In 1953, three of General Motors’ auto divisions celebrated their 50th anniversary. Buick, Oldsmobile and Cadillac released beautiful models for the occasion. The top of the line of GM’s top line that year was the Cadillac Eldorado which sold for $7,750 or about $80,925 in today’s dollars. It was America’s most expensive car, but only 532 were made, apparently because of the price.
However, it was a good year for the US auto industry, which sold more than six million vehicles, 42.7% of which were GM. Styling and horsepower were big factors in growing car sales. The lighter overhead valve engines were introduced and by 1953 half of the cars produced had automatic transmissions.
Cadillac by then had entrenched itself as “The Standard of the World” by surpassing Packard, the previous standard. The famous “fishtail” taillight, which debuted with the 1948 Cadillac models, was well established in 1953 and became the industry style trend well into the late 1950s. Cadillac used a 331 cubic inch engine with 160 horsepower and was one of the fastest cars of the day. The engine was paired with GM’s four-speed Hydramatic transmission, but due to a Hydramatic factory fire, some 1953 models used Buick’s Dynaflow transmission.
Edward Glowacke was the chief designer of the 1953 Cadillac and many considered it one of the most beautiful cars ever built. It was certainly America’s number one status vehicle. The Coupe de Ville was a closed vehicle, but had the flamboyant style of a pillarless hardtop-style convertible. It had two bench seats with a folding armrest for the rear seat. The car came with a large gold-plated “V” on the hood and trunk to emphasize the engine type. The front bumper guards were enlarged and were sometimes called Dagmar bumper guards in reference to the actress of that name.
The headlights had a light hood and there were perpendicular vents behind the doors that added to the distinctive beauty of this luxury vehicle. Even the headliner had chrome arches to simulate the interior of a convertible top.
This week’s feature is a 1953 Cadillac Coupe de Ville owned by Chip Sparks and his wife, Nicki, of Danville. Chip’s father bought the car in 1955 and Chip bought it about 50 years ago. The owner has spent a significant amount of money to keep this car looking the way it is today. He was slowly renovating the car when a disaster happened about nine years ago. A fire in their garage severely devastated the uninsured Cadillac.
“So we decided we would just open the garage door and throw money at it,” Nicki said. There was nothing for it but to start the renovation again. Surprisingly, it went fairly quickly, about two years, but with classic cars the restoration was never really done. The body was in order, but the paint was burnt.
“The chrome was gone, the interior was gone,” Chip explained. Fortunately, the engine, transmission and other mechanical parts were not damaged. “But after the fire, we couldn’t live in the house anymore,” he said. We were gone for about six months.”
The Cadillac was immediately towed to a body shop in Oakland to begin the restoration.
“All the chrome had to be redone and the interior redone by an upholstery shop,” he added. “The interior wasn’t burned because the windows were open. It looked pretty good, but it was damaged from the smoke.”
The car was of course completely repainted and executed in period-correct colors of a light green bottom and a dark green top. All electronics and wiring also had to be replaced.
“It was done fairly quickly, as the bodybuilder didn’t want the car to stand and neither did the upholstery shop. The only problem was with the (chrome) plater as they don’t plat in California anymore. You have to go to Mexico, where things get lost and the quality isn’t as good as it used to be.”
Once finished, to further enjoy their classic car, the owners added air conditioning, a sunroof and an AM/FM/CD radio. This Cadillac has definitely been used, it has over 250,000 miles on three different engines. It is currently powered by a 350 Chevy V8 along with the appropriate GM four-speed Hydramatic transmission.
The only things I noticed that didn’t match the original specs were the big, bold “V” on the hood and truck. After considering the cost of gilding the two “V” symbols, the Sparks couple decided to paint those symbols in the top dark green color of the car, which looks great against the light green body. Only about 1,000 miles a year is currently driven, mainly to auto shows and special events, but there are no plans to sell this beauty.
Do you have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com. Visit mercurynews.com/author/david-krumboltz to view more photos of the vehicles affected by this and other issues or to read more of Dave’s columns.