Car number 2, which you read about last week, was my big black 1963 Cadillac. Among the Cadillacs of 1963, the Fleetwood Sixty Special sedan was the boss of the lineup. But it was a boss that needed a little help, and parts would be necessary.
During the fall of 1978 I came home a lot. My college was about an hour and a half drive from my house. I wasn’t falling easily into dorm life and besides, my car was at home. I was all about my car then, and I spent my weeks looking forward to going home and communing with my Cadillac.
That was a mistake, in retrospect. I roomed with my best friend Dan and we both had tendencies towards insularity and found in each other pretty much all the company either of us needed or wanted. The downside was that we both missed an opportunity to make new friends. We did better the next year, but I had a much better experience that way when I was dumped into a new pond all by myself when I started law school a few years later. But in that first fall of college, I found ways to make the hour-and-a-half trip home more weekends than I didn’t.
Back home, my friend Lowell lived in a neighborhood that was designed around a long central street. On that street was “the house”. We all know what this means – it was the one place that stood out as the worse looking house in the neighborhood. The paint was flaking, leaves and tree limbs that fell were left there, and the grass was always long. And this particular “the house” had two derelict cars in the driveway.
It was interesting that we knew the family that owned the place. The dad was a widower who lived in my neighborhood with his two sons, one of whom was a casual friend. “The house” had been kept as a rental. I wondered why anyone would rent a house with someone else’s cars parked there, but that wasn’t my problem. One of the cars, however, interested me.
There turned out to be three cars there. In the garage was a light green ’63 VW bug with a sunroof. I later asked about that one, but was rebuffed. “With gas prices what they are, I think we’re going to get that one back on the road.” I’ll bet that never happened. In the driveway there was another immobile car, a 68 Caprice (I think). Those were both interesting but irrelevant to my life. But the third car was highly relevant – a light metallic green 1963 Cadillac.
I knew I was going to need some parts for mine and knew that this was going to take some deep junkyard recon to find some good ones. I needed a passenger side fender skirt for starters, and also a windshield wiper switch (which, as it turned out, I only thought that I needed). The stationary Cadillac had both, so one day I asked my friend if his father would consider selling any parts from it. The Dad’s answer surprised me.
The car had been his father’s. I don’t recall if it was a Series 62 or a Sedan DeVille, or whether it was the 4 window or the 6 window sedan body style. I just remember the faded light green paint with not a hint of a shine. What was it about light green cars that sought me out? The most recent license plate was from 1970, so the car had been not driven for longer than it had been. “If you get it out of here you can have the whole thing.” Holy crap – a free car!
I set to work finding a place for it. My mother would no sooner allow that thing at her house than rent the front yard out to a circus. My father lived out in the country, so I asked if I could keep it there. He probably figured (not wrongly) that I was capable of dragging all manner of parts cars there, so he (wisely) suggested an alternative. There was a little mechanics’ garage along the old 2-lane route for US 30 between Fort Wayne and the Ohio state line. This place (the Zulu Garage) had likely been there since the 20s if not before and was run by a couple of grizzled old mechanics who could fix anything, as long as there were cigarettes dangling from their lips. I miss places like that.
The garage carried the name of the little town that had barely existed at its peak. If the town consisted of more than that garage, I don’t remember what it was. I was kind of amazed to find this picture of their old sign on the internet. Out back of the Zulu Garage was a tiny yard where probably ten or fifteen old wrecks moldered away. “Why don’t you stop by the Zulu Garage and see if they will let you put it out back.” My dad was a regular customer so they recognized me. I made my pitch and the old guy who seemed to be the boss (I think his name was Dick) thought for a second between drags on his cigarette and said “Tell ya what – You can put it back there and I won’t charge ya, as long as I can sell parts off of it.”
Now, fully-grown-adult-me doesn’t think that was such a great deal. The car was complete and likely had quite a lot of useful stuff. It was straight and not rustier than average. But I had no other options and it sounded good to me. The challenge was getting it there.
