Leno: My ’57 Coupe de Ville takes me right back to childhood
I was working at The Tonight Show maybe 20 years ago when a guy called me up. “This Jay Leno?” he asked. I said it was, and the guy told me his name very fast and in a way that was hard to understand, and he ended it with something-Canal. Confused, I said, “How are you, Mr. Canal?” He said “No no, I’m a veteran; I was at Guadalcanal. Jay, I want to give you a car: a 1957 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.”
It’s not a call you get every day. I certainly don’t. Turns out this fellow lived up in Santa Clarita, not too far from me, and he insisted that he wanted to give me the car. I said, “Well, don’t you have any relatives?” Yeah, he said, a nephew. I asked if the nephew might want it, and this fellow replied, “He’s an a**hole! I’m not giving it to him!” I told him to give me a call in a week or 10 days—maybe he and his nephew might make up, you never know. “We’re not going to make up!” he shouted. A week went by and he called back, inviting me to come look at the car. I asked him how his nephew was doing, and he said, “He’s still an a**hole!”
Well, what could I do? I drove out to look at the car. It just barely ran and was a little rough, painted Buckskin Beige (that’s what Cadillac called it) and with a replacement Tijuana interior made of vinyl that looks like leather but not really. I told the owner that I felt bad taking the car from the nephew, and he said, “I don’t care if you feel bad, he’s an a**hole!” He kept saying over and over that his nephew is an a**hole. I hope the nephew isn’t reading this now. Anyway, finally I said all right, I’ll come back in two weeks; if you still don’t want it, I’ll take it from you. Two weeks later, he was still determined to give me the Cadillac, so we brought the car back here. Checking it out, we found a photo of the owner getting an award from then-President Clinton, so he really was a hero at Guadalcanal.
For the next two decades, the Cadillac sat way in the back of the garage while we did other projects. But I’ve always wanted to restore it, partly because it reminds me so much of when I was a kid. When I was about 9, my uncle owned a place called the Greentree Country Club in New Rochelle, New York. I remember my family would go to the club sometimes and I would watch these smooth operators pull up in Cadillacs and slip dollar tips in the valet’s pocket with a “Heeeey!” They’d have flashy clothes and slicked-back hair and cigarettes dangling, and I associate this car so much with that era and those memories.
So this year, we finally pulled it into the shop and went to work. Originally, I thought that we might make it electric, but then a couple of guys from the Cadillac club came by and said the ’57 Series 62 Coupe de Villes are relatively rare, so that convinced me just to restore it. It has all the options, including electric windows and electric seats—even an electric trunk—and the chrome was good, so we didn’t have to redo it. I decided Buckskin Beige wasn’t really my color, so we painted it a shade of dark blue that matches a Ferrari we had in here recently for the show. The only thing that isn’t stock is that we took out the old A/C compressor and put in a modern one from Vintage Air. Otherwise, the brakes are stock, the 365 V-8 is stock, and it’ll be a nice old driver.
I love cars from that era because when you go down the road in them, people jump—they literally freak out. Every car today is gray, silver, or black, and who even has chrome anymore? So to have something like a ’57 Cadillac go by is startling. They stand out so much in modern traffic. Cadillac was so invested in tailfins by this point that the ’57s offered three different styles: the Series 62s getting slanted-forward fins, the Eldorado Broughams with their famous stainless roofs sporting swept-back fins, and the Eldorado Biarritz convertibles having completely different sharklike fins.
And this car takes me right back to my childhood and the driveway of the Greentree Country Club. I just hope the valets there get more than a buck to park a Cadillac these days.
This article first appeared in Hagerty Drivers Club magazine. Click here to subscribe and join the club.
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