Car of the Week: 1958 Cadillac Sixty Special Fleetwood

Glamorous ’58 Cadillac is living large after owner takes a chance on an unlikely rescue
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Car of the Week 2020
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Jody Feiertag probably wouldn’t recommend acquiring a collector car in the same way he landed his fabulous 1958 Cadillac Sixty Special Fleetwood. But he certainly hit a home run when he tried it.

“I got it from the original owner in St. Paul [Minn.]. My mom lives over there where I grew up and I used to drive by this house, and all I saw was the front bumper sticking out of the garage,” laughs Feiertag, a resident of Chetek, Wis. “He’d have his garage door open and it was buried in junk. All you saw was the front of the car sticking out. I’d stop in there occasionally and see if he’d want to sell and it, and it was ‘No, no …’ He was in his 80s and he didn’t even remember what model it was!”

The car’s show-stopping appearance make it easy to  identify, along with the Sixty Special script on the huge tail fins.

The car’s show-stopping appearance make it easy to identify, along with the Sixty Special script on the huge tail fins.

Feiertag wasn’t deterred, however, and he kept inquiring about the car, even though he didn’t know for sure what it was. He didn’t even know the year, but he had his heart set on a big 1950s Cadillac and figured the car in the cluttered garage was eventually going to need a new home.

“I had a ’60 Cadillac. I think that was the only one I had at the time, and I wanted something from the ’50s. So finally he decided to sell it and he unburied it. There was stuff in, on it, under it — everything. I had a flatbed and we pulled it out … the car just kept coming and coming and coming. I didn’t even know what model the car was until I saw the ‘Sixty Special’ and ribbed chrome. No matter what, I was on the hook and I was gonna buy it. He said it was in good shape and had been parked for 20-some years, and I took it at that.”

That was 25-plus years ago, according to Feiertag, and he still has the car it has turned into far more than he could have hoped for. In the ensuing quarter century, Jody and his wife Terri have racked up big miles on the massive four-door hardtop and the car is showing no signs of slowing down. The Cadillac is doing its best to make up for lost time. According to the seller, the Fleetwood had been sitting for at least 20 years in the small 1 ½-stall garage. “His last trip was to New York with it, and he parked it after that. It was like ’74 or something like that. They never drove it again after that,” Feiertag said.

The original 365-cid V-8 has propelled the big four-door hardtop through more than 100,000 miles and shows no signs of slowing down.

The original 365-cid V-8 has propelled the big four-door hardtop through more than 100,000 miles and shows no signs of slowing down.

Amazingly, Feiertag said he got the Cadillac running under its own power the same day he bought it. “It came out and it looked good and the interior looked good. And that night I had it running and driving, with a gas can on the hood dripping into the carburetor! No brakes, but I went around the block with it [laughs].

“It’s just driver quality, that’s what I want. I don’t want to rope it off and worry about stuff. The rock chips on the hood, that’s kind of a badge of honor, because we drive it a lot,” Feiertag adds proudly. “Iola week, we’ll put 1,500, 2,000 miles on it, just around the state. We’ll bansai four or five days before and go aimlessly and just drive… It’s got a little over 100,000 miles on it. I had to have the speedometer replaced. I found a whole new instrument cluster. The speedometer went bad and I had that swapped out and this one shows 60s-some thousand, but it has a little over 100,000 miles on it.”

BILL MITCHELL’S BABY

If ever there was ever a car that was tailor made for the 1950s — especially the late ’50s — it was the Sixty Special from Cadillac. The glorious fins, rivers of chrome and no-holds-barred styling that blossomed in the second half of the ’50s all seemed to be part of the natural evolution of the Sixty Special, a tag that Cadillac had used on some of its most opulent vehicles since the model first bowed in 1938.

The Series Sixty Special was designer Bill Mitchell’s first chance to make a splash and a name for himself under the watchful eyes of Harley Earl. His plan was to launch a car unlike anything seen before in company showrooms, with a styling devoid of running boards, the use of headlamps mounted into the fenders, and a sleeker trunk arrangement that changed a lot of other designers’ thinking in the years to come.

