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Austin to Austin in Cadillac style

Taking you along for the ride on a 1,350 mile road trip in a 1961 Cadillac Fleetwood.
March 22: Austin, Texas - Rick Payton and “Rosemary Margaret,” his newly purchased Fontana Rose (pink) 1961 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special, escorted me from Austin–Bergstrom International Airport. From the airport, we stopped for a shot of Rosemary Margaret in front of the Texas capitol.

March 22: Austin, Texas - Rick Payton and “Rosemary Margaret,” his newly purchased Fontana Rose (pink) 1961 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special, escorted me from Austin–Bergstrom International Airport. From the airport, we stopped for a shot of Rosemary Margaret in front of the Texas capitol.

I’ve often said there would be world peace if everyone drove an early-1960s Cadillac. I’d bet a tank of ethanol-free premium on that, as that’s been my experience in 25 years of driving a 1962 Coupe deVille as far as 300 miles at a stretch. But what about after driving some 1,300-plus miles? Would that much seat time in an early-1960s Cadillac still leave a driver or passenger more content than a Buddhist monk after a day of meditation?

Austin, Texas to Austin, Minnesota is around 1,350 miles.

Austin, Texas to Austin, Minnesota is around 1,350 miles.

Rick Payton and I found out from March 22-25 when we drove his newly purchased Fontana Rose (pink) 1961 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special from Austin, Texas, to Austin, Minn., a distance of some 1,350 miles. Rick had bought the car in a sort of vengeful trade. After buying an almost-finished 1959 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special and then wrapping up its restoration, Rick showed photos of the car to fellow Cadillac & LaSalle Club member Clay Benson. Upon seeing the car, Clay told Rick he had to sell him the car. So, Rick grudgingly sold the 1959 Cadillac to Clay. A few months later, when Clay showed Rick photos of a 64,000-mile 1961 Cadillac Fleetwood that he’d just bought, Rick told Clay he had to sell him that car. The next thing I knew, Rick was trying to figure out how to get home the ’61 Cadillac he’d christened “Rosemary Margaret.”

“Why not drive it home?” I asked. “You know, there would be world peace if everyone drove an early-1960s Cadillac,” I reminded him. The next thing I knew, Rick talked me into boarding a plane to drive the 1961 Cadillac back to western Wisconsin with him. What could possibly go wrong?

Turns out nothing went wrong. The 1961 Cadillac performed beautifully, with only a minor hiccup happening at our hotel in Oklahoma City when the fuse blew for the automatic trunk closer. Everything else worked great — even the air conditioner was blowing cold as the four-finned lady glided past Hondas and Hummers at 70-some miles per hour on the interstate. The experience of watching modern cars fade in the Cadillac’s day/night rearview mirror reminded me of flying down the road in an old car with late Old Cars staffer Kenny Buttolph, who relished leaving disposable modern cars in his wake. “I wonder what those people think about getting passed by an old car?” Kenny would chuckle.

To be fair, we didn’t blindly get behind the wheel of the Cadillac and drive it home at highway speeds. Before Rick took possession, Clay had surveyed the car’s mechanics to ensure everything was in order and the car would be reliable. Regardless, we packed all manner of replacement pumps, belts and hoses, just in case. Not one spare part left the trunk for the duration of the trip.

The trip wasn’t just about flying home on a magic carpet ride — it was also to be a complete Cadillac experience. Along our route, we stopped to visit several fellow Cadillac & LaSalle Club members and check out a few landmarks. Here are some scenes from our adventure over 1,336 miles (according to the 60-year-old odometer) in which the car burned 98 gallons of dead dinosaurs at an average of 13.63 mpg and consumed half a quart of oil.

Was there peace on earth at the end of our journey? Unfortunately not. But there was enough peace in that Cadillac’s cabin that we forgot about the outside world, if only for a few glorious days.

Scenes from the trip

March 22: Austin, Texas - From the capitol, we drove to Austin’s Top Notch drive-in where scenes of the film “Dazed and Confused” were shot. There, we were welcomed by several Central Texas Region Cadillac & LaSalle members and their cars — including Clay Benson, who brought the pictured 1959 Cadillac he had just bought from Rick. To quote Matthew McConaughey’s signature line from the film, the Top Notch was “Alright, alright, alright!”

March 22: Austin, Texas - From the capitol, we drove to Austin’s Top Notch drive-in where scenes of the film “Dazed and Confused” were shot. There, we were welcomed by several Central Texas Region Cadillac & LaSalle members and their cars — including Clay Benson, who brought the pictured 1959 Cadillac he had just bought from Rick. To quote Matthew McConaughey’s signature line from the film, the Top Notch was “Alright, alright, alright!”

