Elvis Presley’s car
The King of Rock ’n’ Roll would have turned 85 on Wednesday, Jan. 8—but, of course, he’s long since left the building. However, you can still see his car if you venture down to the National Automobile Museum, 10 S. Lake St.
The 1973 Cadillac Eldorado Custom Coupe sits in one of the museum’s several galleries alongside the cars of other famous people. It’s been there since the museum—which houses a large portion of the late Bill Harrah’s car collection—opened.
“This was one of the originals in Harrah’s automobile collection,” explained Buddy Frank, the museum’s interim executive director. “So it’s been in the collection the 30 years that it’s been here in our museum. And then Bill Harrah acquired it before that.”
According to a museum press release about the car, front-wheel drive Cadillac Eldorados were “first introduced in 1967 and received substantial exterior styling changes for 1973. The Eldorado Coupe sported … a new ’egg crate’ grille attached to the front bumper. When the bumper was struck at low speeds, the entire grille retracted inward several inches, preventing damage to the grille and front-end sheet metal.”
When Presley acquired his, it came with all of the options and a custom hood and radiator cap.
“The nice thing about it—it was Elvis’s Cadillac—but it was purchased by his dad,” Frank explained. “Vernon Presley bought it for Elvis. And he was quite a Cadillac fan—but he only had it for a few months because he gave it to his karate instructor. Elvis always was into kung fu, learning karate and whatever. So he gave it to his karate instructor, a guy named Kang Rhee … who lived in Tennessee. And Elvis actually got up to being a seventh-degree black belt—hard to believe. He really worked on it hard.”
Frank explained that the car’s white body and its matching interior were actually built by different companies
“This is a Fleetwood [interior],” Frank said. “And it was body built by Fisher. In the early cars, a lot of times the car maker and the body maker were different. But Cadillac had a division called Fisher, and they did a lot of unique things here.”
Stepping back enough to view the entire length of it, the car is striking, even to someone like Franks who sees it regularly.
“I think you’re just struck by it—if you stand back here—how big this car is,” he said. “In fact, Cadillacs were always known for that, being huge cars, maybe not today but back in the day.”
Of course, it’s not the only boat-sized car in the museum. Nor is it the only one that comes with a celebrity pedigree.
“It’s a very unique car for us to have, but, in fact, in this gallery, you know, you can just look around and you’ll see James Dean’s Mercury, John F. Kennedy’s Lincoln Continental, Frank Sinatra’s Ghia and Bill Harrah’s Jerrari—which is a Jeep Wagoneer with a Ferrari engine in it, custom made,” Frank said. “We have John Wayne’s Corvette, the first Corvette ever built. He barely fit in it, though. He was almost too big to be in it. We have a lot of celebrity-related cars.”