AMERICAN cars of the 1950s and early 60s are famous for their dramatic, chrome-laden, jet-age styling and fantastic luxury. Such is their rocket booster-adorned wonder, they didn’t need heavy roof chops, radical facial surgery or custom rear ends.
This article was first published in Street Machine's Hot Rod magazine #20, 2019
Andrew Vella’s mild custom 1960 Cadillac Coupe de Ville is a perfect example of an understated overachiever. It had been a childhood dream for the Victorian to carry the keys to a ’59 or ’60 Caddy, and it took years of toil before he was able to snag this beauty, back when it was pretty much factory-fresh.
“I’ve dreamt of owning a 1960 Cadillac since I was eight years old,” Andrew says. “I remember always helping my dad and uncle in sheds building cars, and for some reason Cadillacs always fascinated me. I always got my dad to take pictures of me next to ’59-60 Cadillacs.”
“I went to the first-ever Kustom Nationals when I was 15,” recalls Andrew. “There was an amazing white 1959 de Ville on show. I said to Dad I would love to buy one of these someday. He told me I’d better work hard and start saving, so from that day, I put money away for a Cadillac”
Thanks to a yearly model cycle, most American full-size cars of the time had the resale value of a used nappy after only a couple of spins around the sun, but not Cadillacs. An icon of American luxury and success, ’59 and ’60 Coupe de Villes have always been highly prized and so have retained their value, meaning Andrew had his work cut out for him to get a clean example.
“In 2014 I was finally in a position to buy a Cadillac and found this 1960 Coupe de Ville in Adelaide, but when I called the owner, he’d already sold it,” Andrew says. “I saw it two months later listed on eBay and now located in Queensland, so I made arrangements with the seller to drive it down to Coolangatta, as my dad was there for Cooly Rocks On. Dad looked it over and said it was a good, clean Californian Cadillac with no rust, so I bought it and Dad drove it home.”
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“The running gear is exactly how it was, as it never gave me any problems at all,” Andrew says. “The only thing we did really was paint the engine bay and rocker covers. I found out it was a one-owner car from Glendale, California, brought to Australia in 2008 by a guy in Sydney”
After a couple of years enjoying his Caddy, Andrew’s time with his dream car turned into the proverbial nightmare. This wasn’t through mechanical maladies but at the hands of some low-life scumbag vandals.
“In 2016 the fuel gauge stopped working and we ran out of fuel in Tambo Upper, so we left the car there for no more than an hour as we went home and got a fuel can,” Andrew recalls. “When we got back, one of my wipers had been broken off, all the locks had been broken as they had tried to get in, and a big dollar sign was scratched into the boot. I was devastated.
“The Cadillac sat in my shed for about six months, but my family and I missed it. I knew if we started to fix it at home it would be another one of those projects that sat in our shed for 10 years, so I decided to take it to Southern Rod & Custom to have them paint it for me.”
“I used to drive it everywhere, and I pretty much drove it every day,” Andrew laughs. “My wife and I got married in it, and my kids loved going out for runs in it. I think my love for these cars is because they’re so big and bold. I find the ’60 models have a slightly sleeker look over the ’59”
It was at this point Andrew’s Caddy went from being another neat stocker to something far cooler. Andrew and Southern Rod & Custom boss Shane Rowe hatched a plan to give the huge coupe some more punch by enhancing the glamour GM built into its luxury line, without taking it over the top.
“Instead of the stock cream paint I wanted to go for more of a mild custom look, with a white roof over a red body, plus airbag suspension,” Andrew explains. “I always wanted a red and white Caddy, so I started looking at the PPG Vibrance range. Southern Rod & Custom took the body back to bare metal, while I got Albury Electroplaters to do all my chrome work and Grant Herschell from Ausam Wheels & Tyres to get me a set of top-quality whitewall tyres.”
One of the reasons the strawberries-and-cream colour combo works so well is due to the four-corner air suspension system that replaces the stock coil springs. Supplied by Air Ride Suspension in Melbourne, the Caddy runs AccuAir e-Level height management to keep everything legal and level, and offers super-slammed stance.
The stock Cadillac Coupe de Ville cabin is a plush place to be, with six-way electric seats, electric windows, a/c and power steering all factory fodder since the mid 50s. “It drives nicer than my Ford Ranger!” Andrew reckons. “The bloke who imported it got the interior done in Sydney, and it was one of the reasons I bought the car
“I just love that low look; it made the car,” Andrew explains. “I can actually cruise it all the way down at very slow speeds. If I could, I wouldn’t mind getting it a little bit lower so it sits on the sills, but that involves cutting the suspension out and a lot of work.”
After the car had lived at Southern Rod & Custom for approximately a year, Andrew picked up the reborn Coupe de Ville and had his socks knocked off.
“I picked the car up a week before Bright Rod Run and I couldn’t believe my eyes; the Caddy was stunning and everything was perfect, just as I imagined it,” he says. “I’m still overwhelmed by the attention it gets at shows we take it to. I drive the thing everywhere, and although it is a little hard keeping the seats clean with three kids in the back after a three-hour trip, that’s the fun of enjoying the car!”
1960 CADILLAC COUPE DE VILLE
Paint: PPG Vibrance Hell Fire
Brand: Cadillac 390ci
Induction: Stock 4bbl
’Box: 4-speed Hydramatic Jetaway
Front: AccuAir air suspension
Rear: AccuAir air suspension
Brakes: Stock drums (f & r)
Master Cylinder: Stock
Rims: Stock 15x6 (f & r)
Rubber: 8.20-15 wide-white bias-ply (f & r)
Southern Rod & Custom; everyone who helped out on the build; my friends and family