Cadillac, Cadillac. Long and dark, shiny and black ...*
Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 tour car


Elvis with his 1956 Harley KH, 1955 Fleetwood 60, 1954 Fleetwood 75 and 1954 Series 62 convertible - May 1956

Photo by Phil Harrington courtesy Shorpy, colorization by FECC/rizzy56

Early in 1956 Elvis bought a 1954 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine, described as light blue in color (likely Newport or possibly Azure blue) from Southern Motors, Inc. in Memphis. Seating eight and equipped with a roof rack, it would be utilized extensively as a tour vehicle for the band and entourage in 1956 and less, obviously, in 1957.


1955 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine auctioned as previously owned by Elvis - Oct. 2011
Photo by Theo Civitello courtesy Bonham's

It was the fourth Cadillac he had purchased and one of three that he owned at the time, the others being the 1955 pink and white (originally blue and black) Series 60 he bought the previous July to replace the Cadillac that burned, and the 1954 Apollo Gold (yellow) Series 62 convertible coupe purchased sometime around the previous September. Reputed sales documentation for a used 1955 Series 75 dated January of 1956 and auctioned in recent years reported that with $600 down, his father Vernon, ironically, co-signed the sale.  By June he would own his fifth, a 1956 Eldorado Biarritz special ordered  from Texas and by years end there would be more.


Reupholstered black leather seat in the 1955, and Elvis in Hollywood with his 1954 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine - June 1956
Photos by Theo Civitello courtesy Bonham's, and D.J. Fontana


The steering column and dashboard with 55,699 reading on the odometer in the 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine - Nov. 2011
Photo Jerry Garret

Over 140,000 Cadillacs were sold in 1955, of which 1,075 were the Series 75 Fleetwood. The Series 75 limousine was first introduced in 1936 and offered in various generations through the 1980s, this one was considered the fifth. The 1955 model featured a redesigned grill with the parking lamps repositioned directly below the headlights. The trim of the long wheelbase model was distinctive from other lines. A horizontal rub molding ran from the front parking light housings to the trailing edge of the front door and stopped. A full length vertical air slot-style fender break molding was placed directly behind the rear gap of the back doors.1 In 1956 Bill Black is pictured with the touring Fleetwood, the parking light configuration confirms it to be a 1954. 


The clock in the backseat of the 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine auctioned as Elvis' - Oct. 2011
Photo by Theo Civitello courtesy Bonham's

It featured a high headroom appearance and auxiliary seats for extra passenger carrying capacity. A base 331 cubic inch V8 engine put out an increased 250 horsepower while an optional dual-four barrel carburetor setup boasted 270 hp. A Hydramatic automatic transmission was now standard equipment.1 The one auctioned as Elvis' featured the optional dual-four barrel carburetors.


Bill checks under the hood of the 1954 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine in 1956, under the hood of the '55 in 2011
Photos D.J. Fontana, and by Theo Civitello courtesy Bonham's


Bill with tour car showing it to be a 1954 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine - 1956
Photo D.J. Fontana

Cadillac serial number(s) are stamped on both the engine and the frame and are decoded this way. The first two digits designate the model year ("55" for 1955), the second two the series ("75" for Series 75 Fleetwood) and the last five (or six) is referred to as the broadcast number and indicates the order in which the car was completed in final assembly. For example, this Series 75 auctioned as Elvis' bore the number 557547481 indicates it was a 1955 Series 75 Fleetwood with a batch build of 47481. His pink Series 60 Special Fleetwood bears bears the number 556013810 and the 54 convertible would be 5462????? to designate a 1954 Series 62.  The body style number, body number, and paint and trim numbers are stamped on a plate attached to the right side of the cowl under the hood near the hinge.2


Elvis in the back of his Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine - 1956, and the auxiliary rear seats of the 1955 in 2011
Photos D.J. Fontana, and Jerry Garrett


The rear seat of the auctioned 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine - Oct. 2011
Photo by Theo Civitello courtesy Bonham's

Scotty said when Elvis first bought the 1954 tour car, he said it was so they could get in and out of town relatively unnoticed, the color of which not attracting much attention.  Contrary to that he had had it painted "Canary yellow" at some point, possibly between August and October of '56.  Peter Guralnick wrote that Scotty and Bill drove to Shreveport in December of 1956 "in the big yellow Cadillac limo" for their last Hayride commmitment.3  The Ottawa newspapers also reported that both his pink and his yellow Cadillacs had been driven there and parked at the hotel when Elvis arrived by train in April of 1957. His 1954 yellow convertible had been traded in the summer of 1956 for a lavendar Lincoln Premiere.


