So what is the significance of Elvis Presley’s gold car?
Perhaps more than any other car he owned, the gold-trimmed 1960 Series 75 Fleetwood Cadillac convertible limousine embodied and expressed Elvis’s stardom and wealth. He had a flamboyant taste and almost limitless capacity for extravagant self-indulgence. By 1960, his recordings and movies had made Elvis rich beyond his dreams, so price was no object. To create his dream machine, Elvis commissioned George Barris, the “King of Kustomizers”, of Hollywood to design and build his gold Cadillac. Barris had created some of America’s most famous custom cars and hot-rods for films and television series including the Munsters Koach and the Batmobile.
Elvis spent US$100,000 on the Gold Cadillac and had it fitted with virtually every luxury accessory that money could buy. The passenger compartment and the trunk were upholstered in white pearled leather-grained vinyl and imported gold-coloured crushed velvet. The floor was carpeted in white sheepskin. The interior metal trim and upholstery buttons were plated in 24-karat gold, as were the engraved dashboard plaque and the gold records set into the headlining. Gold lame curtains covered the back windows and separated the front and back seats.
Elvis loved gadgets, and the Gold Cadillac was crammed with them — all gold-plated, of course! They included dual French-made radio-telephones, a Kenwood anti-theft system, a shoe buffer, electric clippers, a refrigerator, a bar and a state-of-the-art entertainment system that included a Kenwood multi-speaker stereo system, 10-disc auto-changer RCA record player, Kenwood tape deck, Kenwood AM-FM radio, and a gold-plated swivel-mounted color TV.
The two-tone white and gold exterior was built up of forty coats of custom-made ‘pearl of essence’ lacquer that contained diamond dust and opalescent fish scales imported from the Orient, hand-rubbed to a dazzling finish, and highlighted by hand-swirled 24-karat gold plate striping. The bumpers, the hand-spun hubcaps, the wheel rims and covers, the headlight rims, the grille and the custom-made Elvis guitar hood ornament were all plated in 24-karat gold.
The Cadillac soon became as much an icon as Elvis himself. Unfortunately, too much so as it created traffic jams and fans often caused damage to the vehicle wherever it went. Elvis ultimately had to park it at Graceland.
As Elvis’ career wound down, Colonel Parker talked RCA into buying the car for $24,000 and sending it on tour as a kind of surrogate for Presley himself who hadn’t made a live appearance in years. The Cadillac went to shopping centers and parking lots of theaters where small crowds were expected to turn out for the star’s latest film. However, the car tour was a resounding success. In Houston alone 40,000 people came to take a look and receive a free `Elvis Presley’s Gold Car’ postcard.
In late 1967, Australian Elvis Presley Fan Clubs were thrilled to learn that the Gold Cadillac would be coming to Australia for a fund-raising charity tour. The tour had been arranged by the Benevolent Society of NSW to raise money for the seventeen Australian charities they supported. Before it left Memphis, Elvis generously placed US$1,000 worth of toys in the car for needy children around Australia. During the nation-wide tour, thousands of Aussie fans flocked to see the fabulous car that ‘The King’ himself had driven. RCA Australia contributed a display featuring a special series of approximately forty gold records with and gold-and-black labels. The gold records were in recognition of the massive sales Elvis had achieved in Australia and were to be sent back to the States for presentation to Elvis after the tour. At the end of the tour The Benevolent Society’s Elvis Presley Charity Committee sent Elvis a letter of appreciation, informing him that the tour and souvenir sales had been a resounding success, raising AU$149,175 for the Australian Charity Appeal (equivalent to at least $1 million today). Elvis was also made an Honarary Life Governor of the Benevolent Society and the commemorative plaque presented to him still hangs in Graceland’s Hall of Gold.
RCA toured the car internationally with great success in the late Sixties, including the 1968 Australian tour. In the late 70’s it was donated to the Country Music Association Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee, where it is on permanent public display.