The 1959 Cadillac is arguably the marque’s most famous model. Its sheer size, large sweeping fins, bullet tail lights and grilles and copious use of chrome, epitomise American car design of the 50’s. Never again would a full production car sport such wild styling cues and as a result the 1959 Caddy has reached a ‘cult’ like status. Regardless of whether you like the 1959 model, one has to acknowledge the futuristic design which could still be regarded as modern by today’s standards.
I acquired my 1959 Coupe in 1995, one month before my 18th birthday. It was to be my first venture into automobile restoration and was also to be my very first car. The car was purchased in the US after 18 months of searching. It proved difficult to find a car in reasonable, restorable condition that suited my budget. After being put off by some of the ‘shady’ local salesmen who deal in this type of car, I decided to conduct the search further afield. Even in the US the 59's proved to be a hard car to find. It seems the yanks have woken up to the treasures they have got sitting around and thus most cars were either chicken coups with a five star price tag or ‘real beauties’ with new Mexican paint jobs, interior and chrome. Finally a car was found advertised that was perfect for what I wanted. The coupe had been stored in a barn for about 15 years. The guy’s brother had bought the car new and given it to him some time in the 70s. It was an original pink car that had been repainted white and was suffering general ageing and neglect. Nevertheless, everything was there, the car ran (just), but was to be a good solid base.
After the Caddy’s much anticipated arrival in Australia it was shipped off to the mechanics for a thorough check-up. The mechanical diagnosis was probably to be expected, yet the full engine rebuild managed to shatter my new found pride as a Cadillac owner (not to mention my bank account).
The mechanical rebuild proved to be an arduous task for all involved. The job took three and a half months longer than promised and during this time the car was backed into the hoist denting the sill and a freshly chromed radiator shroud was gouged. Evidently a concrete floor is not the place to store chrome plated parts! The engine was restored to stock configuration with all the new parts for the engine, chassis and front end supplied by All American Autoparts and American Car Parts. The service of these companies could not be surpassed. The engine was painted a red/maroon to match the intended colour of the car and a sprinkling of chrome was added to liven things up a bit.
The auto trans was given an overhaul by Alan Walton Accurate Automatics. The job caused many headaches due to the tendency of the transmission to leak fluid through new seals. Alan’s service and persistence was commendable however the transmission still drops a small amount of fluid. Any suggestions?
During the mechanical restoration I met a man called ‘Murphy’ who evidently devised some law in regards to car restoration. Unfortunately he proved to be right because as fast as one problem was fixed another arose. Dash Instrument Service (03) 9587 4530 restored the gauges. Bob Bond, Northern Power Steering restored the power steering mechanisms and Dave Hall, Western Port Exhausts (03) 5979 1133 installed a custom built twin exhaust system to make the Caddy rumble. Finally after some electrical work was undertaken I was finally able to drive the Caddy. Instantly my pride had been restored (crusty or not I was driving a Cadillac), unfortunately my bank balance was not as quick to follow suit.
After a small hiatus it was time to pull the Caddy off the road for its cosmetic restoration. This began by liquid stripping the car back to bare metal. Overall the body was good. There were a few patches of rust and a sill required replacement but everything else amounted to minor dings and dents. All the body work and fit up of the car was handled by Steve Dyer, SLD Automotive. Steve is a perfectionists perfectionist and his pride in getting things just right is reflected in the finished product.
Next came the paint work. The colour had been set - candy apple red over crushed glass flake over a custom mixed gold glitter metallic base. If it sounds like a mouthful, you should try painting it! As the candy is translucent, basically the colour is mixed on the car as you spray it. The paint was exquisitely applied (consuming 300 hours of preparation and spraying time) by Paul Barker, Kolour me Kool (03-5986 7019). For those observant readers, Paul is my father and as you might guess the price was pretty reasonable! Paint and panel work materials were sponsored by Mal Jones, SHS Industries and Dennis Day, Wattyl Paints Victoria. The paint was brought to a high lustre by handcutting the entire car with T-Cut. I devoted one day a week to this task with the fear of turning into Popeye ‘as I rubs me panels’ forever evident in my mind.
Whilst the paint was being done the chrome work was sent away for repair and replating. The majority of the chrome work was undertaken by Prahran Platers. As most would know, there is a mile of stainless and cast parts on the 59 model. All the necessary repairs were done by Wes Mellords. Wes is a whiz at repairing these most delicate parts including, I might add, hand forming half a horn ring! Barry Blake, FD Carroll and Co Pty Ltd were used to chrome the normally polished aluminium grille bars and bullets. These proved a difficult project due to the flimsiness of the parts, however, Barry made a special jig for each bullet to overcome this adversity. The grille was one of many extra parts I decided to chrome. To some it might seem strange that I would add chrome to the already chrome laden vehicle however I chromed the headlight buckets, trim piece along the front of the bonnet, bullet tail fin pods and the entire bottom of the dashboard.
To further make my car a little different from the rest, I added some 50's custom accessories. Pointed chrome bullets were added to the front and back grilles and also to the dash instruments inside the car. I really wanted wire wheels, however could not afford them so I had to create something nice and different from what I had. The hubcaps started life as standard 1959 Caddy caps from which I removed the centre badge and replaced with a 5.5 inch chrome bullet. All the accessories were supplied by John’s Rod and Custom. John also organised the importation of NOS Cadillac parts as required. When shopping in America, Caddy Daddy USA is the place for reasonably priced parts accompanied by good helpful service. Complete rubberwares were supplied by Leigh Grigg, Automotive Technologies.
The final part of the restoration was the interior. The seats were retrimmed to my own design in white along with the door trims and inside the boot. The carpeting is a deep maroon. The dash is a reproduction in a white colour from Caddy Daddy in the US. The dash exhibits beautiful workmanship and would have been reasonably priced had the customs department not decided to put their hand in my pocket as well. Australia must be the only country in the world where they tax you on the tax you have already paid!!!
New side glass was cut and fitted into frames by Rav Borgo Windscreens O’Brien Ringwood. Finally after the car was lowered 3.5 inches all the way round to give it the longer, sleeker, more attitude look, it was off to VicRoads for some of that new full rego LHD deal. What a great idea - better late than never.
So that’s basically the story of my ‘pride and joy’. All seems so simple reduced to words on paper. I would like to thank my parents for their support in helping me achieve my goal: especially my Dad for instilling in me a love for all things automotive. Finally I would like to thank the Cadillac LaSalle Club of Victoria led by Ralph Plarre for their warm reception and kind comments in regards to my car (you’d be hard pressed to find a nicer bunch of people). Finally I’ll leave you with my theory in regards to undertaking a major restoration of an automobile. “A pessimist is rarely disappointed.” I’ll see you cruisin’.