girl (or handsome guy) at school wearing milk-bottle glasses and braces all at once.
So yes, not so pleased I learnt about the Imperials with the frightfully enormous and enormously frightful lights, but really pleased I learnt two new things about the King! So thang oo Jana, thang oo very mush!
I think 1957 was a transition year for single to dual headlights (on each side)…the single headlights were from earlier in the model run (probably before it was OK to sell with dual lights) but the new for 1957 Imperial was designed to accomodate both (knowing that the duals would be approved soon).
Single headlight 1957 Imperials are not common, and Imperial convertables (of any year) are very uncommon (typical 500-600 production per year) so having a single headlight convertible would be very scarce I would think…not sure how many 1957 convertibles were made before the transition to dual headlights, but I’m sure they are very scarce
Having said that, I think the “more is better” philosophy fits the Imperial to a T, that if dual headlights are available, you should have them (wonder how hard it is to convert singles to duals?).
“1) the King’s natural hair colour wasn’t black!”
I knew he modeled his signature hairstyle after Capt, Marvel Jr. but I’m surprised to learn he went as far as dying his hair for it!
Due to flight delays at Lambert (STL) yesterday my daughter and I made the best of it and toured both the Daniel Schmitt Car Gallery (http://www.schmitt.com) and Hyman LTD (http://www.hymanltd.com). At the Schmitt Gallery we ran across this former Presley car, a 1968 Cadillac Eldorado which as now seems to be a pattern of behavior was once shot by Elvis for failing to start. (I guess this was not common knowledge while he was alive. I can imagine an SNL skit with “Elvis Repairman” featuring John Belushi attempting to fix something then frustrated, pulling out a gun and shooting it.)
I remember seeing one of Elvis’ cars that he had shot, here in Australia approx 35 years ago so I can’t remember where it was or whether it was a Cadillac or a Lincoln.
My mother was a big Elvis fan, she remembers first hearing of his death on a portable transistor radio while hanging out the washing.
The above was indeed the car you saw. It apparently spent much of its time in Australia where the documentation points out that it was not converted from its original left-hand drive.
Had a laugh when I followed the link about Elvis’ Cadillac touring Australia.
“Front bumper easily removed”
How you’d get that past the rent a cop is a mystery.
I enjoyed reading this very much, and the photos are great. Thank you for posting this.
We realy liked this post and the pictures. I have seen some of these from Jeff Schrembs who collects Elvis things years ago but I liked seeing them again. You all do a good job and I’m glad I came across this
Very interesting article; Elvis certainly was a fascinating personality. Dave Barry also did an excellent and very sympathetic story on Presley and his fans some years ago. Well worth a read.
One more (LIFE magazine, August 1956):
I’ve run into a couple of people in my years in Arkansas who claimed that Elvis had owned their car. Knowing at the time that he usually bought Caddys, I would look askance at them and mention that fact, but one still insisted it was true. It was a Ranchero of early 60s vintage IIRC. (there were no rusty bullet holes in it)
ya but in which car did he ‘leave the building?’
Hey, just seen the “Messerschmitt”-Pic.
But it is a “BMW Isetta” 🙂
But doesn’t matter, love the pic.
Greetings from Switzerland