The first time I laid eyes on the '59 Caddy it was on display in the CARS OF THE STARS Museum in Buena Park, California.It was billed as the "Sonny and Cher Cadillac," although I doubt they ever owned the car. It was used as a prop on their TV show and Cher sat all over it. Originally a guy named Calvin Weikamp built it, then LA upholstery man Joe Perez acquired it.
I always had a yen to make a '59 Caddy hardtop into a Lowrider. This car was the logical choice as it had already been beautifully customized. In '83 I tracked down Jim Brucker (who owned about 600 old cars simultaneously) only to find that two weeks earlier he had sold it to the retired Chief of Police of Kansas City, who was living in LA's San Fernando Valley. Jim said the guy might like to sell it because his wife complained that every time they pulled up to a stoplight, a different hispanic would ask if the car was For Sale.
I called the owner, jumped a jet from NJ to LA and bought the car for $4,500. So began the adventure of bringing the car across country, sight unseen. It was your basic 3,000 mile "get acquainted" drive. The car had been in storage for years, so the seller put in new brake fluid, oil, ATF, filters, etc. I'll never forget the first time I jumped on the gas, pulling out onto the Hollywood Freeway . . . the throttle stuck wide open! Instantly I knew that owning this car was going to be an experience. Little did I know how true that premonition was.
The car had a few other, shall we say, idiosyncrasies. The gas gauge, clock, speedo and odometer were "cashed" (inoperable.) The four-barrel trickeld gas out of the throttle shafts, resulting in 10-12 mpg fuel "economy." When you're driving across New Mexico and Kansas and there are no open gas stations, you can understand why I ran out of gas five times (even with a few extra cans of gas in the trunk.) And because the front coils had been torched and cut, the bad alignment loved to eat front tires big time.
When we grew up in the 50's we'd see all these fantastic, spotless rods in HOT ROD, RODDING & RESTYLING, and R&C. They were trouble-free dream cars. But when you'd go for a ride in your pal's Pontiac-powered '50 Ford, the wiring would burn up, or you'd lunch the rear end or tranny. That's the stuff you never saw or heard about in the magazines. I've often said that a car wasn't a true Hot Rod if it didn't catch fire at least once!
When I got the Cad to Jersey I drove it every day, and I've never owned a car that attracted so much attention. Make a left turn through a town and you'd notice EVERY head would swivel, eyes following you, as you cruised through! I took the car to the HOT ROD Meet in Berea OH back when it was a '48 and earlier event, and managed to B.S my way in with the car since I was a former Editor of HRM. But the "discrimination" I experienced there against 50's cars by event management was one major factor that influenced me to start the events for 50's vintage cars I still do today. I drove the Cad to Chicago several times, to Minnesota, to Ohio, etc. I feel that the enjoyment of old cars is in the driving of them, not locking them in some garage and taking them out a few select times a year if the weather is perfect. That is akin to marrying a beautiful woman you love yet never . . . well, you know what I mean.
My wife, possessing good taste, refused to ride in the car or be seen with it. My kids loved it. My daughter was riding with me and I told her to slide over to the middle of the front seat. I told her, "You have no idea how many good looking Mexican women have sat right where you're sitting now."