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John Campbell's 1961 Coupe de Ville

'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 … this 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 road… 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 Beach.

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 hardly wait.

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!

John Campbell.