A true highway cruiser

by Larry D'Argis . Jun 02 2017
Ralph Gammelseter’s love for Cadillacs goes back to his childhood, so when he found this 1960 Series 62, he quickly snapped it up. (David Lipnowski / Winnipeg Free Press)

Ralph Gammelseter’s love for Cadillacs goes back to his childhood, so when he found this 1960 Series 62, he quickly snapped it up. (David Lipnowski / Winnipeg Free Press)

Leading edge designs at General Motors were often the product of the Cadillac design studio. Getting close enough for a peak into the future was easier said then done, as General Motors was quite particular about keeping the workings of Cadillac top secret and admittance was restricted to authorized personnel only.

From the 1930s through to the 1960s Harley Earl, design department head, and lead designer, Bill Mitchell, would oversee some very advanced and trendsetting designs. Earl’s keen eye noted the distinctive tailfins on a P-38 Lightning aircraft and saw fit to incorporate the design feature into the rear fenders of the late ’40’s Cadillacs.

That tailfin styling trend would grow into a cultural symbol throughout the ’50s. It would also grow to monolithic proportions by the end of the 1950s with the huge fins and bullet tail lamps found on the 1959 Cadillac.

For 1960, the Cadillac looked very much like the ’59 model, yet the tailfin styling was notably smoother and more subtle. That change alone led to a much cleaner design and one that would point Cadillac towards the future and poised to take on the challenges of car design in the 1960s.

Winnipeg’s Ralph Gammelseter has always been passionate about Cadillac.

“I’ve always had a want for a Cadillac and even as a kid wanted to own one,” Gammelseter says.

Having owned a few Cadillac’s over the years it was actually a ’56 Oldsmobile that first got he and his wife Delores into cruising. Gammelseter says, “I had retired from being a bus driver and we were enjoying being able to take in the old car hobby.”

Late in 2010 he spotted an ad for a 1960 Cadillac Series 62 two-door hardtop in St. Boniface. He and his brother Robert thought it was worth checking out so they went to see it outside of Orell’s Beauty Salon. Robert and Ralph had grown up under the tutelage of their father Ralph Sr.

“Dad was a master mechanic for many years at Winnipeg Motor Products and taught us well when it came to cars and mechanics,” Gammelseter says.

The bottom line was, that the Caddy was solid and at a decent price, it just needed a little finesse and maintenance to move it from backyard beauty to being a true highway cruiser.

Originally a beige car, it had been repainted 30 years previously in a Persian Sand colour. Still in great shape, the colour really worked with the factory beige leather and cloth upholstery fabrics. Aside from some cleaning, the interior only needed to have the dashboard repaired.

Omer Gautron from Omer’s Upholstering got the nod to take on the job of reupholstering the dashboard. Gammelseter also changed out the original AM radio for a modern AM/FM unit and added factory air-conditioning, thanks to original Cadillac parts sourced from a donor car in Duluth, Minn.

Under the hood was the 390-cubic inch V-8 that had been introduced in the Cadillac in 1959. With a 10.5:1 compression ratio and four-barrel carburetor it produces 325 horsepower at 4,800 r.p.m. The engine ran OK, but had a problem with the Carter carburetor so it was swapped out in favour of a newer Rochester Quadra-Jet carburetor and upgraded to electronic ignition with a Pertronix ignition kit and replaced the original generator with a new alternator, ensuring a trouble-free ride.

Other additions include a reversible electric fan to control engine temperature and a custom dual exhaust system with Magnaflow mufflers, installed at Minute Muffler. Keeping up with where the rubber meets the road is a new set of 15-inch whitewall radial tires with full factory wheelcovers.

Gammelseter’s Cadillac came equipped with a multitude of optional equipment including power steering, power brakes, power windows, six-way power seat, power antenna, automatic headlamp dimmer, dual side-view mirrors and E-Z-Eye tinted glass.

Those sharp enough to catch the licence plate “CARMA”, may think it a bit odd, but Gammelseter explains, “When I flipped down the passenger sun visor, someone had written a name in felt pen and it just happened to be my mother’s maiden name.”

Since 2010 Gammelseter has enjoyed many outings to the Pony Corral Cruise Nights and Cruisin’ the Peg at the Tavern United, as well as many local shows. Delores, who also loved the cruises, shows and people, but sadly lost her battle with cancer and passed on March 3 of this year.

“We loved going out together to the cruises and shows and if I had to step away for a moment, Delores would greet people and could proudly tell them anything they wanted to know about our Caddy,” Gammelseter says.

A member of the Manitoba Street Rod Association for the past 10 years — Gammelseter and his Cadillac will continue to cruise.

There were 19,978 two-door hardtop Cadillac Series 62 coupes produced in 1960 at a list price of $5,455, before adding optional equipment. For 1961 the Cadillac would see a full restyle and many engineering upgrades. Today, Cadillac remains a pinnacle in the luxury car arena.

57ford@mymts.net

(David Lipnowski / Winnipeg Free Press)

(David Lipnowski / Winnipeg Free Press)

The tailfins on the 1960 Cadillac were inspired by the design of the P-38 Lightning aircraft. (David Lipnowski / Winnipeg Free Press)

The tailfins on the 1960 Cadillac were inspired by the design of the P-38 Lightning aircraft. (David Lipnowski / Winnipeg Free Press)

(David Lipnowski / Winnipeg Free Press)

(David Lipnowski / Winnipeg Free Press)

Delores and Ralph Gammelseter with their 1960 Cadillac. (David Lipnowski / Winnipeg Free Press)

Delores and Ralph Gammelseter with their 1960 Cadillac. (David Lipnowski / Winnipeg Free Press)