Elvis and the 1954 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine - Oct. 18, 1956
Photo by Robert Williams source Bilingual Biographer

It was also "rumored" to have been painted black and later to have been used as a utility vehicle at Graceland even for transporting chickens, ducks and other fowl.4 Just when and how it left Elvis' possession or its eventual disposition is not exactly clear though this car was likely traded or sold sometime before he returned from the Army in 1960, or earlier. Marty Lacker who began his employ in 1960 has no recollection of this vehicle being at Graceland. However, by 1958 at least, Elvis owned a 1957 black Series 75. During the 1990s, a black 1955 Cadillac Series 75 claimed to have been owned by Elvis was on display at the Elvis Presley Museum.


A Conditional Sale contract for the 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine said to be Elvis' included in auction
Photo courtesy Bonham's


Inside back cover for the 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine owners manual auctioned
Photo courtesy Bonham's

In September of 1999 that car was listed by the former auction company of Kruse International, for sale as lot No. 3329 though the vehicle was not actually at the auction. It was later on permanent exhibit at the Elvis-A-Rama Museum in Las Vegas until 2006. The following year, on August 18, 2007, the car was sold by RM Auctions for $275,000 in Monterey.4 The sales have included the spare tire, lug wrench and jack in addition to a sales contract and an original 1955 Cadillac Owners Manual with Elvis Presley 1034 Audubon Ave. Memphis, Tenn. handwritten on the inside back cover, though not in Elvis' handwriting apparently nor bearing his correct address for when he reputedly bought it.


The Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine parked in the side alley in St. Petersburg, FL - Aug. 1956
Photo Bob Moreland courtesy Ger Rijff''s "The Cool King"


Scotty, Gordon Stoker and Hugh Jarrett in Jacksonville, FL load up the limo for the trip to the next gig - Aug. 1956
Photo Jay B. Leviton courtesy Ger Rijff';s "Elvis Close Up"

At that time the car was purchased by John O'Quinn, a flamboyant Houston attorney who made his money and his reputation taking on wealthy corporations winning billions in verdicts against makers of breast implants, pharmaceuticals and tobacco products. At the time he was was considered by experts as possessing one of the world's best and largest vintage auto collections. In addition to spending lavishly on himself, he did so also on philanthropic causes and Democratic campaigns. O'Quinn was killed almost two years later, in October of 2009, in an automobile accident near Houston and his will left most of his estate to his foundation, which drew a lawsuit filed by his live-in girlfriend.5&6

 


Foldaway auxiliary seats in the 1955 in  2011, and Scotty and Elvis with the 1954 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine in 1956

When Elvis bought the limo Scotty said it was so they could easily slip in and out of town more easily, though any limo often stood out in some of the smaller towns they visited. Oddly enough, Elvis later had it  repainted a bright yellow which Scotty said "made it look like a big canary." They would joke with him saying "Way to go Elvis! No one will ever notice us now."

Photos by Theo Civitello courtesy Bonham's, and D.J. Fontana


The 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine said to be Elvis' - Oct. 2011
Photo by Theo Civitello courtesy Bonham's

By the time of settlement in January of 2012, more than 600 cars from his collection had been auctioned off, including the reputed Elvis Cadillac. As of January of 2012, O'Quinn's estate still included about 175 vehicles.5 The Cadillac was sold at auction in Los Angeles by Bonhams, Lot #19466, on November 12, 2011 for $172,000 which included the buyers premium. In early October, Houston area wedding and automotive photographer, Theo Civitello was contacted to photograph several cars from O'Quinn's estate, including the 1955 Fleetwood 75. Many of his photos are displayed on this page.


The stage in Tacoma, WA with what appears to be the '54 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine parked behind - Sep. 1, 1957
Photo courtesy Roger Ersson


Scotty with the '54 Cadillac limo towing Elvis' Isetta back to Memphis - 1957
Photo D.J. Fontana


The 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood Series 75 Limousine in Hollywood for the auction - Nov. 2011
Photo Jerry Garrett

Page added June 21, 2013

* lyric from the song "Cadillac Ranch" by Bruce Springsteen
1 according to wikipedia
2 courtesy of the Modified Chapter of the Cadillac & LaSalle Club
3 according to Peter Guralnick in Last Train to Memphis
4 according to Elvis's Cadillacs website
5 according to Texas lawyer took on breast implants, tobacco, and he thrived The Washington Post - November 1, 2009
6 according to John O'Quinn's estate finally moves closer to resolution by Mike Tolson, Houston Chronicle - January 5, 2012


Southern Motors, Inc.
Memphis, TN


business card from Southern Motors autographed by Elvis
courtesy Tom Grisham

Elvis' penchant for buying cars, and also giving them to family and friends, especially Cadillacs, is well known. One of the leading Cadillac dealers in Memphis where Elvis, and many others, bought their Cadillacs, was Southern Motors, Inc. It was located at 341 Union Avenue, two blocks west and across street from Sun Studios between Union and Gayoso at the corner of Danny Thomas Boulevard. It was where he bought the pink painted 1955 Fleetwood 60 that is still on display at Graceland.


