This 1957 Cadillac convertible has been in the same family since 1974. Photos by Terry McGean.
Back in 1957, Dinah Shore may famously have encouraged folks to “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet,” but those who had the means had even more appealing choices the further they went up the General Motors hierarchy. At the pinnacle of Alfred Sloan’s pyramid of “cars for every purse and purpose,” stood Cadillac.
For classic-car enthusiasts John and Marilyn Davenport, of Mena, Arkansas, a ’57 Cadillac still makes for a great way to see America, and for the past few decades they’ve been striking out further and further from their home in the Ouachita Mountains. Since 2014, they’ve taken their Cadillac convertible to all four corners of the lower 48, parts of Canada, and even Key West.
Owners John and Marilyn Davenport have countless happy memories with the ’57.
The 4,000 miles they’ve traversed since leaving home on this trip has covered their final corner of the country—they drove out to Virginia Beach, up the Atlantic Seaboard through New York City, the Hamptons, and Maine. They’ve had several ferry trips, including one out to Martha’s Vineyard.
Of course, motoring conditions are somewhat different today than they were during the Eisenhower Administration, so they’ve tweaked the design of the Cadillac ever so slightly to suit—though you probably wouldn’t know it without a close look. We got such a look on October 12, 2018, when they dropped into Hemmings World Headquarters. A Hemmings stop was a must, they told us.
“We’ve been married 43 years,” Marilyn says, “and he’s gotten the magazine the whole time.”
“I’ve been a subscriber since the ’70s,” John confirms, and even pointed out a few parts on the Cadillac that were sourced through Hemmings Motor News advertisers.
Don’t look so surprised, taillamps! There hasn’t been a stock engine in this car since 1974.
From the outside, the only noticeable deviation from stock is the wide-whitewall rubber—radials instead of the original bias plies. Modern GM truck Victory Red also stands in for the factory Dusty Rose Poly, but does such a good impression of Dakotah Red you probably wouldn’t notice. The black convertible top was up on this cool autumn day, and a vintage-looking (but modern) under-dash air conditioner means that the couple has options for things like desert travel, but Marilyn assures us “We love putting the top down.”
Behind those radial tires, the chassis sports disc brakes up front (one of the aforementioned Hemmings-sourced parts) and a Ford 9-inch rear axle. The latter was installed because John was having difficulty getting good-quality ball bearings for the original Cadillac axle. The axle swap also allowed a change in gearing from the original 3.12’s to 3.50’s, which play nicer with the overdrive transmission.
The Corvette L98 V-8 is hooked to an overdrive trans and feeds power to a Ford 9-inch rear axle.
That overdrive, a four-speed GM unit, attaches to an L98 small-block taken from an ’89 Corvette. Now, don’t get all bent out of shape about the powerplant. For one thing, the original 365-cu.in. engine was already expired when John’s dad bought the car (for $200!) back in 1974. That deal included a ’62 Cadillac parts car, which donated its 390-cu.in. engine to the ’57. The tuned-port injection on the Corvette engine, however, offers plenty of power and decent fuel economy—just the thing for fuel prices averaging closer to $2.50 per gallon than the 31¢ per gallon typical when the Caddy was new.
What’s next for such a well-equipped car? Not peace and quiet, that’s for sure. “We’ll never retire the Cadillac,” they assure us. We suggested perhaps Lebanon, Kansas, geographic center of the lower 48, but John hinted that they haven’t yet visited Montana and the Dakotas.
We hope you’ll send us a postcard from the Badlands, John and Marylin. Thanks for stopping in!
We can think of few happier places to be on a long haul than behind the elegant dashboard of a 1957 Cadillac, and this one’s even got XM radio. Please excuse the 4,000 miles of road-trip detritus—we’ve all been there.