1959 Cadillac Coupe deVille: reader resto

By: Scott Muray with Robert Zandegu, Photography by: Robert Zandegu

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Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac
Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac
Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac
Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac
Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac
Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac
Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac
Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac
Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac
Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac
Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac
Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac
Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac
Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac
Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac
Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac

Excessive, space-age styling from the 1950s captured Robert Zandegu's imagination. Now he has his own retro-rocket

1959 Cadillac Coupe deVille: reader resto
Robert Zandegu's 1959 Cadillac

 

Reader restoration: 1959 Cadillac

Big Cadillacs, with their brash styling, have always appealed to me. I love the fins and chome of the late 1950s and in particular the aesthetics of the Coupe deVille. I thought that if I was to ever own one, the ’59 was the one to have. After seeing an ad in a magazine I knew I had to own one. I also knew that I couldn’t afford a fully restored (or even a clean original) so I had to get a restorer.

So, back in 1989 I purchased this 1959 Coupe deVille from Special Interest Autos in South Australia, just from photos.

Back then ’59s were still expensive; well the restored ones anyway. So being young, I had to sell my hotted up VE Valiant to my brother to get enough money to buy the Caddy and I had my other brother that lived in SA inspect it. He said I was nuts, but he paid for the car on my behalf anyway and had it shipped to Melbourne. When it arrived I knew it was going to be a big project. The various bullet holes in the doors and glass were more than adequate testimony to that!

It was 95 per cent complete, so that was a good starting point. As I was still living at home, I couldn’t do a project this size in my dad’s garage; my other brother allowed my cousin Paul and I to do the work in his.

After blowing the whole car apart, I realised the true scale of such a task. These Cadillacs are so big, there’s more real estate than I realised, especially with so many pieces! We sent the chassis to get sandblasted and powdercoated in Dandenong. The 6.4-litre V8 motor and four-speed Hydramatic transmission went to Steve down at American Car Parts, Brighton to get it back to original running order. No mods, just the standard Cadillac 390ci, 325hp, only with hardened valves to suit unleaded fuel. Steve had to replace the original block however, as it was full of water from where it had sat. But it gained new pistons, they re-ground the camshaft, and it’s still got the original crankshaft, and heads. It passed crack testing and I was able to keep the orignal intake manifold too.

The original Carter four-barrel carby had to be replaced due to the aluminium cancer. It was replaced with a new polished Edelbrock 1406 650cfm unit, which I was pleased about because it bolted straight on without any dramas.

I have tried to use as many of the original engine pieces as I could, cleaning them up, getting them painted, chromed or HPC coated to suit.

When the chassis came back we installed the new lowered spring suspension, refurbished brakes with new dual system chrome master cylinder and stainless booster, and stainless lines.

We mounted the engine and gearbox with the new stainless exhaust system, trying to use as many of the original nuts and bolts as possible, cleaned and re-plated by S&Y Specialised Plating in Bayswater. Then the project came to a stop.

Due to money, work and getting married, it was apparent having a place to live was a bigger priority. So the years went by, kids and life. I continued to work on the Caddy some weekends, when time and money allowed. After moving the car again to an understanding employer who let me keep it at work, things started to move again. We made up a full car dolly to carry the body. 

After getting referred to a paint and body guy, I had the body chemically stripped and sent to him. Six months later the body came back but I was not happy. The new white two-pack paint was full of pin holes and the rusted floor sections had just been patched over with body filler! I was very unhappy. Sadly, I grew very disenchanted and the car sat around for some years.

Then I found Andrew from Motorace Ringwood. He rescued the restoration. After stripping the Caddy back again, Andrew fixed the rusted sections and gave it a beautiful Toyota white two-pack paint job. The original colour always looked a bit dirty because it had tinters in the paint mix, but I wanted it to look clean and fresh all the time and this Toyota colour was recommended because it has no tinters added. I wanted the whitest of whites and that’s what they gave me.

I think it suits the car pretty well.

From the beginning of the build, chrome sections went out for work in stages to get refinished. Because there is so much original chrome, and lots of extra added, it had to be done this way. Then my cousin and I got to restoring all the stainless, making sure to get it all straight and polishing it ourselves.

 The amount of bright work on this car is staggering. Restoring the grill was a feat of its own, with over 100 pieces. This took weeks of sanding and polishing and AAA Aluminium Anodizing and Powdercoating in Clayton did the anodising for the project.

Then we started assembling the car for the second time; so many pieces.

I sourced all new front, rear and door E-Z eye glasses from the USA. A complete car rubber kit was ordered from Steele in the US and other bits and pieces I got from Rubber The Right Way. I also added Dynamat insulation to floor and roof and panels for noise and heat reduction.

I rewired the electrics myself, and also still run the original, albeit refurbished, generator.

As for the interior, I found the original black and chrome fabric material from SMS in the States. I also found all the white raw hide leather locally and even sent the dash core all the way over to Sweden to get redone to factory specs by RD Autoline. I made up the door panels and also installed the head lining myself.

After having the front and rear seat frames sand blasted and power coated I gave them to Jim’s Upholstery in Clayton to get them done to the original look.

More assembly of the Caddy took place in the meantime, with all new lights, lenses, badges and scripts from Caddy Daddy, also in the States. I would have liked to use the orignal bits and bobs but the lenses were cracked and faded. Fortunately the reproductions are virtually perfect and they’re from the right place in the US (they’re not cheap knock-offs) so I’m happy with the result.

The original steel wheels were painted and new 15 x 6 Firestone whitewall cross-ply tyres were slipped on to give it that cool, original look. They drive like they’re full of custard rather than air and they squeal at just about any speed which is good for a laugh, but I don’t care. I’m not in a rush; this Caddy’s about cruising. I refinished a set of hub caps to appropriately set off those whitewalls, too.

At the start I wanted to go for an original restoration, but went slightly off the path along the way. Finally coming close to the end, doing the final adjustments and sorting out small leaks and fitment issues took a lot of time.

But I got there, and in February 2014, it was on the road. I couldn’t get the smile off my face for days!

Driving the Caddy is fantastic; it doesn’t drive like a new car, especially with those white walls squealing away.

But it’s fun to drive and makes everyone smile. There are plans for air bags to go into the suspension in the near future, but right now, as they say, it’s time to cruise with my beautiful wife Ann and my kids who all enjoy our days out at the different  shows and cruises.

We went to the Isabella and Marcus Foundation car show in Bonbeach for the big Cadillac’s first show and the people in attendance just loved it. These big Cadillacs still pull on the heart strings of car people, which is great, because that’s just what they did to me when I was a young boy growing up and dreaming that I’d have one some day.

 

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