You can go your own way.
As Fleetwood Mac would sing in 1977, I decided to follow my own automotive path.
My 1966 Mustang had been a compromise. I had decided to honor my father’s advice and wishes and buy an appropriate young man’s car. But growing up in Oakland in the 1960’s had created a deep love for the Cadillac marque and my dream had always been to own and drive one of those magnificent machines.
While I was a freshman in high school I had seen a 1960 Cadillac convertible parked frequently outside a small tavern. Every day as the school bus rolled past on its way home, I craned my neck, looking out the window, to see if “my’ Cadillac was parked outside. An immaculate jet black body with a blinding white top. Chrome baby moon rims with wide whitewall tires, it was just a dream come true.
Every once in a while, my favorite song was playing on the radio. Vehicle by the Ides of March. 1969-70 was the period of the big horn bands, like Chicago, and Blood Sweat and Tears. I could very easily imagine myself behind the wheel of a sleek black beauty like this, with that tune blasting on the radio!
My other favorite fantasy ride was a 1956 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. This was the result of the cars that I had seen and sat in while cruising the car lots with my Dad. I think that the real encoding had occurred outside of an Oakland Chinatown auto parts store, in the gas station parking lot next door. That would have been in the mid-1960s, years before I entered high school. This was a ’56 Sedan de Ville four door hardtop. It looked just as low and sleek as the coupe in my eyes. My fantasy car would also have a small console with a floor shift. I had seen these offered for years in the J.C. Whitney catalog, and thought that it would make my car a real stand out.
I fantasized about driving my Cadillac all over the state, discovering all the places that my parents never had the interest to take the family. The real dream was my craving for independence and freedom. That has always been the core of my attraction to motor vehicles.
My Mustang had been sold, and I’m sure that I told my Dad that I would save up some more money before rushing out to buy something. After all, I still had my motorcycle, a Kawasaki 500 cc Mach Three, to get around on.
There were quite a few used car lots on E. 14th St. in Oakland and I would cruise around with my eyes open, looking for a likely prospect. I found a ’65 Coupe de Ville for sale on a lot near Seminary Avenue. The car looked pretty clean and the salesman assured me that it ran great. So off we went for a test drive. Well almost. He had a lot of trouble just getting the car to fire up. After a lot of cranking and a bit of swearing by the salesman, the motor caught and came to life with a bang! He started to rev the motor and the weirdest thing happened. Pink smoke started billowing out of the single exhaust pipe! It was probably white smoke tinged with a lot of rusty residue, but it sure looked pink to me. Truth be told, that’s the first and only time that I have ever seen this.
We took off down the street with me driving, and the salesman doing all the talking. He asked me about my last car. I told him about my Mustang and how I had just sold it. He told me that I should have brought it in as a trade and that he could have given me a “sweet deal” on this Caddy or something else on the lot. Of course, what else was a salesman going to say?
I thought that the Caddy was driving pretty good until it started losing power. Luckily there was a parking lot just ahead and I made it there before the motor died. The salesman couldn’t get the car restarted and went to look for a pay phone. He told me to meet him back at the car lot and we could figure out what went wrong with the car. I told him thanks, but no thanks, and walked the four blocks back to the dealer’s lot. Looking back, I’d bet that it just ran out of gas, but that killed any enthusiasm for the ’65.
Luckily my bike started up on the first kick. Maybe I should look around a little more.
At the time I was a student of Karate at the Shorin Yu dojo down the street, just a few blocks from my house. However, they later expanded to an additional location in Downtown Oakland on Broadway Ave. By alternating the days of instruction I could take additional classes for free, at the new dojo.
What does this have to do with acquiring my Cadillac? Plenty. During rainy spells, I would ride the bus instead of getting soaked on my motorcycle. It just so happened that my final bus stop was right in front of a used car lot.
The bus windows were up high enough that I could easily see to the back row of the lot, my favorite hunting ground! Sure enough, there appeared to be a ’63 or ’64 Cadillac hiding in the back, After class, I walked back to the lot and slipped under the chain. I walked to the back to inspect the car under the glare of the strings of light bulbs. It was a gold ’64 model convertible!
Being in the back row, the best thing would have to be the price, only 325.00!
Actually, it was in pretty good shape. It was straight with no collision damage or dents. The paint was dull, but it wasn’t worn down in any spots. There was only the slightest indication of rust blistering on the bottoms of the fenders behind the wheel openings. This was where a brace was welded, that would catch and hold dirt over the years. This would lead to some rusting and blistering at that location. This was common all the way into the early 1970’s. All the glass was good, but the plastic rear window was pretty cloudy, a usual convertible problem at the time. The top itself was in good shape with no cracks or tears. The tires looked okay, but there were only two hub caps. Maybe the other two were in the trunk? The tan perforated leather seats had a couple of split seams, and a few cracks, but were in acceptable condition. The carpet was worn and a bit dirty and looked like it had gotten wet a few times. The car was only eleven years old at the time. In hindsight, it seems that it should have been in better shape. But then the price would have been a bit higher, and a bit was hard for me to come by in those days.
There was no way to know how well it ran, or even if it did. But it was on the lot, not parked behind the office, so I assumed that it would. I immediately took a liking to the car and decided right then, that I wanted to buy it. I had never really considered getting a convertible, but here it was! I decided to come back on my motorcycle and check it out further when the lot was open.
I returned the next day and the salesman let me take a look under the hood and he started the car. It fired up easily and ran smoothly. I don’t recall how many miles it had on it. but the test drive went fine. I had looked hopefully in the trunk, but there was no sign of the other two hub caps. It was equipped with a/c, which of course didn’t work. No surprise there. The radio, an AM/FM job, sounded fine, but the front speaker didn’t, still there was a speaker in the back. The total cost only came to 340.00. I was responsible for having the thermostatic vacuum advance device installed, as well as paying the registration and transfer fees at the DMV.
