In August of 1978, my grandma had a heart attack. I was preparing to head off to college and was sure that it was not the worst news – after all, it was the 1970s and lots of people had heart attacks and recovered. I turned out to be wrong, because she died just two or three weeks after I started school.
In the midst of mourning our family’s loss, we got to spend some time with my mother’s Aunt Alma. Without intending to do anything of the sort, she solved both of my car problems. Recall that I had a gorgeously refurbished 1967 Galaxie 500 convertible and needed a garage to keep it out of the weather while I was off at college. I also needed (at least that was the word that came to my mind) another car to use over weekends and holidays at home. Aunt Alma, it seems, had a car and a garage. She wanted to keep the garage, of course, but wanted the car to be out of it. A perfect solution appeared to me – her car goes out, my car goes in. And her car becomes my (other) car.
My mother’s Aunt Alma had bought the car new in 1963. Her late husband, my mother’s Uncle Carl, had been a successful physician who died in his mid 50’s, not long after he had purchased a new black 1955 Fleetwood. Aunt Alma did not drive but kept the car anyway. Her son would drive her places in it and so would my mother on occasion. By 1963 the Miss Daisy-style Fleetwood was looking old fashioned so she gave the ’55 to her son and had him take her to Means Cadillac in downtown Fort Wayne so she could buy a new one. Another Fleetwood, of course. It was black with gray cloth upholstery bolstered in light gray leather.
I still remember the visit to Aunt Alma when she took us out to the garage to show us her new car. I was about four years old and recall seeing what looked like fifty interior lights come on when the door opened. As I started to clamber in (as was my practice) I was halted by my mother’s order to get back out before I got my shoes on the seat. “Hush Mother, I’m gonna be the next owner of this car” was something that did not come to mind for all kinds of reasons.
It was extremely well equipped, even for a Fleetwood. It was air conditioned and fitted with cruise control, a power antenna for the AM signal-seeking radio, vacuum power locks and the famous Autronic Eye automatic headlight dimming system. And eight (count ’em) power window buttons! I think an FM radio may have been the only box not checked on the order sheet.
After probably a decade in her garage and seeing use perhaps once or twice a month the car was “adopted” by her son (an only child) for use in his family. The household included two high school boys who did what high school boys will do to a car. (Ask me how I know.) By the summer of 1978 they had finished with it and the Fleetwood was back in Aunt Alma’s garage, looking pretty forlorn. Where I saw it. It faintly called my name, pleading to be rescued.
I had just poured heart, soul and (lots of) money into body and paint work on my first car, the 1967 Ford Galaxie 500 convertible that I was sure I would own for decades to come. It was beautiful. So beautiful that I was reluctant to subject it to the harsh conditions of the Indiana winter I knew was coming. It was a perfect plan, really – I would buy the Cadillac from Aunt Alma and park my Ford in her garage for the winter. In the spring I would swap them out, one car for each season – didn’t everyone need to do something like this? What could go wrong? $400 changed hands and the Cadillac was mine.
The Cadillac fulfilled a dream of every gearhead – get a decrepit, old, neglected car awakened from slumber. It was amazing how far my wrenching skills had come in less than two years, and this time when an old car failed to start I knew what to do. New plugs and a new battery got it running. It was loud because of the rusted exhaust. Oh, and the transmission made funny noises until quite a lot of transmission fluid was added. But that couldn’t be serious, I was sure of it.
The interior looked much like this random internet shot, although in nicer condition with just some darkening and a couple of frayed spots on the seat fabric, as would be expected over about fifteen years and 87,000 miles.
A hundred bucks here, a hundred bucks there and I was in business. There was a full exhaust system, and several more bottles of transmission fluid. Which leaked back onto the ground with some gusto. A bottle of stop-leak fluid slowed it down, but a “seals and service” at Russ Moore Transmission had the old Jetaway Hydra-Matic in fine fettle. I had fretted about the need for a rebuild, but the transmission guy was quite sure that it needed nothing beyond seals. He was right, thus validating my magical thinking. Optimism born of this positive experience with a transmission would cost me some money in future years.
The a/c didn’t work, but that didn’t worry me because it was going to be my winter car. But then the blower motor quit, which was a problem. The motor for ’63 and earlier was not available through normal sources so a trip downtown to Means Cadillac was in order. Ouch. Oh well, a hundred bucks was a small price to pay for a warm Cadillac during a northern Indiana winter. Then the constant velocity center U joint got noisy and there went another hundred smackers. Funny, my Ford only needed two regular ones that Vic’s Brentwood Marathon could replace for $20. Cadillac-fixing was a problem as I was in my first year of college and had little time, which required paying others for most of these repairs.
