Moving Cadillac forward, GM’s President Looks to its Past for a Personal Driver
by Hank Miller
Under the General Motors banner since 1909, no other American automotive marquee has been as closely associated with luxury than Cadillac. Along with Harley Earl’s trend-setting styling, America’s premier luxury manufacturer introduced innovative features that blazed a path through automotive history.
Today’s Cadillac brand is enjoying an unprecedented rate of evolution. Astounding performance leaps harken back to the 1949 introduction of the first mass-produced overhead valve V8 engine that transformed stock car racing and resulted in success on legendary circuits as Watkins Glen and Le Mans.
Indeed, Cadillac and its test drivers are a common sight at the famed German proving ground of the Nürburgring with a number of course records under its belt.
Considering the modern-day international scale of automobile manufacturing, the responsibilities assumed by General Motors President Daniel Ammann are staggering. Among his highest priorities is managing the global Cadillac brand.
“We are re-establishing Cadillac to its rightful position at the pinnacle of luxury. We are rebuilding three critical dimensions of the brand — delivering the brand promise, product, and customer experience,” said Ammann about luxury marquee’s brand transformation.
With the massive worldwide marketing effort surrounding Cadillac, you’d think the man heading the global operations of America’s leading automaker would tool around the Motor City in a CTS-V or an Escalade that would easily accommodate his 6’3” frame. Interestingly enough, the native New Zealander’s driver of choice is a 1961 Cadillac Series 62 convertible.
Soon after joining Morgan Stanley in 1999 as an investment banker and with his first bonus check in hand, he developed a desire to buy a classic car.
The snowy Manhattan winter didn’t deter Ammann from seeking out a vintage convertible and his search led him to a Florida classic car dealer who offered for sale, a drop-top 1961 Cadillac Series 62. He soon boarded a plane and traveled to the Sunshine State to inspect the car.
The warmer climes afforded Ammann the opportunity for a top-down test drive. “It passed the 20/20 test — from 20 feet away and at 20 mph, it looked in good shape. It had 60,000, or 160,000 or 260,000 miles,” he offered.
The beautiful weather, the wind in his hair and that luxurious Cadillac ride quality seemed to be the right formula for the young finance wizard and he found himself writing a check for the $12,000 purchase price of the car.
Once back home, his newly-acquired classic didn’t spend time collecting dust in New York City’s notoriously expensive parking garages. The convertible became his daily driver and his passion for the Cadillac took hold.
Whether jostling with taxi cabs for lane position in Manhattan’s crowded streets or relaxing weekend jaunts out to the Hamptons, the 62 Series remained Ammann’s trusted form of primary transportation.
As his finance career advanced, the introduction of a lifetime happened while driving his Cadillac. He met his wife, Pernilla, while behind the wheel. She was with a mutual friend when he picked them up in the car. A relationship blossomed and the rest became history.
After years of enjoyment, the fifty-plus year-old Cadillac began to show its age. The northeastern climate and the oft-rough roads took their toll. Rather than purchase another, the professional and personal significance attached to this particular classic convertible won the day and Ammann made the decision to professionally restore the car.
The choice of restoration provider was immediately clear. He’d previously dealt with the Cadillac Parts & Restoration (CPR) team a few years prior to replace a cracked windshield and, basing his decision on their “strong reputation for restoring Cadillacs,” he shipped the Bristol Blue metallic Cadillac to their new Poughkeepsie, NY restoration facility.
Formerly working under the FEN Enterprises banner, the Cadillac Parts & Restoration team has served the classic Cadillac community since 1984 when FEN was created.
When the car arrived at CPR, the challenges presented by this project were significant.
“Daniel’s love for this vehicle was obvious,” said CPR’s Frank Nicodemus, Jr. “He literally drove the car until it could no longer be enjoyably driven.”
Large areas of rust and rot offered a view through the lower body panels right through to the pavement. Portions of the floor pans supporting the rear seats no longer existed. The powertrain was in need of a complete rebuild as was the interior.
Undaunted by the extensive and expensive restoration project, the project moved forward.
“Sentimental value is immeasurable,” proclaimed Cadillac Parts & Restoration’s President, Elsa Mauer.” “It drives decisions that may not make the most financial sense but it’s also a part of the human factor that makes life worth living.”
To classify the Ammann project as a complete restoration would almost be an understatement. Complete disassembly was followed by refinishing/replacement of every component down to the nuts and bolts and hundreds of hours of exhausting body repair.
As promised, the lengthy project was expensive. Regular photo updates accompanied invoices and, as with any project of this magnitude, an abundance of patience was required.
Over the course over a year, the car was transformed from an almost non-drivable hulk of steel and rust into a showroom-quality collector car worthy of the return trip to its home and city of manufacture, Detroit, MI.
In August, 2015 and with the restoration almost complete, Ammann paid a visit to CPR to inspect and drive his now brand-new 1961 Cadillac Series 62 convertible. “It was pretty sweet,” exclaimed Ammann. “I was so excited to see it again.”
Six weeks later, the completed restoration was loaded onto a transporter and sent home to its anxious owner. Despite the world-class restoration, this classic will not be a “trailer-queen.” It will be driven often in the metro-Detroit area, “when it isn’t snowing,” according to the car’s excited owner.
During the August, 2015 visit, CPR’s Frank Nicodemus, Jr. extolled the virtues and benefits of Cadillac & LaSalle Club (CLC) membership. As a result, the President of General Motors is now a CLC member and has expressed an interest in bringing the car to club events. Including the 2016 Grand National Meet in Las Vegas.
“Our involvement with the Cadillac & LaSalle Club, both nationally and with our local Lower Hudson Valley region, has been quite important to us — both professionally and personally,” said Nicodemus. Jr. “Any Cadillac owner, classic or contemporary, will find great benefit in membership.”