Written by independent automotive journalist Roger C. Johnson
Custom cars based on models from the ’40s and ’50s will always be in a league of their own. They don’t claim to be anything else, and nothing else claims to be like them. These two cars – which crossed the Barrett-Jackson block at No Reserve at the 2016 Scottsdale Auction – represent the outer edges of their respective decades, yet there is a common bond between them, and it’s not just the name Cadillac. It is also the name John D’Agostino.
It would be accurate to consider D’Agostino the reigning wizard of the entire custom car domain with a resume that includes 10 Hall of Fame nominations and countless major awards for his automotive creations. As a recent testament to the value of D’Agostino’s one-of-a-kind creations, a 1941 Packard Custom named “Gable” sold for $495,000 at the 2015 Scottsdale Auction. D’Agostino’s two Cadillac customs – the “Elvis III” and “Sophia” – also illustrate the way his imagination, attention to detail and passion for this craft are interwoven into each machine.
It is only fitting this 1959 Cadillac Series 62 Custom De Ville (Lot #1388) known as “Elvis III” is associated with the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. This Cadillac exemplifies the ultimate in custom car design because it began as the ultimate upscale production car of its era. Decades later it still carries the status, style and elegance only a handful of cars in the world have ever attained.
Under the masterful eye of John D’Agostino, this Cadillac underwent a complete body-off restoration at his Celebrity Kustoms facility in Italy. This very project is considered the first-ever Italian-made American custom car.
This Cadillac’s roofline has been lowered two inches and then repurposed into a custom ash wood removable T-top panels featuring mother-of-pearl inlays. A handmade white ash wood receptor in the trunk keeps those panels safe and out of sight when desired. Door handles have been shaved and completely replaced with a remote-control system.
The long, smooth body lines give the specially mixed PPG paint ‒ created with actual crystal dust ‒ the ideal canvas for this kind of art. The car’s signature chrome bullet fixtures in the front and rear grilles have been replaced with actual Swarovski crystals that replicate the original chrome pieces, but with far greater brilliance. The interior is a handmade masterpiece of leather stitched, formed and fit in luxurious splendor.
The car utilizes a complete air ride suspension system. This allows the driver total control over the suspension’s ride height and function. A fresh and original 390ci Cadillac V8 engine resides in an immaculately detailed bay and makes sufficient power for what is certainly the ultimate boulevard cruiser. This Cadillac has made its new owner an absolute King of Rock AND Roll.
D’Agostino was spending time in the south of Italy enjoying the local atmosphere with friends when the idea struck him to name his latest 1940 Cadillac creation after the queen of Italian movie stars, Sophia Loren. Thus this 1940 Cadillac Series 62 (Lot #1408) known as “Sophia” is a sensuous custom if ever there was one.
This original rust-free California car had been stored for 50 years before it was purchased in 2010. Virtually all of its exterior surfaces have been handcrafted into a seamless creation. Take the word “seamless” literally. Those beautiful flowing fenders and their low-key running boards have been widened and actually molded into the body as if they were all a single piece of steel stamped in one stroke by a giant hydraulic press.
You’ll notice this amazing car is no longer the two-door sedan GM produced it to be. The removal of the center post gave this machine the period-correct aero-look D’Agostino was surely envisioning. This particular custom touch added even more style to a machine that was already conceived by world renowned Harley Earl ‒ the resident design guru at GM.
This car’s roof has been chopped four inches to enhance its aerodynamic look. Naturally, the actual amount of such a chop is always a function of the original car and its intended build objective. Yet it’s a process that never fails to make a car look younger and faster, especially models from this era.
Everything about this Cadillac underscores D’Agostino’s place in custom car history. The taillights are made of Lucite and molded into the vertical guards on the rear bumper, which was sectioned for perfect proportion. Even the headlights and their housings stand out like they’re designed to simply outsmart the flow of air around them.
A Chevelle front clip with corresponding disc brakes was grafted to this car, providing it with an instant handling and braking upgrade. A ’70s-era 500ci Cadillac engine backed by a stout Turbo 400 transmission make for the perfect combination to motivate this wonderful example of Cadillac’s supremacy.
The car’s exterior is coated in House of Kolor Ice Mint Pearl paint, which seems to emphasize its voluptuous lines and intricate details. Inside, the interior is done in a unique tuck and roll style, and capitalizes on period-perfect Pearl White combined with more Ice Mint Green. The original Art Deco design of the grille and even the dashboard trim enforce the car’s historical sensitivities. Wide whitewalls on Coker tires and 1953 Cadillac hubcaps complete this classic custom’s regal image.
The surge in high-end custom cars has even caught the eye of the Pebble Beach crowd, where the most discriminating collectors of all gather. The winning bidders searching for blue-blood additions to their own collections now have a chance to make history. The King and Queen of custom cars created by one of the masters of that universe have the bloodlines to rule any domain. The flash and style of Elvis right next to the grace and beauty of Sophia make it a certainty.
‒ Written by independent automotive journalist Roger C. Johnson
For the sale prices of these vehicles, click on the links in the article above.