Carl Perkins and Sam Phillips with a 1956 Coupe De Ville at Southern Motors in Memphis - ca. 1956
Photo courtesy web

According the Mike and Cindy Hazen, Robert Short, a salesman and sales manager, estimated that Elvis bought thirty cars from him there alone. In 1966 Southern Motors was sold to Bert Madison who renamed it Madison Cadillac. One of many auto dealers on that part of Union Avenue, it had the most distinctive showroom and an eight-foot-tall stuffed polar bear stood on display facing the street. They kept Elvis's patronage over the years by catering to his odd habits. If necessary the salesmen would keep the showroom open after hours so Elvis could shop undisturbed.1


Elvis and entourage at Madison Cadillac on Union Ave. - ca. 1975
Photo courtesy FECC/Kingcandids

During one visit on July 27, 1975, while buying Cadillacs at Madison, he made headlines:


$11,500 gift

Mrs. Mennie Person, Memphis Tenn., admires the birthday gift Elvis Presley bought for her this week. (UPI Photo)

Memphis woman gets car from Elvis for birthday

Memphis, Tenn. (UPI) - The grand gesture, it seems, is not dead after all.
Mrs. Mennie L. Person, a teller at a Memphis banks, said she was admiring a custom-made limousine outside a downtown Cadillac agency Sunday night. "I had my head over in it looking at it and he came out of the back parking lot and asked if I liked it," Mrs. Pearson said.
"He" was Elvis Presley.
While she was "still standing there with my mouth open," she managed to compliment the auto.
"He said, 'That one's mine, but I'll buy you one,'" the woman said. "He caught me by the arm and carried me back to the parking lot where he had come from and told me to 'Pick one out.'"
Presley told an officer of the dealership to "put it on the list" and continued talking to Mrs. Person, learning among other things that her birthday is today.
As the rock star handed her the keys to the car he wished her happy birthday, Mrs. Person said, and told an aide to write her a check for an undisclosed amount "to buy some clothes to go with the car."
Mrs. Person said she chose a gold and white El dorado, which lists for about $11,500.
Presley has been quite expansive lately. during the past weekend, he bought a turboprop airplane valued at about $1.2 million as a gift to his manager, Col. Tom Parker.

Salina Journal  - Tuesday, July 29, 1975


The former Southern Motors/Madison Cadillac lot on Union Ave. - Dec 11, 2011
Photo James V. Roy

The dealership remained there while Madison owned it until 1986, when it was sold and relocated to 2177 Covington Pike.1 Since then, the dealership changed hands, and names, several times until lastly, as Cadillac-Saab of Memphis, relocated again in 2002. The original building on Union Ave is still there and, for awhile at least, became Pyramid Tire and Auto Service center. Most recently it housed BHN Corporation, a specialty subcontractor that specialized in the design, fabrication and installation of complex aluminum storefronts, curtain walls, metal wall panel and metal roof systems but since 2011 has remained vacant.


The former Southern Motors/Madison Cadillac building and lot on Union Ave. - Dec 11, 2011
Photo James V. Roy


The former Southern Motors/Madison Cadillac building and lot on Union Ave. - Aug 2, 2013
Photo James V. Roy

section added June 21, 2013

It should be noted, that with all the cars that Elvis owned, bought and gave away to friends, family, associates and strangers, he never did so for any of his bandmates Scotty, Bill or DJ. That struck a chord with Ronnie McDowall and in 2004 he spearheaded an effort to rectify it.

1 according to or excerpt from Memphis Elvis-Style by Cindy and Mike Hazen



Cadillac Ranch - Bruce Springsteen and the E St. Band


1956 Lincoln Premiere


Elvis with his 1956 Lavender Lincoln Premiere at home on Audubon Drive. - ca. July 1956
Photo courtesy Jim Curtin's Candids of the King

On July 21, 1956 after returning from Biloxi, Elvis traded his yellow 1954 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible for this 1956 lavender Lincoln Premiere.


Elvis' 1956 Lavender Lincoln Premiere (believed to be ) at the Gulf Hills Resort in Ocean Springs, MS. - ca. Aug. 1, 1956
Photo courtesy Elvis Album

The car was short lived. Only weeks later, on August 4th, while on his last tour of Florida, Elvis traded it for a 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II.

section added July 7, 2013

 

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