(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).
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.