Car of the Week: 1965 Cadillac Sedan DeVille

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By Brian Earnest

Bob Mayer makes no bones about it: he loves original automobiles. Low-mileage, unrestored, in-tact cars are right in his wheelhouse.

The well-known, retired Miami television newsman has had his share of such cars in the past, but he’s never had one that was as stunningly original as the sweet 1965 Cadillac Sedan DeVille that he uncovered — literally — last spring. He’s also never had a car that was so dirty and … uh … aromatic as the hulking Caddy. Fortunately, Mayer doesn’t mind putting up with a little cleaning and elbow grease when it comes to his cars, especially when the diamond that needs to be polished is as flawless as his ’65 DeVille.

“Well, it was filthy, but I’ve always been able to see through dirt and see through detailing,” said Mayer. “I knew I could make this car look good.”

Of course, it isn’t overly surprising that a car with only 24,000 original miles on the odometer could be in fantastic shape. The question is how such a beautiful car sat untouched in a cramped garage for 27 years without moving an inch. The slumber was so lengthy and so strange that it almost scared Mayer away from even coming to look at the car.

Almost.

“Well, I saw the ad for the car, but I didn’t go look at it at first. I let it sit there for, I dunno, a month or 6 weeks because I was just never involved in getting a car that didn’t run,” Mayer said. “And it was made clear that this car didn’t run in 27 years. But I kept seeing the ad, and I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to see if I can call this guys and see where he is and if maybe I can get somebody to look at the car. …[Finally) I decided to go look at the car, and I took a battery charger and jumper cables and compressor to blow up the tires — I took a whole bunch of stuff with me.

“When he took the car, opened up the garage door and it was dank and smelly and you could tell that no one had been there in a long time. The house there was empty. The man’s mom had lived there but she had been put in nursing home … When he opened the garage, there was a strong mildew smell. But then he turned on the light and it looked like a brand new car! … It was in this cramped garage. It had barely had 2 or 3 inches clearance around the car. I asked if I could get the car outside, so the two of us pushed the car back, got it outside and my jaw dropped. It was just spectacular.”

Within a few minutes, Mayer had the jumper cables hooked up from his car to the tired old Cadillac so he could check some of the accessories and the car’s electrical system. “I didn’t try to start the car, which was probably a good thing, but I hooked up the battery to the battery on my ’06 Cadillac and we started testing things, and to our astonishment, everything worked! We were both totally astonished. I turned on the radio and it turned right on. I couldn’t get a station, but then I remembered the station tuner — if you pushed it in the antenna goes up. So I pushed it in and wall-lah, the antenna goes up, and it starts playing! The six-way power seats worked, the turn signals, everything worked on the car. And at this point I’m started to get excited.”

The original owner of the car was no doubt excited about the car when he first laid eyes on it, too. The big sedan was ordered in October of 1964 and picked up as a “VIP delivery” at the Cadillac headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y. on March 15, 1965. The car’s window price was $6,898.65, but the first owner paid only $6,086 — perhaps getting a discount because of the long delay. After such a long wait for his car, the man apparently showed great restraint in his use of the Caddy, accumulating just 24,000 miles over the next 17 years before he died in 1983.

“These VIP purchases, if you knew somebody, you could do back then. You could pick the car up at the factory,” Mayer said. “In the owner’s manual, where it lists selling dealer, it says Cadillac Motor Division.

“But for the original owner, this was not just a car to him. He definitely babied it. He only drove it on the weekend. He had another car that he drove for work and during the week.”

And when the man died, his widow was clearly in no hurry to let anybody else have his car. “She had the battery removed and didn’t let anybody near the car,” Mayer said.

The lovely blue and white Cadillac was one of 45,535 hardtop four-door DeVilles built for the 1965 model year. The DeVilles were also available as four-door sedans, two-door hardtop coupes and two-door convertibles, with the two hardtop models being by far the most popular with new car buyers of the day.

The Cadillacs received some dramatic styling changes for 1965. Gone were the last vestiges of the tail fins that once defined the cars. The body lines were more sharply defined, the bodies were slightly wider, and the engines were moved forward six inches on new perimeter frames.

And up front was perhaps the most obvious change — the stacked headlights. The vertical arrangement was all new and would last for four model years before the side-by-side look returned for 1969.

