'61s do it for me! '59s and '60s are too outrageous, and for '62
onwards, nothing except the '67 Eldorado and late model Sevilles get my
heart racing. A '61 combines that famous jet-age "exhaust port" tail
lights, and the elegance of the thin-pillared rear window on the Coupe
de Villes. I think it is one of the better balanced Cadillac designs
from the Earl/Mitchell/Glowacke/Kady group of designers.
I've been an American car nut for as long as I can remember
eventually leading to the purchase of a '63 Chevy Impala 4 door hardtop.
Not just any old limp-wristed, small-block engined cruiser, but a
no-air-con, no-power-steering solid lifter 409 big-block with
in-your-face triple, 2-barrel Rochesters and a 4 speed Saginaw manual
gearbox! This monster idled like a locomotive, and bellowed and roared
as soon as the boot was sunk down with financially catastrophic
results. 6 miles per gallon thirst was an awesome problem, with one 280
km round trip at 60 mph most of the way cost $94 in petrol!
Stop light drags with pimply kids in pretend HSV Commodores were like
taking lollies from a baby, and I never got a second run at the next set
of lights funny that! Changed personal circumstances forced me to
store the Impala, and it was during this time that I received a letter
post-marked "Huntington Beach, California".
The writer was an ex-pat Aussie, John Coulman, who had spent the best
part of seven years restoring the Impala when he lived in Victoria. His
marriage then broke up, and his ex-wife sold the car out from under him
when he emigrated to the U.S.A. and re-married. I bought it, and after
three years of tracking me down, he wanted to know whether I still owned
it. Indeed I did. He asked whether, by any chance, I would be interested
in selling or swapping it. We agreed to swap if he could find me a good
'61 Coupe de Ville. He did, and one warm morning in June, '98, my
father-in-law and I waited at Interport in the Brisbane Hamilton Docks
for the Cadillac I had only seen in pictures.
She was filthy! Covered from head to tyre in dust and with partly
clouded windows. I put the trade plate on the back and spent 10 minutes
finding out how to release the foot brake, selected "drive", and moved
out onto Kingsford Smith Drive in early morning, peak hour traffic.
Three electric windows inoperative; brakes spongy; electric aerial
inoperative; tyres under-inflated, causing her to wander all over the
I couldn't get over how smooth and quiet she was compared to the
snarling Chevy. I wondered why it had two drives on the shift pattern,
but soon found out that one selected fourth gear. Driving down our
street I hit the horns to wake up my fiance, but instead of the blaring
dual note I expected, a wheezing bleat issued forth another thing to
look at! I parked her under the house and went to work.
The following weekend we scrubbed her and vacuumed out the interior,
taking a good, long look at what we'd bought.
One of the first four thousand of a total production of over twenty
thousand, our Coupe de Ville was first purchased in December, 1960 by
Grace Hayes, a B-grade movie actress who shouted herself a new Cadillac
when she got her first big part. Finished in Ebony Black with Black
Coronel cloth and White Florentine leather trim, our CDV came with power
ventipanes, factory air conditioning, E-Z-Eye glass, fog lamps, power
six-way seat, heater, radio, white wall tyres and Autronic Eye, making
for a list price of $5,255 blow out to $6,378. Owned and driven by Miss
Hayes until her death in 1992, our CDV was then bought by a young kid
who had her re-sprayed and re-trimmed in original colour and patterns
before my American/Australia friend found her in a yard in Huntington
My parents met my in-laws for the first time, and we spent two hours
poring over our Coupe de Ville. A few squirts of WD40 got the windows
and the ventipanes working again; we replaced the blown A/C fuse, and
stood back amazed as cold air gushed from the vents in the dash. The
aerial shot up and down like a champion after we lubed the mast and we
laughed like drains mucking about with the power seat.
A couple of days later, I was three-point turning the CDV around the
back yard when the brake booster expired with a boom, requiring me to
use both feet with full force on the brake pedal to stop 5000 pounds of
Cadillac from mowing down my neighbours' fence, choko vine, tomato vines
and out-door barbecue setting! I've just found out that '61 booster kits
are impossible to get (HELP
ANYONE!), so it looks like an HQ Holden
item modified with the '61's vacuum tee will be the go.
The rear main seal leaks, and there's an annoying short in the LHF
parking lamp/repeater light wiring, but it won't be long before she's
back on the road. We moved house last December, and after a torrid day
spent packing boxes and cleaning, Simone and I settled into the
Cadillac, fired her up, and gently cruised the two blocks to our new
home allowing extra room for braking due to no power assistance. We
still had the black and yellow California plates that Grace Hayes had
fitted in 1963, over which she had put every year's registration sticker
after that. The LHF headlight wobbled slightly due to a broken adjuster,
but this little trip whetted our appetite for future cruises, and we can
There are always a number of people that you thank in the preparation of
a car. As well as thanking my fell Queensland Caddy Club members, I'd
also like to particularly thank Tony Brearley from the N.S.W. North
Coast whose generosity, founts of information, and magnificent
re-engineered '61 CDV have made things so much more easy. Another is my
good mate, John Williams with whom I matched Impalas once and did the
"Wedding from Hell"! I keep saying his '63 CDV isn't finned enough, but
when finished, it will be a stunning car and will be even more enjoyable
to drive than it already is.
I hope you enjoyed my story See you on the streets!