My Heart Belongs To Caddy

I drove past it for weeks, circling, full of doubts. Fool is me, I mumbled, my eyes sweeping over this floating mass on sagging springs parked at a local gas station. Would that the car would float away. It didn't. I bought it--a 1970 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Price: $700.

It's turned out to be a shrewd purchase. My gray, 20-foot-long boat sails me down highways in real-leather comfort, with none of the cricks and aches I suffered with my late luxury import.

Mine isn't the ultimate driving machine, but it may well be the ultimate reliable machine, now that I have spent $3,000 to replace everything that could go on the fritz: transmission, alternator, radiator, brakes, starter, carburetor, fuel pump, shocks, springs, and tires. Were I to paint the body and rebuild the engine, for an additional $3,000 or so, I would still be spending less than the depreciation of a midprice new car after two years. If I were to sell it, I could expect to make back my investment.

I call this car my luxury liner. Indeed, it's a relic of Detroit's last fling at manly excess, that period of the `60s and early `70s marked by huge engines, huger bodies, and mountains of chrome.

Muscle cars from the same era, led by Pontiac's GTO, have been hot since kids first roared them off assembly lines, but prices top $25,000 for vintage street racers. Not so luxury liners. For all their rising popularity, you still can find them for under $1,000.

LOVING CARE. Unlike other collectible cars, luxury liners will never see the price runups of, say, the Ferrari. Too many were made. But Bill Gillette, editor of the newsletter Car Collecting & Investing, says a fully loaded, mint-condition 1970 Coupe de Ville convertible may be worth $20,000 by decade's end, three times today's price. For a price guide, check Hemmings Motor News at magazine stands.

To maximize your investment when buying an old cruisemobile, look for signs of low mileage and loving care. The body and interior should be in good condition, since restoring them can be blood-drainingly expensive, easily running into many thousands. Engine parts for these precomputer cars, though, are available and inexpensive.

No matter how you modify the engine, you will never see high gas mileage. My car gets 15 mpg on the road, and some may get much lower. But fuel efficiency never was the point. It's cruising down highways in a style we'll never see again.

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