Jody Feiertag has enjoyed many happy miles  behind the wheel of his ’58 Sixty Special after  rescuing the car from a long slumber in a  Minnesota garage. The car has since been  repainted and freshened up, but remains in stock condition and has proven itself to still be a  luxurious and reliable cruiser with enduring appeal.

Jody Feiertag has enjoyed many happy miles behind the wheel of his ’58 Sixty Special after rescuing the car from a long slumber in a Minnesota garage. The car has since been repainted and freshened up, but remains in stock condition and has proven itself to still be a luxurious and reliable cruiser with enduring appeal.

The blueprint for a four-door hardtop was still new to Cadillac in ’58. The company had debuted its first pillarless four-door in 1956 with the Sedan DeVille. The following year, in 1957, Cadillac unveiled a sweeping restyling of its lineup and used the four-door hardtop design on its Sixty Special, which was one step down on the company hierarchy from the super-exclusive Eldorado Brougham.

The Sixty Special was always fancy, but it was especially distinctive and rich-looking for ’58. Even through the model had been part of the big design changes for ’57, it got some major tweaks for ’58. Huge “Dagmars” were anchored in the oval grille below the quad headlights — a headlight arrangement that had been taken from the Eldorado Brougham. A large, calling card anodized aluminum panel that runs from the rear door to the rear bumper below the beltline. The styling them continues onto the tail, with a similar molding across the deck lid. Quad tail lights are surrounded in chrome and located beneath the towering, shark fins that rise up and make the car recognizable from several blocks away. Sixty Special script appeared on the sides of the tailfins and a Fleetwood script nameplate adorned the rear deck lid.

The Sixty Special’s cavernous interior abounds with amenities and luxury appointments in front and back, with plush seats, handsome cloth and leather two-tone upholstery and loads of brightwork on the dash. Power steering, power brakes, power windows — including the vent windows — and factory air conditioning make for a sophisticated package that was  unsurpassed in American cars during the car’s heyday.

The Sixty Special’s cavernous interior abounds with amenities and luxury appointments in front and back, with plush seats, handsome cloth and leather two-tone upholstery and loads of brightwork on the dash. Power steering, power brakes, power windows — including the vent windows — and factory air conditioning make for a sophisticated package that was unsurpassed in American cars during the car’s heyday.

A closer look at the brightwork on the dash

A closer look at the brightwork on the dash

Plenty of room in the back seat as well

Plenty of room in the back seat as well

The body-on-frame construction used Cadillac’s sturdy tubular-center “X” frame, which helped the car keep a lower center of gravity. The rear of the body was U-shaped, which made for a cavernous trunk. Rubber suspension bushings kept road noise and chatter down, making an already luxurious interior even more peaceful and inviting.

The 4,930-lb. Sixty-Special rode rode on a 133-inch wheelbase chassis — 3.5 inches longer than the DeVille and Series Sixty-Two offerings. The big hardtop measured a whopping 225 inches from tip to tip and 80 inches across. The front suspension used the traditional upper and lower control arms with spherical joints, and helical coil springs. The back featured Cadillac’s four-link drive with lower control affixed to frame outriggers and helical coil springs. Four-wheel power-assisted drum brakes and power steering were standard equipment.

Feiertag says the interior of the ’58 Sixty Special is “like driving your living room” and indeed it appears there is ample space for a Persian rug, a couple of floor lamps and an ottoman or two. The Mojave or broadcloth upholstery was available in three different varieties. The cars were equipped with power windows and power front seat; rearview mirros on both sides with a remote control for the driver’s side; front and rear center folding arm rests; and courtesy lighting. Air conditioning was optional, as were power door locks and air suspension.

In '58 fins were in!

In '58 fins were in!

