How I Ended up with “Pop’s” 1959 Cadillac
Photographer: Sean Mathis
My grandfather, whom I called “Pop,” originally bought this 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville in California. It was the family car while my dad was growing up but eventually the car fell out of use and was stashed away under a tarp in Pop’s shop. As a kid, I would wander into the garage and drool over the car, but I never even sat in it, much less saw it on the road.
When I was 20, Pop passed away. The car remained in the shop, pulled out once for a cousin’s wedding but then stashed back under the cover. Being the only car enthusiast in our family, I spent most of the next ten years trying to take ownership of the car, offering to purchase it from my grandmother on several occasions. She always turned down my offers. At one point, she even told me that she would rather keep the car in the family than sell it to me. It was at this point that I knew her mind was starting to go and I gave up all hope of ever owning Pop’s car.
Grandma passed away in 2014 and, in her will, she directed that her estate be split evenly between her two sons–my father and my uncle. Well, that’s it, I thought to myself. They’ll sell the Cadillac and some random person will soon be driving around in Pop’s car.
A few months later, however, my dad called me and asked, completely out of the blue, if I still was interested in that old Cadillac.
“Of course!” I answered, likely before he’d finished asking the question.
As it turned out, my dad, sharing my reluctance to let the car leave the family, had bought out his brother’s stake in Pop’s car so that he could give it to me.
I soon realized that my struggles with this car had just begun. Until recently, I had spent my entire life in California and Idaho, never far from Pop, his shop, and the Cadillac. Just before this transfer-of-ownership, however, I had moved to North Carolina and thus faced the challenge of having an 18-foot car transported across the country. After a month of puzzling over logistics, I finally went down to the local Food Lion parking lot to meet my Cadillac.
As I drove into the parking lot, I instantly discovered what owning this car entails: within minutes I had offers from passersby to purchase the car. Employees came out of the stores just to see it up close. With all the attention and hoopla, I was concerned that the car might find a way to let me down and that I’d have to have it towed back to my house. After a bit of encouragement, however, it started up and rolled off the transporter.
I signed the paperwork and started home, filled with a powerful mix of emotions. Despite lusting over this car for my entire life, I had never even sat behind the wheel, and yet here I was, driving it. I was distracted, too, because something felt…wrong. Even when I stepped on the gas, the car just seemed to drag. Oh, that’s why, I realized: the parking brake was engaged. If only all car problems were so easily fixed.
As I pulled up to my house, I quickly realized my next unsolved puzzle. Would this 18 feet of Americana fit in my garage? I backed the car up the driveway and into the garage, as close to the wall as possible on the passenger side. Finally, with about a pinky finger’s worth of space between the car’s back bumper and the wall, I managed to get the garage door down.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I was so giddy that I stayed up all night, cleaning the car and giving it the much needed love it deserved. The next weekend I took it to a car show that I had just learned about 45 minutes earlier and took home a Top 20 award. Since then, I have attended every local car show and parade I can find and the Cadillac has been a champ, requiring only an oil change and a new battery. I even have the original California license plate that reads “4POPS59,” and have since gotten a North Carolina one to match.
As the weather warms up this spring, I’ll be hitting the road in my Cadillac, taking it to more distant car shows, using it to raise money for charity, and mostly just sharing my excitement with others. And further down the proverbial road, I’ll see that my son owns it.
Editor’s Note: You can follow Sean’s adventures with his grandfathers Cadillac at his website or on Facebook.
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