Leno: My ’57 Coupe de Ville takes me right back to childhood

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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!”

1957 Cadillac Coupe De Ville front
This 1957 Cadillac Coupe De Ville isn’t Jay Leno’s … but it is a beauty. Mecum

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.

1957 Cadillac Coupe De Ville interior
Mecum

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.

1957 Cadillac Coupe De Ville engine
Mecum

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.

1957 Cadillac Coupe De Ville rear
Mecum

This article first appeared in Hagerty Drivers Club magazine. Click here to subscribe and join the club.

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Comments

    While everyone fawns over the 59 Fins I always found these cars to be the once I loved the best. The late 40’s to 58 to me were the sweet spot for Cadillac.

    My Great uncle who was a GM engineer used to buy a new one every year. I still have the owners manual and vanity mirror from his 57. Once the 59 arrived he snubbed it and went Buick after that.

    Jay has an amazing car here and I would love to drive it it any place with pride. These cars are just so easily overlooked.

    I’m thinking that the car pictured isn’t actually the one Jay owns. He mentioned in the text that he settled on a deep blue color. Whatever, the one pictured is a beautiful car and one of the best body styles they ever produced.
    As for Jay himself, I had purchased tickets to see his standup performance here in Spokane later this month. Was very disappointed when I was informed that the show had been canceled. Hopefully he can reschedule at a later time.

    Yes, odd that the photos are of a different car. The pictures, with all the deciduous trees in the background, were definitely not taken in southern California.

    The most attractive year, to my eye. The Eldorado Brougham though – best looking Cadillac ever.
    Not sure it should be a non-original color, but that’s better than making it electric – heresy !
    Sadly, there are way too many folks in CA like the nephew – I just couldn’t take it any more and left there in 2004…

    Yeah! Why is Hagerty showing pictures of someone else’s car. I had to re-read the article a couple of times because of the color reference in the article. As “Sleepy Joe” would say, “C’mon Man!”. Other that that, another great article.

    This appears to be a car at The Mecum (?). Hummm. Editor–“Helloooooo?” I am SO happy that Mr. Leno did NOT electrify this beautiful car. Anyone (ANYONE) can put an electric motor into a car–but not everyone can bring a treasure back from the lost and found and restore it to its rightful beauty and usefulness!

    The story also mentioned that the A/C compressor was replaced with a Vintage Air one, but the pic shows a stock unit (and tri-power also not mentioned in the story).

    I was 17 in 1966 , my dad bought a 57 caddy 4door in a bar for 150.00 and it was for me . Baby blue and a lot of chrome. Drove it for a couple of years . The right side lower a frame fell down 2 times . Water pump went bad , that was a 2 day job replacing that . Finally bought a 57 bel air , caddy went to junk yard .

    My Dad bought his 57 Coupe de Ville in 1959. Up until then he bought new Buicks with the last one being a 55 Super 2 Dr. hardtop. He switched to Cadillac after my mother got the job of bookkeeper at the local Cadillac/Oldsmobile dealer, White Rose Motors in York, PA. It is my favorite Cadillac because I took my Driver’s test in it on my 16th Birthday, September 20, 1963.

    I think the 57 tail fins are the best of the 50s Cadillac fins. Just restrained enough, and the forward cant of them makes the car seem a little more sporty.

    Great story here. I was 12 then & I had started paying attention to cars the same year. I also got my first car, a 1949 Chevy Styleline 4 door that my Dad helped me get. It cost $50, it ran. The deal was that Dad put in $30 & I had to come up with $20. I mowed lawns & sold White Cloverine suave door to door & the deal was done ! I fooled around in or back yard for few years, it was a great time. Some of the parts from that car on the 1950 Chevy Fleetline I have now. Those were great times back then & I know that my fellow readers think the same way. Wonderful cars of of the era & great times !

    I put more than 146,000 miles on a PINK ’57 Caddie convertible. Drove it from San Antonio to LA in one day. It only required tranny work and exhaust replacement during its tenure. Great car for night clubbing – just park it up on the sidewalk – everyone thought it could belong to Elvis or Sugar Ray or someone of similar note and left it alone.

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