My best friend’s father – Howard – had looked over his glasses at me when I told him of my purchase. “Never buy an old luxury car” was all he would say. OK, “When are you going to get rid of that Cadillac” was something else he would say, with some frequency. My other mentor Bill didn’t say much, but I could tell that he was not crazy about my selection either.
There was the stuff I didn’t fix – the carb was out of whack, which caused occasional hard starting and 7.5 mpg on premium fuel. There was an odd short in the wiper wiring so that wipers would not start working on a cold day until the inside of the car warmed up. If you actually got them to start they would not shut off until the inside of the car warmed up. No, it was not the switch, which I replaced. And of course there were the ubiquitous rusted lower front bumper-ends.
The gears were worn on the power front vent windows so that you needed to give them a push to start them opening or finish them closing. (But the back two power vent windows worked perfectly, which was my favorite party trick with the car.) And there were the rusty pockmarks on the passenger side, along with the crease across the rear fender and the missing fender skirt on that side. I replaced the skirt, but the crease and bad paint from an earlier body repair were still there. Which is why all of the pictures I took were on the driver’s side. There were also the beginnings of some rust holes along the edges of the chrome pieces in the fender tops, another common rust spot for these cars.
But when it was running my Cadillac was a joy. It was heavy (5,200 pounds!) and big and luxurious and everything a Cadillac used to be. I felt like a million bucks behind the thin, two-tone gray steering wheel and its gorgeous center hub with the rich, red background that surrounded the jewel-like Cadillac coat of arms – augmented by the wreath reserved for we select Fleetwood owners. The seats were both sumptuous and supportive in a way “normal” seats were not. And the feel and sound of those doors closing is still the best of anything I ever owned.
Everything about that car said “money”. It was, simply, the most dignified car I had ever been in and probably that I have ever been in since. My paternal grandfather had owned a 1962 Cadillac up until my adolescence but that white Sedan deVille 4 door hardtop with its black and white interior had seemed almost sporty compared to this one. Granddad’s was the kind of Cadillac you drive to the country club for golf. My black Fleetwood was the kind of Cadillac you drive to the bank and nose into the parking place marked “President”. Or in my case, to the bank for the withdrawal of another $100 to fix something.
I learned certain Cadillac skills. “Do you have premium?” was one of the first questions when buying gas. I learned that the Autronic Eye was virtually useless on anything but a rural 2-lane road. And I learned that phrase that every Cadillac owner needs to know when others are helping put things into the trunk: “Don’t slam the trunk lid!” I did not want to know how much a vacuum-powered trunk pull-down cost. Probably $100, because everything else did.
Mechanically, the car would really scoot when I stabbed the gas. I tried that on the street in front of my house once and left three streaks on the asphalt – two from the spinning studded snow tires (it must have had a limited slip) and one long black carbon stain from the super-rich exhaust. It was funny how 390 cubic inches in a 5200 pound Cadillac was so much faster than 390 cubic inches in a 4000 pound Ford. I enjoyed the obsolete feel of the 4 speed Hydra-Matic (in its final year) with its extra-short low and immediate upshift to second, then the abrupt shift into third and finally the nearly imperceptible glide into 4th. The shift quadrant with “R” all the way at the bottom took a little getting used to. As did every “normal” car I occasionally drove during that time when I would mindlessly shift to “1” or “L” for reverse before catching myself.
And it was a fabulous snow car – I think only one car since has beat it for getting through snow. With the studded snow tires I had for it, I never got it stuck.
And it was black, the way these were meant to be. Did you ever look at a car and simply *know* the color that was in the mind of the stylist as he sketched the lines for the first time and of the modelers as they shaped the surfaces into their final forms? If ever a car was intended to be painted black it was this one. Even the advertising people knew. This ad, by the way, hung in a frame on my dorm room wall. This had been my mental vision of a Cadillac from the time I began paying attention to cars – and now I owned one.
The previous summer I had quit my job at the Public Library after my friend Dan got a job at a local funeral home. They hired students to vacuum and set up/tear down rooms for funeral services and visitations in the evenings and to park cars for funeral services and drive limos during the days. It was a large place with two locations, four funeral coaches, two limos and a half dozen big sedans, in addition to some trucks and vans and even an old International Scout. Every car got driven through the car wash every morning there was a funeral (which was almost all of them) and went to a gas station for a fill-up every evening. As would be expected, I got plenty of wheel time in modern Cadillacs. The deep quality and expensive trim pieces of my old Fleetwood would forever sour me on the newer ones. There was just no comparison when it came to the quality of the interior. There were some nice things about the two silver Fleetwood sedans (a 76 and a 77) that the funeral home owned but put either of those Cadillacs side by side with mine and only one of them truly measured up as one of the best cars built. Even at its advanced age, my old black ’63 made me feel special whenever I got behind the wheel.
