Car of the Week: 1956 Cadillac Sixty Special

top bannere

Steele Rubber banner

1956-Cadillac-main1

By Brian Earnest

Danny Plotkin’s aching back wasn’t funny at the time, but he can laugh about it now. He knows that if it wasn’t for some unpleasant lumbar pain, he never would have wound up with his favorite ride: a 1956 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special that knocks ’em dead wherever he takes it.

Buying an old, jumbo-sized Cadillac was the last thing on Plotkin’s mind when he was hobbling around the grounds at the AACA Hershey fall extravaganza 3-1/2 years ago. All he could think about was getting some relief from his throbbing back.

“I could hardly walk, so I decided to go out and sit by the cars and wait for my friends so we could go home,” recalled Plotkin, a resident of Longmeadow, Pa. “So I went out there to sit on the curb and lament my bad back, and I look across the way and see a kind of faded ’56 Fleetwood for sale. I said to myself, ‘That Fleetwood looks like a good place to sit. I’ll go sit in that. It’s a comfortable car and I’ll pretend I’m interested in buying it.’ So I waddled over and sat behind the wheel and the old guy who owned it came over and tried to sell me the car — he was dangling the keys and telling me all about the car.”

Plotkin wasn’t overly impressed at first, but the longer he sat in the Fleetwood’s plush upholstery and the more he heard the owner gush about how nice the car was, the more interested he became. When his buddies showed up, a predictable outcome followed. “You know how it is when a pack of guys get together and one of them is interested in car!” he laughed.

1956-Cadillac-rear

“The guy was real honest with me. It was an 80,000-mile car. The chrome wasn’t very good, but it had no rust. It had some painting done on one panel, unfortunately, but it was a good, honest car and I felt I could live with the car the way it was … So I bought the car and we jumped in and drove it 300 miles home.”

The drive home didn’t initially go well, however. The big sedan conked out on the highway several times before the men finally got it home. They thought they had a case of vapor lock on their hands, but “that was a red herring. That was not the problem,” Plotkin said. “There was piece of epoxy floating around in the fuel line, and every once in a while it would get stuck.”

The car also lost fourth gear on the way home, so one of the first orders of business was fixing the transmission. The carburetor was overhauled, the Cadillac received a new fuel tank, a little TLC and “it ran like a champ and it was a beautiful car to drive around,” Plotkin said.

The Fleetwood wound up running and driving better than it looked, which had Plotkin pondering what he wanted to do with it. If it wasn’t a big luxury cruiser, he wouldn’t have minded it looking a little tired. “The car ran so great, the [crummy] paint and chrome made me feel bad,” he said. This is a Fleetwood, you know? Finally, my wife [Mollie] said, ‘Why don’t you fix that?’ So I got a purchase order from my wife and we took it in for a restoration in August of 2011 and finished it in July of 2012 … It was more a cosmetic restoration. We didn’t do anything mechanically, but we repainted the body and fixed all that chrome.

1956-Cadillac-interior1

1956-Cadillac-interior2

“Now it looks exactly like it runs and it’s otherwise an original car … It drives the way it did when it was built. It was a lot of fun [to restore] and I’m glad I did it. It’s not as valuable as the convertibles, or an Eldorado … but the Fleetwood was still the most expensive [Cadillac] you could buy back then beyond the Eldorado.”

The Cadillac still wears its Dawn Gray body color, but the previous owner changed the roof color from Canyon Gray to Starlight Silver Metallic. It is a color combination that certainly works well together and perhaps makes the Cadillac a little less serious and intimidating.

“I thought the old roof color looked like toothpaste. I like this color a lot better for the roof.” Plotkin said. “It’s not a black Cadillac, so it’s a little different. A lot of these Fleetwoods were black or dark blue and they were used in funerals or to cart around heads of state.

“It’s a striking color combination. It’s very, very pretty … The Starlight Silver Metallic was an Eldorado color that you could have on any Cadillac for extra charge.”

The 1956 model year was the end of an era, of sorts, for Cadillac as the marque’s trademark tail lamp-capped tailfins made one final appearance. The Fleetwood Sixty Specials were the company’s mini-limousines, squashing the scales at 4,992 lbs. and carrying a luxury price tag of $6,019 without any add-ons. The 1956 Fleetwoods measured 225.9 inches between the bumper tips and rode on 133-inch wheelbases.

1956-Cadillac-engine

Cadillac churned out 17,000 of the big six-passenger sedans in 1956, which carried new egg-crate type grilles and subtly different trim arrangements than the previous versions. A thin chrome strip ran along the top of the rear fenders with fat chrome spears pointed forward on the sides of the rear flanks. Prominent oval exhaust ports exited out of the upper corners of the rear bumper.

Under the massive hood was an updated and enlarged 365-cid V-8 rated at 285 hp hooked to a Hydra-Matic transmission. Plotkin knew about the ’56 transmission and its reputation for having reliability issues long before he bought his Cadillac, so he wasn’t surprised when it needed work. “I’ve always had a penchant for the ’54, ’55 and ’56 Cadillacs. Those three years was that series body, and a friend of mine used to sell those cars when they were used back in the ’60s and he warned me never to buy a ’56. He told me to always buy a (’54 or ’55). They were just a better car … And it’s a known fact in the hobby that the 1956 Hydra-Matic was a very problematic transmission. There were tons of service bulletins on them. They had it all sorted out by ’58.

“But I bought a ’56 anyway!”

1956-Cadillac-back-seat

1956-Cadillac-trunk

Plotkin doesn’t know the entire life story of his Fleetwood, but he does know it was sold new in Minnesota and the way it was ordered from the factory makes it unique.