My father had a 1978 Lincoln Town Coupe that was probably six or eight months old, with a big trailer hitch on the back. Dad had bought a lake cottage and occasionally towed a boat trailer, but the hitch looked ready for much more serious towing than that. How perfect – a big-assed Lincoln to tow a big-assed Cadillac. I asked my father if I could borrow the Lincoln so that I could rent a tow bar and haul the Cadillac the ten or fifteen miles to its final resting place. He got a funny look on his face and suggested that I could use my stepmom’s 74 Cutlass Supreme coupe. It also had a trailer hitch. Adult/lawyer me understands now that the Cadillac had a good 1000-1500 pounds on the Cutlass, but I was young and stupid and took the path of least resistance.
The guy at the rental place did see a problem. “What are you towing?” he inquired. I answered “An old Cadillac.” The look on his face changed, and the follow up question seemed to be packed with a little more gravity. “What are you towing it with?” My answer (on which I knew the rental of the tow bar depended): “A big Olds” seemed to satisfy him. It probably would not have satisfied him in 2022 (or 1992) but it worked in 1978. I am not sure how I might have handled a follow-up question like “Can you be more specific about this big Olds?” At least not while being truthful about it. And besides, I had grown up in a ’64 Cutlass, so the ’74 certainly seemed big to me.
Thus began the adventure. I needed to swap two tires from my black Fleetwood so that the car would roll. The old Hydra-Matic employed a rear oil pump so that 35 mph towing was not something that would require getting underneath to disconnect a drive shaft. The green Cad had no lights so good old Lowell followed behind me with his flashers on as I began to get lessons in geometry and physics.
I was towing a 5,000 pound car with a maybe 4,000 pound car. The 4 bbl 350 in the Cutlass was clearly up to the job and we were able to get moving. The problem came when I made a small steering correction. The Cadillac made a bigger steering correction a moment later, shoving the rear of the tow car to one side, which required another steering correction by me. Rinse and repeat. For fifteen miles.
I settled into a rhythm – no sudden moves and everything would be fine. Every once in awhile things would start getting out of hand and I would have to slow to under 10 mph and get everything back into a straight line. Also, periodic stops on the berm to allow drivers on 2-lane U.S. 30 to pass our little fate-tempting caravan came fairly frequently. I never had any desire to exceed about 25 mph and matured by maybe five or ten years on that drive.
We got to our destination and the final maneuvering was done with me in the drivers seat while the sole young guy at the garage got into the ’66 Ford wrecker with the wooden push bar bumper. We did a big and really bumpy loop through a bare plowed farmer’s field that abutted the property of the garage and finally went Ka-Whump into the spot where they wanted the car.
I got my tires off along with the fender skirt and the wiper switch and returned to get my black car. That may have been the last time I saw the green Cadillac. I might have gotten a title or I might not have, I do not remember. I know I got the keys, but left them in the car.
Sometimes I feel a little bad. With some effort (and fresh gas), that car could probably have fired up and moved under its own power. The interior smelled very musty, so something was probably leaking somewhere. But it was complete (though filthy). I have no idea what ever happened to it. When I sold my black Cadillac I told the guy where it was but don’t know if he ever tried to get any parts.
At a later time in life it
might have would have made sense to part it out. Or to get it running and sell it. But then I would have owned two running 1963 Cadillacs at a time when one of them was more than I could afford, and I certainly had no time or place for parting it out. If nothing else, I could probably have netted a little cash by selling it to a junkyard. But at the time I envisioned the green Cadillac as an endless supply of useful parts, all for me. And once that changed I was ready to move on from the whole experience and rarely thought about the old green Cadillac after that.
That green Cadillac is the only car I ever owned that I never drove under its own power. It is also the only one that I never took so much as a single picture of. But for a time, I was the big shot owner of TWO Cadillacs AND a Ford convertible besides. How else should I have defined success at the age of 19? Technically speaking, I think I might still own a light green 4 door 1963 Cadillac. I just wish I knew where it was.