By early spring I developed a deep appreciation for dual chamber master cylinders when a rusty rear brake line gave out, so the Cadillac went in for new brake lines. For about $100. By the beginning of March my supply of money had dwindled and presented me with a dilemma. First, I could not afford to keep this car. I did not know what the next repair would be, but I knew that one would surely occur sooner rather than later, and that it would probably cost another $100 that I was going to have trouble finding. The second thing I knew was that the Cadillac would never command enough coin to buy anything decent. In six months I had more doubled my investment in the car and had no doubt that I could triple it if only given a little more time. Everything must go, as they used to say on late-night TV, and I came to the hard realization that I would probably have to sell my convertible too. Somehow I was introduced to a guy who was into old Cadillacs and was interested. When he saw how nice my Ford was he was interested in that too.
I had not intended to sell both of my cars that day, when I learned a hard lesson in bargaining. I did not start high enough on my package price because he said OK to the first number I threw out. Someone taking your first price in selling a used car means either that the buyer is gullible or that the price isn’t high enough. And this buyer was not gullible. To make things worse, I told him about the literature I had collected for the Galaxie and threw that in too. There are no do-overs in selling a car, sadly. In retrospect, I ran out of money just in time because about six months later, skyrocketing gas prices and a souring economy would have made a 7.5 mpg-on-premium Cadillac virtually unsellable at any price.
The car was maddening in more ways than one and proved Howard right – something he would mention from time to time (with a big, knowing smile). I was happy to be rid of the money pit, but missed certain things about it. That big, black Cadillac had been many things, but ordinary was not one of them. I also missed my convertible. It was my first car and also the receptacle into which so much blood, sweat and money had been placed. And being a 1960’s Ford, it always kind of reminded me of my childhood in Dad’s Country Squire.
I had been relieved when my cousin Dave stepped up to buy Grandma’s 1969 Pontiac Catalina – I loved my grandma, but never really liked that car much. But hindsight tells me that a simpler car in better condition like that one might have made my two-car plan work out differently than it did, or at least stretched it out longer. As things happened, I (suddenly and quite unexpectedly) found myself without a car. Which simply would not do. No car and money in my pocket is a condition in life that remains one of my favorites. So it was time to go shopping. For what? I would know it when I saw it.
Great write-up. Love the period pictures of the cars in their neighbourhoods.
JP, Thank you for a great story. My favorite part of Curbside Classics is reading the “Carbiographies”. I grew up in a gear head family but was not able to start my own fleet until I was in my mid-30’s. That’s when I met “Tallulah”. She was parked at the end of a parking lot with a discreet For Sale sign in the passenger window. She was a 1965 Cadillac Coupe DeVille in midnight blue with matching blue leather interior with 42k on the clock. After a brief discussion a deal was struck, and Tallulah was delivered the next day and parked next to my Honda Civic. The fit and finish and interior truly made this car Standard of the World. It was a joy to drive, handled beautifully, and hearing the 429 V8 come to life when you turned the key was pure joy. However, a trip to the gas station shelling out $20.00 got me half a tank of gas(early 2000’s). I enjoyed Tallulah for three years and broke even when I passed her on to her next owner. I had downsized to a 1976 Seville, then later to a 1980 Olds Cutluss Brougham. Out of my trinity of classic cars, the 1965 Cadillac was truly Standard of the World. Ophelia, the 1980 Cutluss, is a joy as well. A Florida car I found while on vacation, it too was love at first sight. Frost Beige two tone metallic with Landau roof and Rally Wheels complete with pillow top seats and well equipped for 1980 with 35k on the clock. Owned by a patrician woman from Winter Park Florida who made me swear I would maintain it in the condition she did before she agreed to deal.(She graciously gave me three small boxes of service receipts as well as all manuals and window sticker) I think the 1978 redesign was a GM highpoint and showed GM could still build a good car. After 40 years and 56k miles, the doors still shut on the first swing, and I am starting to replace power window motors, and the Delco AM/FM stereo still pays beautifully, so I am lucky. Thanks again for sharing.
That 65 sounds like a beauty. Years ago I found the 65-66 a little lacking in personality compared to earlier ones, but I have come to appreciate them a lot as the last Cadillacs that were truly first-class cars.