The DeVilles continued with a wheelbase length of 129.5 inches, and the holdover 429-cid, 340-hp four-barrel V-8 was back under the hood.

The 1965 model year marked the 16th year for the nameplate in the Cadillac menu. In 1965, Series 62 was discontinued and the DeVille became part of the Calais series, resting between the base Calais and top-end Fleetwood lineup.

Mayer had never owned a 1965 DeVille before, but he had definitely found one he wanted. The question then was how much was the car worth? It definitely wasn’t drivable, and the effects of such a lengthy slumber were unknown.

“I pulled the gas cap and whoa! That was probably the strongest varnish smell I ever smelled,” Mayer said. “Of course, this did present a new set of problems, because I knew that some other things that would have to be done.

“I tried to buy the car real cheap, but he wouldn’t hear of it. So I waited a couple of weeks, and in the meantime I talked to my mechanic … He said he wasn’t concerned about getting the motor running. Those big 429 motors should be fine, but he rattled off a lot of things I would have to do to it, starting with the gas tank. He read off just a litany of parts and labor scenarios. But I decided to try again to buy the car. It had been on eBay, but he didn’t get a single bid on it. People were scared off because it hadn’t run in so long.

“I finally told the guy, ‘This is a magnificent car, but it has been so neglected. I can’t give you what your asking for it’ … but we eventually worked out a deal.”

Fortunately, the engine was not frozen, and Mayer’s mechanic had the car running in short order. “We had to use a gas can for the gas, because of the problems with the gas tank, but it really ran pretty nicely before he did anything else. Even the carburetor — it was on the list of things to do — but he basically just had to clean it. We didn’t even replace it.”

Mayer eventually replaced the radiator core, gas tank and fuel lines, sending unit, brake and wheel cylinders, master cylinder, all of the belts and hoses and the tires. “I was able to save the A/C hoses — they are still original,” he said. “And the compressor is actually the original compressor. It still had a charge after 27 years! Not much, but it had a charge. Now, it’s blowing ice cold air.”

One of the biggest challenges, he said, has been ridding the car of the moldy smell that had settled in after so many years in a tiny garage. The Cadillac looks like a new car, but doesn’t exactly smell like one. “At this point, I’m open to suggestions,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve literally washed the carpet three times to try to get the smell out, and get rid of that ‘mist’ that sort of settles on the interior.”

Mayer has replaced some rubber around the windows, but he doesn’t foresee any other repairs in the Caddy’s immediate future. He’s had the car on the road for several months now, and so far it has passed every test. “My wife and I drove it down to Homestead for breakfast the other day. Driving it was just like going back in time!” he said. “I’ve been collecting cars for 30-plus years. I’ve got seven cars and I’ve never had a car this original and this nice. It’s just amazing. It runs just like a new car.”

“And this car is probably the most documented car I’ve ever had. Even though [the owner] died 27 years ago and even though she was a little over the top about letting anybody near the car, she saved all the documentation. I’ve got the window sticker, all of the owner’s manuals and paperwork, the protector plate with the father’s name on it … Everything that you could possibly get when you get a new Cadillac was in a folder, and I love that kind of stuff! This thing is a passion of mine. If I’m not working, I’m busy with my cars. I don’t do any major mechanical work, but I love being with my cars.”

Mayer is planning on another special trip soon — back to see the family that had watched the car sit for so long. “I called him and said I was going to come up and take his family out. I’m sure they’ll be very excited to see the car,” he said. “This car was always in his life, so it was an emotional thing to let this car go. I’m gonna take the guy and his family out to breakfast so they can see it again back on the road.”

Mayer figures the car will make its big show debut not far from his home in Homestead, Fla., for the AACA Winter Meet March 4-5. He doesn’t usually get too hung up on show awards, but admits he hopes the judges appreciate the Cadillac half as much as he does. “I’m looking forward to entering this car in the Survivor Class,” he said. “I’ve never entered a car in the AACA Nationals in Survivor, and I think this car is a shoe-in to get an award in this category. The only things that aren’t original are the tires!

“I’ve told the story of this car a million times, but it’s kind of exciting to tell people that I brought it back. I get to feel responsible for resuscitating this car and giving it life again.”
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SUGGESTED READING

Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942
Only Originals: Tales of Outstanding Original Cars
2011 Collector Car Price Guide

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