Devil in Black

1956 Cadillac Coupe de Ville more stylish than sinister

By Jeff Barnes

(Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald in May 2012)

To be honest, Doug Steensma’s 1956 Cadillac Coupe de Ville looks more like something one of his clients would be driving a half century ago rather than what he’d be driving today. The black-on-black Caddy almost seems more suited to an underworld boss than for someone who serves as a U.S. probation officer.

Steensma, 43, isn’t sure why he had the craving for a Caddy. “I wasn’t around when these were around,” he said. “No one in the family had one. I once asked my grandfather about them and he said ‘Cadillacs are for rich people and we’re not rich’.”

But he’s been fascinated by the cars since the ‘80s, looking them up at auto shows and doing research on them. He came to think it would be cool to have a Cadillac, in particular one of the Series 62 made from 1954-’56. “Its fins were subtle, not pointed like the following year. I knew this was the period that I wanted.”

Finding one locally proved impossible. While visiting his sister in Minneapolis in 2006, however, he was able to track this one down at a consignment auto dealer in nearby Watertown, Minn.

“It was in a huge warehouse and the place was a dump,” Steensma said. “I walked in and there it was in the middle of about 75 other cars. It was covered in dust, but it was a dream for me.” Unfortunately, the price tag was $35,000 and entirely out of his price range.

He came home to Omaha and continued to look without success for about a year. After discussing the car with his father, he decided to call the dealership with a much lower offer. “I was offering $24,500; the dealer said ‘Let me call the owner and see what he says’,” Steensma said. “The call came back and he said the owner would sell it for $25,000. I pretty much had to take it at that price – all that was left was to sell it to my wife (Tami).”

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The car really was in great shape, said Steensma. The owner said he’d spent $25,000 getting it to look like it did with new upholstery, a rebuilt engine, rebuilt gauges, a new headliner, and restored chrome. “The chrome itself was $14,000,” he said. “He had all the receipts so I knew the work had been done. I drove it and had no idea about how it should ride or what it should sound like, but felt like I was buying something I’d feel good about.”

He trailered it home to Omaha because he had some suspicions about the transmission. Sure enough, the transmission went out the following year and cost almost $3,000 to fix.

Steensma’s Coupe de Ville is one of 25,000 built in 1956. “It wasn’t Cadillac’s best seller that year,” he said. “The Sedan de Ville was – it was built without the ‘B’ column allowing the side windows to be completely open like the coupe.” Still, this is a BIG car – 221 inches long and weighing 4,500 pounds.

The car is unique enough to appear at the upcoming Joslyn Castle Classic Show on Sunday, July 29, 2012, featuring specially selected automobiles and motorcycles from the 1900s to the 1960s.

Steensma said the car runs great at 60 mph, but he has never taken it outside of Douglas County. “The Joslyn show will be the furthest I’ve driven it,” he said. “It has some electrical problems and some leaks. If those were fixed I’d feel comfortable taking it further.”

He’s done some research on the car since buying it. After making contact with the two previous owners in Minnesota, he found out the car had once been in a museum in Kentucky and was purchased new by a Pasadena, Cal., man. “He got it with the differential allowing better acceleration, so he obviously wanted more speed,” Steensma said.

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