Such disappointment and frustration with a car you treat well but doesn’t return the favor. Is such behavior indicative of all ’63 models regardless of brand?
I knew this Cadillac had been on the nicer end of the Caddie spectrum, but I had not realized it had been this nice(ly equipped).
Your wanting to revive it makes sense; some cars simply make you feel good about everything when you drive them. This certainly sounds like one.
Hindsight tells me that this wasn’t a very smart example for my purposes. An example in better condition would probably have improved my experience. Then again, it still would have been an old luxury car, and those things just were not designed for care and feeding by people of modest means. As Howard said it, it’s not just that they have a bunch of things to break that are not on lesser cars, but even the more basic stuff is done differently and is expensive to fix.
“. . . even the more basic stuff is done differently and is expensive to fix.”
That’s as it should be. Otherwise the car would have been to a contemporary full-size Chevy as the Cimarron was to the Citation.
Knowing when to throw in the towel on a car isn’t always a straightforward decision.
As the Cimarron was to the Cavalier–that’s what I meant to say!
Yes! Cough ***’63 Thunderbird*** cough. JP, I tend to not itemize my credit card bills or keep track of car receipts for the reasons you mention; sometimes it’s better not to know. Those times, however, are not when you’re a young adult. 🙂
As best as I can recall – and this was long before I kept accurate records – $100 seemed to be a common auto repair cost 57 years ago for my 1957 Oldsmobile, and that car was basically a low end 88 4 door post sedan with no power steering, no power brakes, and no power windows. Also gas mileage was in the single digits.
Failed brakes, bad carburetor, bad tires. All fixes cost about $100 each. Can that even be true? Because $100 in 1965 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $940.67 today, an increase of $840.67 over 57 years.
Perhaps I’m confused
Cost for a commuting student per credit at Adelphi University in 1962: $37. That I clearly remember because it went up each year.
Salary working part time/full time as a carpet schlepper in mid 1960s: $40 to $50 per week (depending on hours).
Oddly similar to your situation, I had a perfectly fine 6 cylinder 1953 Chrysler without license plates or insurance sitting (mostly) in my parent’s garage while I indulged myself in a big V8 GM product.
I should have checked that – a $100 repair in 1978 would be about $450 now – it is in that range that says “ouch” but not “no way I’m putting that in this car.” Of course, maybe a couple of $450 repair bills on a car that would cost $1800 now should have put it in the second category. But what can I say, I was an optimist.
In 1971 I needed a clutch job on my ’68 Saab 95 V4, which I’d had a few months. It was my first car, so I was just developing my ideas of what service should cost. The clutch job was $100, which I could afford. I later had this exchange with a roommate, who had a VW Squareback:
“Your clutch job was half a hundred, right?”
To give you an idea, the dealer’s shop had this sign:
Labor $12 an hour.
$15 if you watch.
$20 if you help.
In the roughly 17 years I’ve been going to my current indie garage, their labor rate has gone from $60 to $120.
“Never buy an old luxury car.”
Well, I’ve had 2 1958 Cadillacs, a ’62 Imperial, a ’72 Mercedes sedan, a ’90 & ’91 Chrysler Imperial, and currently a 2005 Jaguar S-Type. All but the ’58s & ’62 were daily drivers. All were/are in very good to average #3 condition. Yes, I’ve had some problems and frustrating moments with them, but nothing that couldn’t be handled. I sold the ’58s & ’62 for more than I paid. I have no regrets about owning them, and they brought a lot of happiness and I learned a lot too!
I’m mentioning this because some readers might be discouraged from buying an old luxury car based on what you’re saying. And I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from following their dream.
How do you like this one in black?
Count me as a fan of the 58 Cadillac! And it looks gorgeous in black, as most old Cadillacs do.
As an adult, and especially as an adult with 1) some disposable income and 2) alternate transportation in a pinch an old high-end car can work for someone, as it has for you. I think everyone goes into an old Mercedes understanding that they will be more expensive to fix than a Chevy, but is there anything about those 90s Imperials (beyond the bodies) that are not normal off the shelf parts for every other Mopar of that era? Actually I have considered those as great cheap wheels so long as you can avoid some of the goofy Mopar frailties of that period.
I assume your cars were in better shape than JPC’s Caddy when you got them, or if not, you knew what you were getting into. And you weren’t an impoverished college freshman.
Totally agree 👍 1958 Sixty Special was the ultimate expression of Cadillac OTT luxury and panache. Local banker had a black one. Always took my attention as a kid! Still would love to have one!