March 23: Meridian, Texas - Fellow Cadillac & LaSalle Club members Ken & Rosie Karrer put us up for the night, and upon departing their Austin home early in the morning, we headed to Meridian, Texas, to meet CLC member and OC reader Robby Markman for breakfast, then tour his collection. Robby’s “go to” car is a 1953 Cadillac Coupe deVille, but he also has a soft spot for Kaiser and Frazer products, especially this Kaiser-Darrin he’s pictured with.

March 23: Meridian, Texas - Fellow Cadillac & LaSalle Club members Ken & Rosie Karrer put us up for the night, and upon departing their Austin home early in the morning, we headed to Meridian, Texas, to meet CLC member and OC reader Robby Markman for breakfast, then tour his collection. Robby’s “go to” car is a 1953 Cadillac Coupe deVille, but he also has a soft spot for Kaiser and Frazer products, especially this Kaiser-Darrin he’s pictured with.

March 23: Justin, Texas - From Meridian, we backtracked a bit to Justin, Texas, to visit Honest John’s Caddy Corner where we picked up a rebuilt water pump for CLC member Jim Jordan that we planned to deliver later that day. There are dozens of parts Cadillacs and shelf upon shelf of used parts at Honest John’s, and Rick found a few spare trinkets for Rosemary Margaret during the stop.

March 23: Justin, Texas - From Meridian, we backtracked a bit to Justin, Texas, to visit Honest John’s Caddy Corner where we picked up a rebuilt water pump for CLC member Jim Jordan that we planned to deliver later that day. There are dozens of parts Cadillacs and shelf upon shelf of used parts at Honest John’s, and Rick found a few spare trinkets for Rosemary Margaret during the stop.

March 23: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma - Oil and old Cadillacs are big in Oklahoma City, and Rosemary Margaret fit right in. Once there, we met up with Jim Jordan to deliver the water pump for his 1959 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special, “Rose,” which is painted Persian Sand, a similar metallic pink to our chariot’s Fontana Rose.

March 23: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma - Oil and old Cadillacs are big in Oklahoma City, and Rosemary Margaret fit right in. Once there, we met up with Jim Jordan to deliver the water pump for his 1959 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special, “Rose,” which is painted Persian Sand, a similar metallic pink to our chariot’s Fontana Rose.

March 23: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma -  After comparing the pink Fleetwoods’ fins, we toured Jim’s collection of 1950s and 1960s General Motors products, and then hopped in the back of his 1966 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham (left) for a tour of his friend’s British car collection. Jim really knows Oklahoma City history and took us on a tour of some of the historical automotive hot spots, then to dinner at Junior’s of Oklahoma City. Housed in The Oil Center, Junior’s has been the go-to place for OKC high society, who were often chauffeured there in their big, brawny Cadillacs beginning in 1973. Junior’s abides by the unwritten rule of lounges to never change a thing, and arriving there in a ’66 Cadillac and dining on steaks felt like a trip back in time.

March 23: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma -  After comparing the pink Fleetwoods’ fins, we toured Jim’s collection of 1950s and 1960s General Motors products, and then hopped in the back of his 1966 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham (left) for a tour of his friend’s British car collection. Jim really knows Oklahoma City history and took us on a tour of some of the historical automotive hot spots, then to dinner at Junior’s of Oklahoma City. Housed in The Oil Center, Junior’s has been the go-to place for OKC high society, who were often chauffeured there in their big, brawny Cadillacs beginning in 1973. Junior’s abides by the unwritten rule of lounges to never change a thing, and arriving there in a ’66 Cadillac and dining on steaks felt like a trip back in time.

March 23: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma - The only hiccup during the trip was a blown fuse for the automatic trunk closer, but we quickly repaired it outside our hotel in OKC. The miles driven on March 23 totaled 440.

March 23: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma - The only hiccup during the trip was a blown fuse for the automatic trunk closer, but we quickly repaired it outside our hotel in OKC. The miles driven on March 23 totaled 440.

March 24: Oklahoma City to Merriam, Kansas - The longest day on the road — 700 miles in an on-and-off rain mist — took us from Oklahoma City to Mason City, Iowa, with a stop at Merriam, Kan., for lunch with Cathy McVey of McVey’s Cadillac & LaSalle parts. Rosemary Margaret is pictured here while parked outside McVey’s.

March 24: Oklahoma City to Merriam, Kansas - The longest day on the road — 700 miles in an on-and-off rain mist — took us from Oklahoma City to Mason City, Iowa, with a stop at Merriam, Kan., for lunch with Cathy McVey of McVey’s Cadillac & LaSalle parts. Rosemary Margaret is pictured here while parked outside McVey’s.