The thermostatic vacuum control device, otherwise known as the “green meanie” was a mandated aftermarket anti-pollution device. It was spliced into the upper radiator hose. It controlled the vacuum advance of the distributor. The device would retard the spark setting and the unit would only allow the advance only when the engine reached a specified temperature. It was made from a very bright green plastic that accounted for its nickname. I can’t recall if it really affected the driveability or mileage. I just drove the car as it was.
I hadn’t told my Dad that I was going to buy the car. I just parked it at the curb next door. When he got home he asked me if I had seen the Cadillac parked next door. I told him that I had, and that it was mine! He asked me how much I had paid for it, then he laughed and went out with me to check it out. I know that my Dad vicariously enjoyed all the cars that I would buy. Having my Dad on my side made it so much easier and less stressful. He was really a pretty cool guy.
I learned a lot fixing up that car. I scrubbed down the top using kitchen cleanser, which brightened the white top considerably. I also learned that I should have rinsed the residue off immediately, as it also left streaks in the paint as it dried. A good application of rubbing compound followed by a couple of coats of Simonize wax brought the paint back to life.
On an older, somewhat neglected car, the chrome bumpers would build up a layer of grimy film that washing alone wouldn’t remove. It took products like Turtle Wax chrome polish to do the job. I also discovered that it would polish stainless steel and remove light oxidation from anodized aluminum trim.
The cloudy rear window was a bigger problem. I had tried plastic cleaner and polish, even this new-fangled stuff called Armor All, which had just recently come on the market. There was a noticeable improvement, but I was still not satisfied with the results. What to do?
J.C. Whitney offered three levels of quality for their replacement convertible tops, but I didn’t think that I needed a complete new top. Sure enough, they offered replacement windows as a separately available item. I filled out the order form, included my money order, and mailed off my request. Then I waited for three weeks for my order to arrive. (Compare this with the latest order from Rock Auto for my ’96 Mustang’s intake manifold. I ordered it Wednesday night and it arrived on Friday morning. Isn’t progress wonderful?)
I had to disassemble the rear body mount of the top, as well as the window. Then removed both from the rear top bow. I bought a staple gun to reattach the new window and top to the tack strip and bow. It came out pretty good if I say so myself. Not only could I now see out of the back window, but it made a huge improvement to the vehicle’s appearance.
Now I turned my attention to the interior, I bought a set of curved needles and some nylon thread and I sutured the split seams and cracks. The perforated leather already had lots of tiny holes for the thread. I also sewed a small leather patch onto the upper panel of the driver’s seat. Several applications of leather cleaner and conditioner improved the appearance of the upholstery.
I later learned from reading my collection of Old Car Weekly magazines that at one time this was the standard method of restoration. Just patching the voids and stitching the cracks, while you would lose some judging points for the poor condition, you would retain some points for maintaining the originality. How times have changed!
A trip to the local wrecking yard provided me with a matching pair of hub caps. I had initially put the other two on the left side of the car, where they would be visible when parked at the curb. Like my Dad told me, “You can only see one side of the car at a time!” I bought an aftermarket external radio speaker housing which I installed with a bracket under the passenger’s side of the dash. At least I was smart enough to refrain from disassembling the dash, I was worried that I might never get it back together again!
The car never gave me any real trouble and I drove it all over the Bay Area, I even took it up Highway One and over the Marshall – Petaluma road. That car made quite a sight cruising with the top down among the tree-lined highways.
I noticed that it was starting to leak some transmission fluid, so I thought that I could change out the front transmission seal. A simple job, or so it seemed. At least I was smart enough to rent a transmission jack, but not smart enough to secure the torque converter to the bell housing. I managed to knock it loose and spilled a couple of quarts of ATF while extracting the transmission. After the clean-up, I replaced the seal which cured the leak. All that work and mess to avoid leaving a few drips in the driveway. I defeated the purpose by badly staining the driveway when the torque converter spilled its contents. Live and learn.
I don’t remember exactly how long I kept that car. Like several of my vehicles, it ended up getting sold off the street. One day I had it parked at the curb, while I was cleaning my motorcycle in front of the house. A passing driver noticed it, slowed, and did a double take. He doubled back, parked his car and walked over to me, and asked me about the Cadillac.
Now, I wasn’t really interested in selling the car, but he made what seemed like a great offer. I don’t even recall giving him a price. He just kept on making several higher offers until he knew that he had caught my interest. I ended up selling it for 650.00, which seemed like a pretty good profit. I figured that I could find another car, apply some sweat equity, and sell that one for a little profit. Like most of my plans at that time, it didn’t exactly turn out that way.
This was my first Cadillac, but it wouldn’t be my last. My love for Cadillac and other big fancy cars continued on through most of my life, and even until Today. In many ways, it made a lot of sense. Cadillacs had always been great road cars. They were faster than the everyday Chevy, Ford, or Dodge. They didn’t need any performance modifications or enhancements. They were naturally strong runners. It wasn’t until Detroit started offering big block engines throughout their entire model line, that they were seriously challenged, Sure, this was the heyday of the Muscle Car. But serious big block muscle cars were always pretty rare. Most of the intermediate coupes carried their base small V8s. Most of the Pony Cars didn’t get the big motor options, and tons of Mustangs especially, sported the base 200 inch six.
For a reasonable price, these Cadillacs and Lincolns provided lots of Bang for the Buck, with great style and performance. Nothing since has looked so good gliding down the boulevard. Diggin’ the scene with a Gangsta’ Lean.