I like Caddy black four door it’s what I’m looking for I just don’t want to pay 💰 big money for one and I want to make it my daily driver besides there’s some things I change on the car.Dream Car would love to have one ✌🏿
My childhood best friend’s grandfather and my own paternal grandfather each bought new Cadillacs every two or three years. They both had almost identical 1960 white six-window Sedan de Villes. When trading time came, I talked my grandfather into buying the new Elwood Engel-designed 1964 Imperial, but my friend’s grandparents dropped by one evening with their new 1963 Fleetwood Sixty Special. It was the first Cadillac I ever saw that was equipped with a vinyl top. The color was a lovely beige, with a matching vinyl top. To this day, I have fond memories of that car, which had an innate elegance that has proven very difficult to match. Thanks, JP, for your wonderful writeup.
I had forgotten about the vinyl roof availability on these – make that two options Aunt Alma declined to purchase.
The Fleetwoods of some years were just odd and gaudy (like the 59) and in other years kind of hard to distinguish from the lower cars (like the 65s to the casual viewer). I think the 1961-64 hit the sweet spot at being both different and elegant.
In hindsight, the Cadillac wasn’t the most practical car to own at that stage of your life…but despite its problems and thirst for premium it was a Cadillac built when they were at the top of their game. You had the experience of owning and driving a car that made you feel special, and from that perspective it was money well spent. For myself I’d love to take a Cadillac of that vintage for a spin, and I’d happily return it to the owner with a full tank just for the experience of driving it for an afternoon. My in-laws had an ‘89 Sedan deVille, and while it was a nice car, it didn’t give off the Cadillac vibe that you got from your ‘63 Fleetwood. Thanks for a good read with my Sunday morning coffee.
Thank you. I think everyone interested in cars should get a short experience behind the wheel of one of these old ones. It is a feeling hard to describe but that has been totally absent from Cadillacs for a long, long time.
Like being on an elegant, old style ocean liner as opposed to one of today`s mega ,mass market Carnival cruise ships. My father once had a 66` Sedan de Ville, white with a black top and black leather interior. He nicknamed it the ‘Queen Mary’.
…everyone interested in cars should get a short experience behind the wheel of one of these old ones…”
… and then drive a 1985 Eldorado with the 4.1 to see how far Cadillac had fallen from the early 1960s to the mid 1980s (*).
(*) can’t speak to later years, maybe they’ve improved from 1985.
As a car struck 10yo dreaming of Bonneville convertibles, the reality of school mornings was softened by knowing my school mate Molly would arrive at our school being driven by her father.
Mr.Hanley was a salesman at Sparling Cadillac and looked every bit of it. Handsome and distinguished with silver hair and impeccably tailored suit.
The years 1963 through 1965 would find me hovering by the breezeway entrance and the thrill of seeing the vast chrome grill and side marker turn signal lights illuminate was a thrilling way to start a morning.
Mr. Hanley would patiently indulge my observations when he would appear in a new model and for awhile Bonnevilles were replaced in my car consciousness.
That would make anyone look forward to the beginning of the school day.
I feel the same way about these ’61 -’64 Sixty Specials: they were the last ones to feel truly…special. Yes, the ’65-’66 still had a very fine interior, but it just didn’t quite exude the same…specialness.
My father’s cousin lived in Kansas City back then and was a traveling salesman of fine Austrian optics, and used to stop by and visit us in Iowa City. he had a ’62 60 Special, and I remember vividly how splendid its interior was.
Like quite a lot of Cadillac owners, he bought a Mercedes in 1969 or so, after a big Chrysler that replaced the Caddy.
Yes, this was not exactly the ideal winter car while your convertible was in the garage. Logic says you should have gotten a Dart or Valiant. But then you would have missed out on this very special experience.
Logic and good sense makes for a very poor COAL series. 🙂
Oh, I donno if I’d go quite that far about it. Logic and good sense backed up my purchase of a Honda Accord, and I got five or six pages’ worth of ranting and raving about it in my COAL series. But yeah,I probably couldn’t’ve done 40 chapters of Accord-Camry-etc.
The same might be said for life in general. 😉
Back in the early 60s, I became a junior mechanic at an Oldsmobile/Cadillac dealership. In my experience, my favorite car I got to drive, (but not work on, remember junior mechanic), was a 1959 Eldorado Brougham, the one made in Italy. It was the only one they sold while I was there. What a beautiful, stately car.
IIRC, Jetaway is an Oldsmobile trademark.
…and not very good at its job even then. Today’s camera-driven ones are vastly better than the old electric-eye types—there was only and exactly one automatic headlight beam selector that worked well back then, and it never made it into mass production; I’ll have to write it up.
