- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Dan Ryan came by his affection for enormous vintage American cars honestly. He father, a service manager for Buick in New York, took his pre-teen son on a tour of the General Motors assembly plant in Linden, N.J.

The year was 1976 when the summer tour took place. Father and son were shown how Oldsmobile 98s, Buick Electra 225s and Cadillac DeVilles were screwed together.

“Since then I’ve always liked B-I-G American cars,” Mr. Ryan says.

When he turned 16, his first set of wheels was a very used 1967 Buick Electra 225 convertible. He wowed all of his Long Island neighbors with his car.

Several other big cars came and went before the summer of 2002. That was when Mr. Ryan decided the time had come to go first class and buy a Cadillac. He didn’t want a downsized Cadillac and the big ones that captivated his attention were 1975 and 1976 models. “I wanted the cream of the crop,” he explains.

On the Internet he saw a 1976 Cadillac Coupe DeVille being auctioned. He like the car but thought the reserve price was unrealistic so he did not bid. Evidently all the other bidders shared his opinion because the car remained unsold.

Soon thereafter Mr. Ryan contacted the owner in upper New Jersey to see if he remained interested in selling the car.

Getting an affirmative answer, Mr. Ryan delved deeper into the history of the Cadillac and discovered that the man selling the car, Anthony S. Lanza, had bought it new from the Lex Depp Cadillac dealership on Columbia Turnpike in Florham Park, N.J., on Sept. 9, 1976.

Mr. Lanza had selected a high-dollar car and even with a down payment of $3,500 he was left with 48 monthly payments to GMAC of $192.23 each. He drove home in a new Cadillac Coupe DeVille that stretches 19.25 feet between the bumpers. Beneath the flight-deck-size hood is an 8.2-liter V-8 engine that translates into a 500-cubic-inch powerplant. Even with all that mass, the output — thanks to strangling government regulations — was a mere 190 horsepower and 360 foot-pounds of torque.

Following telephone negotiations Mr. Ryan and Mr. Lanza agreed to meet in August 2002.

“I took the train to north Jersey,” Mr. Ryan says. There, he was met by an old friend who drove him to see the Cadillac. “I thought that if I didn’t like it I would take the train back to Washington,” he says.

However, there wasn’t much to dislike about the car with about 62,000 miles on the odometer.

“The more I looked, the more excited I became,” admits Mr. Ryan. He had previously created a 62-item check list that proved to be unnecessary. After a flawless 25-mile test drive, he could hardly wait to pay for the car. “It ran like a champ,” he says. Mr. Ryan drove the 300 miles home to College Park, Md., that very day. “I averaged about 15 miles per gallon,” he reports, “and that was before a tuneup.”

The air conditioner wasn’t working so the trip down the New Jersey Turnpike was made with the windows down and the fingers crossed. “I thought, ‘I’ll figure it out if it breaks down,’” Mr. Ryan says. Fortunately, he didn’t have to figure anything out.

He was amazed at the pristine condition of the inlaid fake wood in the telescopic and tilt steering wheel. “It’s comfy, like your living room,” he remarks.

Once he arrived home, Mr. Ryan took the car to a trusted mechanic where he left the car for two months. The Cadillac underwent a complete physical examination where minor trouble spots were nipped in the bud and the air-conditioner compressor was replaced and converted to R-134a environmentally friendly coolant.

“I wanted to make the car reliable to drive anywhere,” Mr. Ryan says. The only real surprise, he comments, was the need to replace the radiator. Now that he has his mechanically healthy Cadillac in hand, he marvels at all the goodies that were on a car 27 years ago. The Cadillac features cruise control, intermittent wipers, power seats, remote-control right-side mirror and rear-window defogger. But, of course, this is a Cadillac. “It’s a good way to travel,” Mr. Ryan says.

Other niceties include: a limited slip differential, leather upholstery, power windows, power locks, power seat, climate control, signal-seeking stereo, lighted vanity mirror and a Firemist Crystal Blue finish.

The special Cabriolet Package includes a padded vinyl half-roof, bright roof molding, opera lamps and a see-through hood ornament.

Now that the Cadillac has received a clean bill of health, Mr. Ryan has taken two lengthy trips in it, one to New York and the other to Rehoboth Beach, Del. Both trips, he happily reports, were trouble-free.

Radial tires now roll under the Cadillac but the original L78x15-inch spare, filled with 1976 air, is in the trunk.

Mr. Ryan, manager of government affairs and safety with Mazda, is not averse to daily use of his car — if the weather is good and traffic is light. When he does commute to work, it’s down the pot holes on Rhode Island Avenue. “In my Cadillac I kind of hear them, but I don’t feel them,” he says with a smile.

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