It's Never Too Late
1965 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham
My dad absolutely loved this car. It was always garaged and washed by hand weekly. To me, out of all the cars my dad owned, this one is the epitome of him. He drove it almost daily, and it was the car I grew up in. In fact, my parents got married in this car in the early 1970s. My dad owned this great Cadillac for nearly twenty years, but sold it in early 1988 to the mailman for a measly $1500.00. My dad sold it because by that time he had a few other cars, and as usual, space was tight, especially for a big Cadillac like the Fleetwood. It was still in fine condition, but he felt it might be time to let it go because the engine had accumulated around 121K miles. Rather than taking a chance of having the engine undergo an expensive rebuilt, we sold it instead.
I believe he always regretted it; I know I certainly did. The car was so beautiful, smooth, and dependable, even in the late 1980s. But thatís the way it goes. We figured it was gone, never to be seen again.
Or so we thought! Fast-forward to 1997, and this story takes a unique turn. Iím out one night with my friend Don, also an avid car lover, and he spots an old black Cadillac sedan. He points it out to me, knowing I have a soft spot for these cars. I noticed it was a í65 Fleetwood like my dadís, but whatís even more amazing is that it had the same black and gold California license plate which I vividly remembered: PJZ538 . It's not only like his...it was his! We ended up doing an illegal turn and started following and trying to catch up to the Caddy. When we finally caught up and met the driver in a parking lot, he was irate, wondering why two guys were following him for several miles at eleven-o-clock at night. Turned out that the driver was the same mailman my dad had sold the car to almost ten years earlier. The mailman, named Marco, and the car both looked a bit tattered from the last time I saw them, but were definitely a welcomed sight to see. It was nice to see the old Cadillac again. The engine still sounded good, despite the very faded paint and starting to decay vinyl top. I asked Marco if he wanted to sell the old Fleetwood, but he gave a solid "No," explaining he loved the car too much and liked the attention it always got. I gave him my phone number and insisted he call me should he ever get the itch to sell. We shook hands, and that was that.
Soon after, I became obsessed with the thoughts and memories of our Ď65 Fleetwood. But the years came and went, and I even moved from Los Angeles to the San Luis Obispo area, which is about 3 hours away. In that time, I never did hear from Marco about selling my dadís old Cadillac back to me. I figured it was a lost cause.
Immediately, I tried phoning the seller to see if the car was still available. After numerous attempts and voicemails, the owner and I finally were able to talk about the car. He had no pictures, so I had zero idea of the carís condition. We set up a meeting to view the Cadillac, and that rush of excitement was back again. I called up Don, and the both of us made the trip out to Riverside to see my dadís old car. We drove on for what seemed hours, and finally came up to the neighborhood where the car was located. We quickly spotted the Fleetwoodís enormous taillights sticking out from behind a minivan. There it was! Finally after all these years I was going to be reunited with our old family car. However, what I was about to see was far from the favorable memories I had.
The whole thing was a mess. The padded vinyl top was now gone. In fact, it looked like it was purposely removed and crudely primered. The interior was nothing but shreds of red leather. Yellow insulation was broken up and pouring out everywhere. The headliner was non existent. All the door panels were removed and replaced with zebra patterned cloth. This hideous fabric was also draped across the dashboard. In an attempt to make the car lower, the suspension coils were cut, causing the rear to essentially sit on the ground. It was so low, it could barely back out of the driveway. Which leads to the next question. Did it run? Well, that depends on your definition of "run."
The old Caddy barely started and had a low rumble to it, mostly due to the aftermarket glass pack exhaust the owner had installed. Obviously somewhere along the line, Marco, the mailman had sold the car to this individual, a kid who tried to make it a "cool cruiser" but absolutely had no clue to any sort of good taste.
We tried to drive it, but it barely was mobile. The car sat so low, that the turning of the driveshaft was hitting against the bottom of the floor pan. It was terrible and definitely not the way my dad would have envisioned the car in his worst nightmare. I almost wanted to cry. It was a pretty bad experience and my heart sank. I had a soft spot and an enormous sentimental attachment to this car, but it wasnít the same anymore. So what was I to do? To pass on it would be the wise thing, but that would mean burying the torch and just remembering the good times. So I did the sensible car collector thing: I made him an offer. The price this kid had for the Caddy was $5000. Obviously an absurd price and an extra zero too many. However because of my sentimental attachment, I regrettably offered $3000 in exchange for a piece of my family history. The kid almost laughed, assuring me this was a "classic" and that he was "giving it away at Five ĎGs." Well, that wasnít going to work, sentiment or not. I left a bit sad, but also heavily relieved because I finally found the old car and I did the best I could. Now maybe, just maybe, I could put this thing behind me for good.
So of course I phoned up Don again, and asked if heíd like to go with me to see the Cadillac. Always up for a good roadtrip, he said "yes," and I put an itinerary together. I got directions to this vague area, which is essentially in the middle of nowhere, in the desert, on an Indian reservation. There were barely even any named streets; just paths and dirt roads. After a few hours of leaving Los Angeles, we finally arrived at the street where the Fleetwood was apparently located. We looked all over at what few houses were there, but no Cadillac. Finally, glancing over in the opposite direction, in a big pasture next to a log cabin, there it was! The big Fleetwood, still with its primered roof, lowered rear, and faded paint. We quickly turned the rental car around and made our way towards the beast. Driving slowly up the dirt road towards the big Cadillac, all sorts of emotions were running wild. I was very excited. We got out and looked at the carís condition. As already anticipated, it was in a poor state. Justin came out and to my surprise, he didnít recognize either myself or Don. That was a relief because that meant we could start fresh as perspective buyers.
Upon trying to start the Cadillac, the battery was dead, so we jumped it, but there was barely enough gas in the tank to sustain an idle. But in the brief seconds that I did hear the engine, it still sounded decent. That was reassuring. I knew the car wouldnít get any better. Cosmetically it was shot, but at least the motor ran and it was still relatively complete. I still wanted to buy it, against all thoughts of better judgment. What made my decision a little easier this time though, was that the price was lower. After some financial woes, a couple of kids under his belt, and loss of employment, Justinís overly confident idea of "classic" was a bit more humble this time around. The "firm" price of $5000 four years ago was now lowered to an asking price of $2200, which led to a purchase price of $2000 , a hand-shake, and a call for a flat bed tow-truck.
So there it is. After more than ten years of searching for the family heirloom my dad sold twenty years ago to the mailman, the Fleetwood was finally back in our possession. These pictures depict the day Don and I found the car in Anza and purchased it on the spot from Justin in December 2007. What a Christmas present.
My dad passed away in January 2003, but Iím sure he would be proud that the car he loved and took care of for twenty years was found and purchased back by his son. PJZ538 will eventually be restored and brought back to its former glory of how I remember it in those days playing in the garage.