GM were the primary pushers of that P—N-D-L-R quadrant, a booby-trap design which caused crashes, injuries, and deaths. Lots of detail in this book, by this man, who has a legitimate claim to the title of “Father of the Automatic Transmission”. He tirelessly railed—with rigourous data on his side—against automatic shift quadrants with adjacent reverse and forward drive positions. For it, he got mocked and scorned by officials, and shunned, almost Klingon-style, by the SAE. Eventually he was vindicated when safety standards came in and GM lost that battle.
I don’t envy that pit-of-stomach dread at how to maintain the constant-flow money injection on a car like this, but I surely do envy your having got to drive it awhile!
” a booby-trap design” – the worst one for me was driving a black 71 Cadillac limo at the funeral home. I would often be jarred into thinking about the shift quadrant in strange cars, but looking out over that long black hood had me shifting into L for reverse almost every time. At the time I thought it was cool because it was different, but would be less crazy about it now.
I think it was the various flavors of Hydra Matic that were the main offenders. The Powerglide switched to the Ford pattern in, what, the late 50s? And I think some of the Dynaflows did too by the early 60s. Cadillac got the new THM with a standard pattern in 1964 and I think the Roto Hydra Matic cars (big Oldsmobile and most big Pontiacs) kept it through the 64 models and would have been the last. Except for Studebaker, which maintained it through the very last car out the door.
The Powerglide changed to PRNDL for the 1958 model year. Buick’s triple turbine used PRNDG, which confused some. The TwinTurbine kept the PNDLR to the end (1963). The RotoHydramatic was a different transmission than the 4 speed Hydra-Matic.
I think Buick and Oldsmobile got the new turbohydramatic for the 1964 model year. Not sure about Pontiac, but Chevrolet was phased in beginning with the 1965 396V8.
And, to make things worse, those early Hyrda Matics, when in reverse, if the engine idled lowly enough, would suddenly shift into first gear and move forward at a quick walking pace .
I remember this many times, people were nearly killed .
I’ve had this 1963 Cadillac (I think by Jo-Han – it’s packed too deep to check now) since it was new. Oddly it has a Mopar-style rear view mirror on the dash.
I agree that the 61-64s were peak years. And no question that your model was the most elegant. I am particularly fond of the 1961 as it was such a breath of fresh air after the 59-60 cars, neither of which I liked very much. I had a teen friend in IN that I met in 1966. He was driving his family’s 61 Sedan de Ville. It was a Detroit car, rusty and well-worn in only five years, broken A/C, worn pistons, loud mufflers. The exterior was dark blue and the interior was an elegant blue brocade. Your car would have been 15 years old in 1978 but looks better than the five-year old 61. But we had a lot of fun cruising around that summer, alternately in his Cadillac and my 60 VW bug, two very different approaches to motoring at the time.
When I had my 63, the next door neighbor my age got a 61 Coupe DeVille. Kevin’s father was a tax lawyer and it was being sold by an elderly client. It had some bondo and paint work done, but was still a pretty decent car. That one had an entirely different vibe from my black one.
My photos show its absolute best side. It did suffer from some rust, but had been used very sparingly in its early life. I now remember finding a big broken-off bolt in the driveway one day, which I suspect was one that attached the body to the frame. The car had never had a single squeak until after I noticed that mystery bolt on the ground.
Well, kudos to you for even attempting to own 2 cars…much more so when one of them is a high-maintenance car like the Caddy…while a college student. I mean, I had my dreams of doing what you did (I desperately tried to buy a brace of ’54 Cadillac Fleetwood limos when I was that age, in college), but all things considered, fate smiled upon me and I avoided that would-be disaster.
I also know, sense, the feeling of owning a basketcase but somehow still desirable (by the owner) money pit. A few years after college I had a similar experience with a late 60s Volvo 144. It seemed promising, and seemed like a car that I could keep as a second vehicle, but the constant drip drip drip of needed stuff finally woke me up and I disposed of it. I just didn’t need something extraneous like that in my life at that point. In my case, by giving it away for free….which seemed like the only way to rightfully move something like that on.
“kudos to you for even attempting to own 2 cars”
Looking back, I am kind of amazed that I had the kind of autonomy I did when it came to buying cars. I am not sure I would have been so hands-off with my own kids. But maybe that’s because of hard lessons like this.
I can relate to this on a few levels. I also unsuccessfully tried the “own two cars because I want to keep one of them forever thing” and it was about as successful for me as it was for you.
