1956 Sedan de Ville went from heap to champ
Vincent Morreale wanted a Cadillac, but he didn’t want this Cadillac.
Strictly speaking, Morreale is mostly a Pontiac man. But his wife wanted a Cadillac, so he wanted a Cadillac.
He thought he’d find an old one with good bones and not much rust and fix it up for her to drive to the car shows he’d been frequenting for years.
In 1989, his son David saw a 1956 Sedan de Ville advertised for sale in The Daily News. It was a Cadillac, all right, but the attraction began and ended about there.
“I saw it and I thought, ‘I don’t believe I want that car after all,” Morreale, 88, recalled recently at his Santa Fe home.
The owner, who had moved to Galveston for a job, had jumped the Caddy over a curb, leaving one side badly battered, Morreale said.
“That’s a big car for some streets in Galveston,” he said.
The car also was awful in other ways. It had a terrible paint job, for instance, and was covered with a patina of rust.
The seller wanted $1,800.
“I said, ‘Oh no. I can’t pay that.’”
The price dropped to $1,000.
“I said, ‘I really don’t think I’ll be able to pay what you want for it,” Morreale said.
“Make me an offer,” the seller said.
“I said, ‘I’ll make you an offer, but I’ll be walking away. Don’t take offense and I’ll just keep walking,” Morreale said.
He tossed the offer — $500 — over one shoulder as he headed back to his car.
“He said ‘Oh no. I can’t take that for this car.’ He was sort of mad about it.”
Morreale was reaching for the door handle when the seller ran over.
“All right,” he said. “All right. I’ll take it.”
Morreale said he wasn’t engaged in canny horse trading, but was making an honest attempt to escape without owning a really ugly Sedan de Ville that would eat a lot of time and money. But he called David to bring the trailer.
There’s not much new to say about 1950s Cadillac sedans. They are huge. The ’56 Sedan de Ville is more than 18 feet long and almost 8 feet wide. They are powerful, propelled by 365 cubic-inch V8s producing 305 horsepower and 400 foot-pounds of torque with a top end of almost 120 mph off the showroom floor.
The product of American industrial might at its post-World War II peak, they were more than two tons of Yankee steel, rubber and glass bolted together in Detroit, Mich., sucking up a gallon of high-octane gasoline for every nine miles covered with payloads of movie stars or mobsters.
David Morreale said it as well as any: “They were the epitome of American decadence.”
It took about a year of hunting parts and restoration to get the ’56 in shape, Vincent Morreale said.
The work paid off. His Caddy won “Best of Show” at an American Pontiac Association competition in 2006.
It’s no mere show car, though. Morreale drives it frequently. That’s his favorite part of the car, he said.
“I really like riding down the road in it,” he said. “It just drives so smooth.”