All the 1958 Cadillacs used the 16-valve 365-cid/310-hp V-8 with cast-iron heads and block. It was mated to GM’s Hydra-Matic Drive four-speed automatic and drank through a Carter AFB 2862S 4-bbl downdraft carburetor. A 335-hp tri-power setup used in the Eldorado Brougham was optional. Other options included the Autronic Eye headlight dimmer; Sabre Spoke aluminum wheels; remote control trunk lease; and whitewall tires.

Cadillac sold 24,000 of the Fleetwood Sixty Specials in 1957 at a base price of $5,539. A year later, the sticker price grew to $6,232 without add-ons, and production of the big hardtop fell to 12,900.

The Fleetwoods were considered “hand-crafted” and were built on their own dedicated assembly lines. They were designed to be the best American cars money could buy, and to live up to Cadillac’s promise to be “The Standard of the World.” By almost any measure, the ’58 Sixty Specials were magnificent machines, with big price tags, huge personalities and movie star good looks to match.

BACK IN BLACK

Feiertag wound up having to do a lot less restoring and fixing on his black Fleetwood than he ever expected. The big gamble — buying a car without ever really seeing it — was a pleasant surprise right from the get-go.

“We got it running and we drove it for awhile, then painted it probably a year or two later,” he noted. “We kept it black, and it looked good, but then the leather started to split on the front seat, and so I had that redone. And then the backseat finally gave out, so I had that done. I had to find the original material from that SMS out in Oregon, and they made it and it’s spot-on perfect. Wally’s upholstery in Whitebear Lake, Minn., he’s no longer in business, but he did an excellent job. It’s like original. It’s excellent… Everything else is original. The door panels are original. The carpet is original. The back of the backseat … dash, motor … everything.”

Jody and Terri with their Cadillac

Jody and Terri with their Cadillac

“The one thing that we’ve had the most problems with is the brake booster. They’ve been a problem and I guess it’s kind of a vertical system. It’s been crazy, I just got done replacing that and those things are expensive as heck! And it’s been about the fourth one I’ve replaced. I dunno, I just can’t seem to get one to last. Otherwise, it’s just the regular stuff — brakes, tires, that sort of thing. I do have to get the air conditioning fixed. It worked up until last fall. I’ve got a problem in there now and I need to get that worked on. It’s factory air, so that’s kind of cool.”

The only piece of bodywork he had to tackle was after somebody dented the Cadillac in a mall parking lot a few years back. “I was parked out all by myself and somebody put a nice dent in the door,” he said. “People can be jerks, but it’s fine now.”

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It’s not going to win an economy runs, but that has never deterred the Feiertags for cruising in their whale-sized ’58 anytime the spirit moves them and the roads are clear of snow. They have acres of room for luggage in the trunk and back seat, and all the comfort they could ever hope for.

“It’s one of the easiest driving cars, period,” Jody insists. “Now with this new brake booster, that’s the best one I’ve ever had. It’s got true power brakes. You touch them and it stops. It’s got plenty of power. You can hang onto the steering wheel with one finger. It doesn’t veer or wobble or pull. It’s really a smooth, fun car. One of the best-driving and riding cars I’ve got. You forget how good cars rode until you get into something like this!”

The Sixty Special, and several other vehicles the Feiertags own, has been used in commercial work, and also seen duty in weddings and funerals. “Props on Wheels hires me to take it to different things,” Jody notes. “Of course, there was nothing this year. There was no filming of anything going on this year.”

The only drawback for such duty is that Jody has to get out the wash bucket and wax and spend a couple hours applying some old-fashioned elbow grease. 1958 Cadillac Sixty Specials aren’t really good candidates for modern car washes. “It took me 2, 2 ½ hours on it yesterday to wash it and throw a coat of wax on it,” he chuckles.

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Feiertag enjoys the attention that the car gets. It’s pretty much a one-car motorcade wherever it goes, even on a show field full of other fine machines.

“It’s crazy at car shows how much attention it gets. Sometimes more than I want [laughs]. Sometimes you just want to sit around and chill for a little bit, but there’s always people coming up and talking about it all the time.”

“When it was new, it was the car to get, absolutely. I’m fortunate to have it. I love it. It’s just a cool car.” 

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