For another thing, when I was a teenager and in my 20s, I quietly kept an eye out for older relatives or friends of my parents who might be getting rid of their cars. I REALLY would have loved an older luxury car back then… one that was well-kempt, but old enough to have little actual value. One I remember wondering about was an older couple my parents knew who owned a white, fully-loaded Riviera. Oh, how I’d love to own that car! Fortunately for me, I suppose, none of these Potential Money Pits ever came to fruition.
And I also remember selling my first car. I desperately wanted Dad to help me with negotiating, but he said it was my responsibility. I didn’t feel like I was ready for that responsibility, but I did my best, which of course wasn’t all that great. I remember second-guessing myself for quite a while afterwards.
“And I also remember selling my first car”
Looking back, I laugh at my innocence. I generally knew what I wanted from the Cadillac, and I had a decent idea of the value of my convertible, which the Old Cars Price Guide pegged at $1200-1600 for #3-#2 condition. The guy surprised me when he asked what I would take for both of them and I replied with a range where I would be happy. Of course, he latched onto the lowest number of that range. I don’t think I got screwed, but I am quite confident I could have gotten more.
When I sold that first car, the buyer behaved oddly – he probably wasn’t sober – and that odd behavior really threw me off. He offered me a price, and I took it. I didn’t really get ripped off, but a more experienced Me would have stood up for myself a bit more.
I remember he drove a beat-up 280ZX when I first saw him, and he didn’t seem like the kind of person who had lots of money to spare. When he came by the next day (with his son, who’s car it was to be), he drove a Jaguar.
That was your Mazda 323 GTX, right?
Yep, that was it. I kept it for a few years, parked in my parents’ driveway in order to “preserve” it, before I realized the futility of what I was trying to do.
Really, just about everything you fixed could have broken on a ’63 Ford or Chevy too. And, it didn’t seem like you were fixing the same things time and again, so you would have caught up with it eventually. You didn’t bother with the A/C, which could have gotten pricey, or the ubiquitous “Vent Window Disease”, which involves replacing a tiny part but requires a great deal of door disassembly to get to it. Back when you had this car, rust free bumper buckets were probably not as hard to find as they are now.
I owned two ’63 Cadillacs, one in the mid 1980’s and one in the late 1990’s, and dealt with many of the same annoyances. The rear power vents worked better because they had gotten used a lot less. Power vents were optional on DeVilles (front only), and if I were buying one today, I would look for one with crank operated vents.
It’s too bad you didn’t deal with the carb. When set up properly, these are not only great performers but also noticeably more fuel efficient than the 1970’s detuned smog controlled Cadillacs like the ones you drove at the funeral home.
I had always understood that the 390 had been a relatively economical engine (in the world of Cadillacs, anyway). But carburetors were a mystery to me back then and I wasn’t ready to spend more yet.
It was a maddening car in one way – it was too nice for me to treat it like a cheap beater, but not nice enough to justify putting real money into it – It was less rusty than most its age, but it just needed time to catch up with the rest of them. I will confess that one of these has always been on the list of cars I might be willing to try again, as an adult and as a play car rather than a sole daily driver.
I noticed the toggle switches.
Were they factory installed?
I make those the power window switches, but that’s just a guess.
The dash shot? That came from the internet and showed the main dash well. But that car has added gauges and switches under the dash and on the floor that were not in these from the factory. I have no idea what those toggles were. Maybe to control the dispensers of $100 bills. 🙂
My guess is that particular Cadillac had been converted into a lowrider and the switches control the hydraulics??
I too love these old Caddies, they’re really nice to drive or ride in .
Plus of course they looked great then and still do now =8-) .
It really did drive nicely. It was a fascinating combination of huge and weighty, while at the same time being quite light on its feet.
“Never buy an old luxury car”
As a BMW enthusiast with a focus on 80s cars, we have a similar saying, “There’s nothing more expensive than a $500 V12 BMW” Except perhaps a $500 V12 Jag.
More pragmatically, repairs on a car that was $100K new, are still going to be repairs on a $100K car, even if it only cost the current owner $1,500. As they will soon find out.
Folks are always admiring my 40 year old Mercedes’ and saying “man ! I gotta get me one of these !” .
I tell them ‘the most expen$ive car you will ever own is a cheap Mercedes’ .
In 1995 I scored a 63 Fleetwood in Briar Rose color similar to the car in picture. Great engine, but failing Jetaway Transmission. (Anyone familiar with classic cars knows how costly those can be to rebuild) For that reason, I actually ended up swapping in a 307 two barrel from a 68 Chevelle and a THM350.
In the front yard of gf house.