Cathy McVey explained how McVey’s hand polishes and paints its reproduction plastic hood and trunk crests.

Cathy McVey explained how McVey’s hand polishes and paints its reproduction plastic hood and trunk crests.

McVey’s manager Craig Wood is an extremely knowledgeable source of Cadillac wisdom, which effortlessly pours out of him in conversation. When you call McVey’s for parts, you probably get Craig on the phone.

McVey’s manager Craig Wood is an extremely knowledgeable source of Cadillac wisdom, which effortlessly pours out of him in conversation. When you call McVey’s for parts, you probably get Craig on the phone.

March 24: Mason City, Iowa - In Mason City, Iowa, we spent the night at the stunning Historic Park Inn Hotel, the last remaining hotel designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The restored hotel is true to its 1909 construction, and is a true trip back in time; the only modern amenities are those required to operate and facilitate guests in the 21st century.

March 24: Mason City, Iowa - In Mason City, Iowa, we spent the night at the stunning Historic Park Inn Hotel, the last remaining hotel designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The restored hotel is true to its 1909 construction, and is a true trip back in time; the only modern amenities are those required to operate and facilitate guests in the 21st century.

March 25: Mason City, Iowa - The last day of our adventure also had the shortest distance to travel. It also meant we were close to home in case of a mechanical issue. Feeling a bit more relaxed, we made our way to the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, the last performance venue of Richie Valens, Buddy Holly and “The Big Bopper” J. P. Richardson. After performing at the Surf Ballroom, the three performers hopped in a plane flown by Roger Peterson during a blizzard. The men lost their lives when the plane crashed in a snowy farm field just outside Clear Lake. The date of that crash — Feb. 3, 1959 — has since become known as “the day the music died.” The Surf Ballroom hasn’t changed much inside or out since 1959, and visitors can tour the historic (and still operating) facility for a small donation. You can feel the energy of the historic Surf Ballroom — definitely add a visit there to your next road trip.

March 25: Mason City, Iowa - The last day of our adventure also had the shortest distance to travel. It also meant we were close to home in case of a mechanical issue. Feeling a bit more relaxed, we made our way to the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, the last performance venue of Richie Valens, Buddy Holly and “The Big Bopper” J. P. Richardson. After performing at the Surf Ballroom, the three performers hopped in a plane flown by Roger Peterson during a blizzard. The men lost their lives when the plane crashed in a snowy farm field just outside Clear Lake. The date of that crash — Feb. 3, 1959 — has since become known as “the day the music died.” The Surf Ballroom hasn’t changed much inside or out since 1959, and visitors can tour the historic (and still operating) facility for a small donation. You can feel the energy of the historic Surf Ballroom — definitely add a visit there to your next road trip.

March 25: Austin, Minnesota - After touring the Surf Ballroom, we took the back roads to Austin, Minn., our final destination on our Austin-to-Austin adventure. We stopped by the beautiful façade of the Paramount for a photo op, and to mark Rosemary Margaret’s arrival in Austin. Our pink chariot then carried us a few short blocks to the Spam Museum, our official, ultimate destination. Austin’s local news and the Spam Museum had been following our progress on the Old Cars Facebook page, and they were waiting for us to arrive with their cameras.

March 25: Austin, Minnesota - After touring the Surf Ballroom, we took the back roads to Austin, Minn., our final destination on our Austin-to-Austin adventure. We stopped by the beautiful façade of the Paramount for a photo op, and to mark Rosemary Margaret’s arrival in Austin. Our pink chariot then carried us a few short blocks to the Spam Museum, our official, ultimate destination. Austin’s local news and the Spam Museum had been following our progress on the Old Cars Facebook page, and they were waiting for us to arrive with their cameras.

Once our tour of the Spam Museum concluded, Rick and I split ways; my dad picked me up and took me back to my car in St. Paul, and Rick (pictured) drove Rosemary Margaret to her new home in Eau Claire, Wis. On this last leg of Rick’s drive home, the rain turned to sleet, but she held steady the course on her bias-plies. Rick has since additionally christened her a keeper, and he looks forward to adding many more miles to the ’61 Fleetwood’s odometer.

Once our tour of the Spam Museum concluded, Rick and I split ways; my dad picked me up and took me back to my car in St. Paul, and Rick (pictured) drove Rosemary Margaret to her new home in Eau Claire, Wis. On this last leg of Rick’s drive home, the rain turned to sleet, but she held steady the course on her bias-plies. Rick has since additionally christened her a keeper, and he looks forward to adding many more miles to the ’61 Fleetwood’s odometer.

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