“This was [a]… special-order car that year. They called them ‘special request’ cars in which the interior upholstery was a little different. Standard equipment in this car would have been cloth seats with a leather border around the edges. This car was ordered by special request to have broadcloth instead of leather … The car came from Minnesota and it’s likely whoever bought it thought that leather was too cold…and it also doesn’t have air conditioning, which is unusual for this car. Most of them had air.”

“I can’t find any other history beyond the guy I bought it from got it from a classic car dealer in Nyack, N.Y. … It’s just not even close to being a worn-out, used-up car. It had very gentle use all its life. To be that old and be in that condition, and have only 80,000 miles, obviously it wasn’t used very much.”

These days, the car gets exercised regularly and will be a fixture at car shows in the coming years, although Plotkin has a fleet of other big cars that also have to get driven. The Fleetwood shares garage space with a 1960 Buick Electra sedan, 1962 Pontiac, 1961 Plymouth Savoy two-door sedan, 1963 Ford Galaxie XL, 1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible, 1965 Corvette and 1968 Chrysler New Yorker. “I’ve got seven iron and one plastic,” he jokes. “It’s a disease.”

1956-Cadillac-grille

Plotkin says the Cadillac is his favorite to drive, and the most fun to pilot on back-road cruises, in part because it doesn’t feel as modern as many of his 1960s cruisers. “The ’60 Electra rides like a magic carpet. The Cadillac is not like that,” he says. “These cars are a lot different from the ’60s cars. They were mid-’50s Cadillacs designed in ’50-’51, and they are still technologically an older car, but still a good road car. They are kind of like a modern pickup — smooth, but a little bouncy… And everything they do, they do effortlessly. It’s a 5,000-lbs. car and it only makes 285 hp, but it never runs out of power. It does everything without complaining.”

The Cadillac is clearly in line for many more happy miles with the Plotkins in the front seat. With any luck, the odometer might turn over in a few years. Danny certainly isn’t worried about rolling up some more miles. He figures the Fleetwood is all rested up.

“Oh, I’m not worried at all about using it,” he said. “I plan on using it and enjoying it. Old cars like this, if you take care of them and use them, they stay nice for a long, long time.”

1956-Cadillac-main2

______________

Standard Catalog of American Cars: 1805-1942

This is the only book with detailed histories behind the 5,000 automobiles built from 1805-1942, most illustrated with period photographs. This extremely desirable resource covers all of the well-known and little-known vehicles built during this period, including steamers, electrics, motor buggies, high wheelers, cyclecars, high-volume production cars and one-offs among its 5,000-plus entries. CHECK IT OUT

 

 

8 thoughts on “Car of the Week: 1956 Cadillac Sixty Special

  1. Jerry Koszut

    My favorite Cadillac of the 50s’. Our neighbor across the street owned a 2dr hardtop in Canyon Gray over Arlington Green, a carryover color introduced in 1954, that he had me wash weekly and polish every other month. I also got to drive it a bit on our village back streets…at age 12 :-)

  2. Bob Horn

    Beautiful. I have always loved the 56 Cadillac. They used to say a jeweler designed the grille. My dad had a black Coupe Deville with air. It was great to drive, but when you turned on the air it was like driving with the brakes on. Used a ton of power. He never used it because of that. Great car.

  3. Mike Stone

    Congrats!! What a beautiful piece of Americana. How I would love to go back to that era, and enjoy America when it was in it’s glory. I’m so thankful for folks that restore the old iron back to the way it should be.

  4. Tony Chervinsky

    March 10/13, Sarnia, ontario, Canada.
    In 1957 I was living in Montreal, Quebec and just turned 21 years old. Now, I was old enough to start driving. I went to a driving school to take lessons in driving. I have to say when I lived in Nova Scotia till 1955, I was car crazy.and could tell the make and year off every car and truck driving on the country roads, Now, to the driving lessons, The school came to our house in a 1952 Cadillac 4 D.S. Am I going to learn to drive in this ? What the hell ! Passed the test and in May of 1957, bought my first car, a 1954 Olds. 98 4 D.S.,In August of that year, went on the first big trip to Atlantic City, N.J. I bought a 1956 Olds 88, 2DHT for $600.00, 26,500 miles in Montreal in Nov. 1972 Moved to Sarnia with my family in 1977 and drove the OLDS here, was restored in early 2000’s We have a 1959 Dodge Custum Royal 2DHT to be restored.We also have 2 1968 Barracudas and 2 1969 Barracudas, Guess I should write sories on our fleet ?..

  5. William J Toensing

    I used to own one but it had factory air. I lived in Mpls. Minn. at the time & it only got 8 MPG. I was yellow with a white top. I think I bought it in 1967 for $250 & later traded even up for a rear engined 1965 Simca 1000. I later traded the Simca for a Fiat 2100 station wagon. That Fiat wouldn’t start when the temperature got down to +20F but otherwise was a fine car. However, I did then own a 1965 Citroen ID-19 wagon & a 1963 Citroen DS-19. They would start at -30 F but their heaters were no good at those temperatures. In 1969 I traded the Fiat plus $250 for a 1956 GMC school bus. I took the seats out of it & used it as a moving van from Mpls. to Los Angeles. A year later, I traded the bus for a “little old lady” estate sale 1955 Packard Clipper with only 27,000 miles on it. I still have the Packard & it now has 56,000 miles on it. It is an original “survivor” with only the bottom repainted as the prior owner left dents in the doors & fenders before she gave up driving it. I have never seen the seats as it still has the high end seat covers on it which were probably installed by Earle C Anthony Packard of Beverly Hills when first sold.

COMMENT