Using a portable oxy welder cart. Setting greasy X frame rails on fire, then running to the tailpipe area to stuff garden hose up the fraim rail to put out said grease fires.
I actually successfully estimated properly and had the cadillac driveshaft mated to a smaller front Chevrolet yoke.
Back then it only took a month of scouring San Diego junkyards for the required small block pickup truck exhaust manifolds to clear the steering, followed by one loud blast down to muffler shop to weld up an exhaust system.
So how did she run?? SLOW! But smooth and quiet and would get up to 75 after a while. But it was bone reliable.
Great account JPC, and what a car for a student. Tough to sell I guess?
It was actually amazingly easy. Someone my family knew knew a guy who was into old Cadillacs. We were put in touch, he came over, liked the car (and my convertible too) and asked what I wanted for both together. I wish every sale went that easily.
Now how did the buyer learn that you had a 67 Galaxie? Did you tell him? Did he meet you at your Aunt’s garage? How come you didn’t say the Galaxie is not for sale? Did you lose all sense for a moment or did you gain sense in the end?
I had brought the Galaxie home for the weekend with plans to start getting it cleaned up before advertising it for sale too. It was in the driveway when the guy came to look at the Cadillac. I probably mentioned that I intended to sell it in the near future. I had to sell it because the Cadillac was not going to provide enough cash for another decent car, and I could not bring myself to turn the Galaxie back into a daily driver after all the effort and investment I had put into it.
The end result worked out, except that I could have probably negotiated for a better price. Experience has taught me that it was a tough spot for a seller – a package deal for one car I was highly motivated to dump for the first reasonable offer and the other that I could drive a much harder bargain on because it was so nice.
My most recent fill-up in my 2005 Honda Civic: just shy of 7 gallons, 25 mpg, $36 and change. Driving your Caddy I would have paid almost $130.
That wasn’t a great idea, you probably actually needed a $400 VW or Toyota with studded tires for the winter.
However, you had a great (if not entirely positive) experience. How many of us can say we daily drove a 63 Cadillac? That’s a big check on the life checklist.
Also amusing is the relative affluence of our extended families. Your experience would not have happened to me, as nobody in my extended family ever owned a Cadillac of any sort. The car I purchased from an elderly relative was a 1980 AMC Concord..
“The car I purchased from an elderly relative was a 1980 AMC Concord..”
The Kenosha Kadillak! 🙂
My extended family was unusual. My father had grown up in the wealthy surroundings of Philadelphia’s old Main Line suburbs. My mother grew up on a none-too-prosperous farm. So I had a really wide range of experience that probably spanned the middle 75% of the affluence spectrum. The funny part was that all of them described themselves as middle class. 🙂
Pretty fun having a Cadillac at such a tender age JP. Who wouldn’t feel special riding down the street in it? When parking in the driveway, it took up a good part of the driveway! I was looking at the form and size … looked low to the ground, but not like a low-rider. The steering wheel was so large and looks so “open” doesn’t it? My grandparents lived in attached houses in Toronto – that was the norm in many old neighborhood. Every house had a garage in their backyard that was accessible through the alleyway. Because the transportation system has always been pretty awesome there, with streetcar, buses (and later the subway), there was no need to have a car if you worked in the city. My grandparents never learned to drive, so they, like all their neighbors rented their small garage out. I thought of them when reading about your storage solution.
My favorite Cadillac of the 60s. It was all downhill from here, starting in ’64 – a weak year, styling-wise for GM across the board – and only accelerated from ’65 on.
And the ’55 Sixty Special is my favorite Cadillac of the 50s. I had a widowed neighbor across the street from me with a black one in the early 70s and it made a lasting impression.
Your Great Aunt had excellent taste in cars!
A friend’s aging parents had a black 63 Sixty Special. I asked to be first in line when the car was passed on ,and was told that it would be done. Later inquired and was told the parents gave it to a nephew who had wrecked in with in weeks! 😠. What a waste and disappointment!
Aging Luxury vehicles should be regarded as monuments! I once owned a 1989 Cadillac Brougham deElegance. Not being mechanically gifted and facing financial issues, I reluctantly let it go. Worst mistake 😕 of my life. Should have kept it and refurbished when things improved , which they did 🤔. This fool and his Cadillac were too easily parted!
Luxury cars are made for rich people. Brand new or 20 years old they are for rich people.
I’m so far from rich it’s pathetic but I like to tinker and repair things so in the end I manage to maintain a decent old Mercedes W123 .
Oddly enough my favorite is my basic stripper 240D , I’ve had the fancier ones and let them go on down the line once sorted out .