There’s apple pie, there’s mom and there’s July 4th fireworks, but when it comes to Americana, the nearly 3 tons of rolling Detroit steel embodied in a classic Cadillac is right up there.
At least it is if you ask David Mowry IV, a Spring Hill collector-owner-driver of sleek, powerful vintage Cadillacs. It’s been a lifelong love affair.
“I grew up with Cadillacs,” said Mowry, whose father, a successful nightclub operator in New York’s Long Island, owned several over the years, as did his grandfather. “They’re part of me — part of my youth and part of my memories growing up.”
When he was a teenager, Mowry drove a Cadillac, which baffled others his age.
“They had Camaros and Mustangs and they didn’t like these big cars,” he recalled. “They thought they were old-man cars; I thought they were cool.”
Looking at an all-original red Eldorado convertible with white leather interior, its body stretching nearly the length of two compact cars and parked in his Cadillac restoration shop, “cool” is right on the money.
“When I’m driving down the street, people honk and ask if I want to sell,” said Mowry, who has owned more than 100 of the iconic autos in his life.
Mowry has slowed down some these days, not buying and trading in Cadillacs as much as he used to. He’s selling off parts he doesn’t think he needs and “downsizing and simplifying” his life a bit to make time to restore his prized 1969 George Barris Eldorado del Caballero, a customized special edition car and one of 13 produced by the famed customizer who did many cars for Hollywood TV and movies, including the Batmobile and Munsters cars. He’s had the Barris Caddy for years, and after blasting it down to bare metal and coating it with epoxy primer to protect it from rust, it awaits restoration. If he were ever forced to own just one, that would be the car, he said.
He also owned country star Slim Whitman’s former Cadillac, which he later sold to a buyer in Germany. Many European buyers snap up old Cadillacs, said Mowry, but the cars have become increasingly scarce.
“It’s getting really hard to find parts these days,” he lamented.
It goes back to the “Cash for Clunkers” program implemented in 2009 by President Barack Obama, which offered cash incentives to trade in “clunkers” for new, more fuel-efficient cars, he said. Between the program and a period when steel scrap prices were high and China was buying thousands of old cars for recycling the steel, many classic Cadillacs vanished in melting pots.
“I used to be able to go to the bone yard and find a nice hood for $75,” said Mowry. “Now it’s $1,000 if you can even find one; these days they’re as rare as unicorns.”
Mowry’s daily driver is a 1995 DeVille, which is about the newest model year he considers worthy when it comes to Cadillacs. The exception would be the 2002 Escalade, even though his wife was against the purchase. He made the mistake of letting her drive it once and “I never saw it again,” he said with a chuckle. “She fell in love with it.”
People can still buy new Cadillacs, though GM and other carmakers have shifted away from cars to focus on truck and SUV production, said Mowry, increasingly ceding the car market to imports. New Cadillacs are OK cars, but they don’t stack up to the older classics, Mowry said, admitting part of that take is personal and has a lot to do with family nostalgia.
“They don’t make cars like they used to,” he said, telling the story of how his father ran a Cadillac into a tree at 120 mph many years ago and survived. “Without all that steel in front of him, he wouldn’t have survived.”
Mowry said he dallied in the enemy camp a few years ago, owning a couple of Lincoln’s, Ford’s luxury offering built to compete with the Cadillac. He had a 1956 Mark II — which he still regrets selling due to its value among collectors — and later a 1977 Mark V.
“I liked them, but they weren’t me,” he said. “I have too many memories associated with Cadillacs; they’re in my blood, I guess.”
Mowry said working on his Cadillacs is great stress relief, an escape that’s never been more valuable than during these past weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mowry and his wife fell victim to the virus when it began, apparently bringing home the bug from an Orlando theme park in January.
After a two-week recovery, he got back to working on his beloved Caddys in his Spring Hill shop.
“When you’re doing this you forget all your troubles,” he said. “It’s great for stress relief.”
Mowry said that while he’s slowing down on restoration work, he plans to drive Cadillacs as long as he can.
“Maybe they’ll bury me in one,” he joked