- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2000

John E. Abell Sr. signed on as a mechanic in 1934 when Capitol Cadillac first opened on 22nd Street NW in the District of Columbia. Before he retired in 1968 his son, Bud, was well on his way to becoming shop foreman.
Young Mr. Abell started working part time at Capitol Cadillac during World War II. When he wasn't in school he would go to work with his father. In 1947 he started working full time and retired as shop foreman at Capitol Cadillac in April 1993.
A year or so before retiring Mr. Abell attended a couple of antique auto shows and thought how nice it would be to have one of those nice old cars.
It would have to be a Cadillac, of course.
The prices of the first few antique Cadillacs he looked at shocked him. Taking a deep breath, he dove back into the old-car market.
He found a woman in Dunkirk, Md., who was selling her great-grandfather's 1955 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. When Andrew Tressler was 78 years old, he bought the car new from Jerome Motor Co. in New Kensington, Pa., for a base price of $4,305.
After his death in 1974, the car passed to one of his granddaughters, Alice Watterton, in North Apelly, Pa. When her husband died in 1991 their daughter, Nancy Calahan, inherited the Cadillac.
After almost 40 years the car had been driven only 26,000 miles.
In late 1992 Mr. Abell inspected the car, and even though some parts needed attention, he liked the originality of the car. The buyer and seller negotiated, but couldn't agree on a price.
That was that or was it?
In January 1993, the original owner's great-granddaughter called Mr. Abell to find out if he was still interested in the Cadillac.
He was.
She said to come and get it.
He towed a trailer to pick up the car since he didn't trust the ancient tires on it. Unfortunately, the Cadillac is wider than most cars and would not fit on the trailer.
He returned the next day with an 18-wheel tractor-lowboy trailer rig which easily handled the 4,424-pound Cadillac.
Once the car was safely ensconced in Mr. Abell's Upper Marlboro, Md., garage it received a thorough going over. He found the air cleaner cover was on the back seat since the carburetor required constant priming due to a faulty fuel pump. "The water pump was shot, too," Mr. Abell recalls.
He installed a new fuel pump, water pump and carpeting where one of the dual heater cores had leaked. Additionally, he mounted a new set of Firestone 8.20x15-inch white-sidewall tires.
Much to his surprise Mr. Abell discovered none of the ashtrays nor any of the lighters had ever been used. "Nobody ever smoked in this car," Mr. Abell proclaims.
The AM radio with a second speaker in the rear has a signal-seeking wonderbar function and a vacuum-powered antenna. The windshield wipers are also vacuum-powered. The electric dashboard clock needed the attention of a repairman.
Atop the left end of the padded dashboard just inside the panoramic windshield sets the automatic headlight-dimming autronic eye. The unblemished two-tone steering wheel is dressed up with a full horn ring. Speeds up to 110 mph are registered on the wide speedometer.
The task of driving the big car is made easier with power brakes, power steering, power windows, power seat and antenna.
Three highly polished stainless steel bows arch overhead against the headliner to augment the illusion that this is a convertible. A pair of courtesy lights, one at each side of the ceiling, is just above the windows.
The gearshift pattern on the Cadillac from the left reads: Neutral Drive1 Drive2 Low Reverse. The transmission is driven by the powerful 331-cubic-inch V-8 engine, which produces 250 horsepower. A new engine-hood pad now graces the inside of the hood.
Mr. Abell noticed scratches on the right front fender where belt buckles of careless people working on the engine had left their mark. That fender was repainted and it perfectly matches the rest of the maize yellow car. The top is painted alpine white.
All the hoses were replaced, and Mr. Abell flushed out the engine and installed new freeze plugs. "I've found if you can keep an engine running cool it'll run happy," Mr. Abell said.
The gold-plated Cadillac wreath and crests and big "V" on the hood and trunk were replated as well as the gold "Coupe de Ville" label on each side of the car.
Soon after some loose stitching in the upholstery around the driver's seat was resewn, Mr. Abell proclaimed his effort at preserving the remarkable Cadillac complete.
When his grandson Jason Cole asked to use the car in his wedding with his bride, Janet, Mr. Abell eagerly obliged. The car performed wedding day duties magnificently, rolling along on the 129-inch wheelbase.
In the seven-plus years he's owned the car Mr. Abell has driven it slightly more than 600 miles. Despite the low mileage, Mr. Abell remarks, "this car is dynamite to me."

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