Empire Lambda New York Automobile Club

Our Cars: Les Steinberg’s 1959 Cadillac Coupe DeVille

by Roger on Apr.06, 2011, under 50's Cars, 60's Cars, Cadillac, Our Cars, luxury cars

For those of you who don’t know him, Les Steinberg is one of our members who in my opinion is “livin’ the dream”, he works for a large private car collection, painstakingly restoring old iron on a seemingly budget-unlimited basis.  In his spare time he located and brought to new condition a low mileage ’59 Cadillac Coupe DeVille for himself.  While the restoration performed wasn’t an every nut and bolt top to bottom one, Les documented the work he did do on this beautiful car and indubitably shows that one can achieve museum-quality results with lots of talent, patience and an eye for detail all while working out of an ordinary home garage. He subsequently sold the car, and almost immediately was pining away for this one that he had let get away, and began the search for another.  While he hasn’t found his next subject yet, one thing’s for sure, any car subjected to a “Lesteration” is indeed a lucky one!

Click photos for full-resolution image.


Jupiter Florida. It wouldn't be foolish to call this place a "59" Cadillac Supermarket...

How Do You Choose ? How Dooo You Choose ???
The Yellow One Was The One For Me. An All Original Unmolested Piece With 34,000 Miles.

A Factory Red Seville With A Vinyl Roof. So Many Of These Cars Were Painted Red After The Fact. It’s Odd To See One In Red From The Factory.

The Magic Is In The Color…

Carefully Extracting It For The Long Trip Home . It Has Not Been Started In 18 Years. Lots Of Work Before I Can Turn The Key…

It Arrived In The Biggest Car Carrier I have Ever Seen.

The First Peek. I Should Explain That At This Point I Hadn’t Seen It Yet. I Let My Friends Look For Me. I Sent Them With A Blank Check… : )

The Birthing.

Finally! The Truck Spits Out A 59 Cadillac!

This Is The Best Case Scenario. Untouched Down To The Heater Hoses. An Open Window Into The Way The Factory Produced It. Every Nut And Bolt Will Be Exact When It’s Done, Not An Interpretation.

Really A Mess and I couldn’t Be Happier About It…

This Car Has Been Sitting Around For A Long Time…

Where Do You Start? This Has Been Oxidizing For 18 Years. The Cleanup Happens One Square Inch At A Time...

I needed A Jack Hammer To Get This Crap Off…

It’s Actually Close To Being a Benchmark Automobile. Look At The Condition Of The Wheels…

The Car Wouldn’t Sit Right On Radials. Solution: Find Radials That Look Like Bias Plys!

A Little Rubbing With Water-Borne Compound And Viola! This Is Before Wax…

Time To Take Off The Old Set Of Tires. Besides Being Over 18 Years Old The 3″ Whitewalls Makes The Car Look Like A Cake… Notice How Narrow The Tire In The Foreground Looks, When They’re Installed The Car Will Look More Like A Dealer Brochure Illustration…

Getting The Silt Out Of The Frame Rails. If Left Sitting In The Frame It Will Trap Moisture And Rot The Car…

This Was a Really Long Day…

Visible on the radiator support is a bottle of STP. This is key because the EPA made “Synthetic Oil” manufacturers remove the additives that will prevent premature wear in older engines. The STP is a concentrated form of that special additive and is a must…

This Is Still That Same Day. It Seemed To Go On Forever…

At The End Of The Day With its New Tires. It’s On Its Way….

Though The Car Wasn’t Nearly Done I Took It Out Anyway To A Local Outing. Sometimes It’s Better To Introduce A New Car To The Local Scene When Every Hair Is In Place. It Protects The Car…

It Looked Okay, A Decent Showing (as long as i didn’t open the hood). : )

As It Starts To Come Apart Everything Is Documented. This Was The Weekend After The Outing Pictured Above. I Should Have Waited And Enjoyed It Over The Summer, What A Mistake!

My Goal AT This Stage Was To Do Everything Attached To The Engine Block. I Did This Part Of The Frame First To Avoid Difficulties Later…

Engine Was Painted Right In The Car. With Careful Preparation No One Would Know That It Wasn’t Pulled From The Car The Application Of Finish.

My home workbench.

None of this needed to come apart, It got cut-in with a paintbrush with three hairs..

So much work still to be done…

The damage on the firewall is from the master cylinder. The cap is vented with two small pin holes damaging this area and the underside of the hood.

Sanded, washed with brake cleaner and ready to go. Brake cleaner is actually the purest form of dry cleaning fluid. It is amazing to remove spots on clothes, particularly silk.

Tin foil as a masking tool life so much easier.

The master cylinder cap is now Zinc Phosphate. The bracket that holds the vacuum line rubber block took four tries to get it right. It’s important to build a certain amount of imperfection into the work it so it looks original and “correct”.

One small corner of the world at a time…

Now a little to the left. This kind of work scares me, one slip and you have a gloppy mess that can’t be fixed. The reason being it’s original and it’s only original once! The idea is to touch it up and keep the fixin’ to a minimum.

Of special note: All the original imperfect undercoating overspray has been preserved.

Still much to do but i’m closing in…

I took the car out and visited my friend Richie at Automat where he works, which was having a car show. The event was in full swing with hundreds in attendance. I really just went for the free hamburgers. : ) Along comes a man to look at my car and he tells me his father had bought a 1959 Cadillac new and at the time he bought a second set of hubcaps just in case his originals were ever stolen off his car. LUCKILY FOR ME THEY WERE NOT !!!

This could have been the only set of '59 Cadillac NOS hubcaps left on earth. I seriously considered leaving them un-utilized.

Unused, never on a car!

To me these are priceless! 1959 Cadillac parts are sooo sought after, who can compete? I still can’t believe I got these! In case you haven’t figured this out yet, I love hubcaps. One of my nicknames is “Lester Hubcap”.

All the packing was still intact from the factory … Remember they are over 50 years old now!!!

I hadn’t even cleaned them yet for this pic. They’re perfect, like jewelry …

Inside the lid accounts for half the engine compartment IMO, if left unattended-to the bay looks unfinished and sloppy. This will be tricky. Where do you stop? I’m forced to combine old with new because I want to keep it as original as possible.

The first thing to do is consider if the old hood insulation pad is worth keeping. Without the proper waffle texture built in to the new one there would be now way I would remove the old. One call to McVey Cadillac and I obtained one that met my exacting requirements. Sometimes it’s just better to get rid of the old crap.

Some original chalk marks that were hidden under the hood insulation.

The hood panel gets washed over and over again with Castrol Super Clean and a terrycloth shop towel, then brake cleaner deep in the corners and around the seam sealer (very gently of course). The damage at the bottom was caused by brake fluid evaporating from a the pinhole vents in the master cylinder cap. All these cars have the same damage regardless of mileage.

What to do?!? I wanted it to be as original as possible but at the same time I want to improve it. If you look beyond the worst of the damage you can clearly see the rest of the finish sucks as well.

Sanding and prep work. Ray White taught me: “If you can feel it you WILL see it.” ALWAYS CHECK WITH THE PALM OF YOUR HAND”

I went through many shades of black and kept my fingers crossed. To me the original finish looks like a very dark charcoal. The touch-up began with SEM semi-gloss …

A 99cent drop cloth from the corner paint store is the bomb. It just gets tossed at the end of the day, no fuss no muss…

Looking better already…

An even, seamless look is what you hope for. The paint is not close, it’s perfect. All of my repairs get compounded out with “Presta 1500″ . The hardest part is aging it slightly so it matches the rest..

The big patches of rust are cleaned up and smoothed over. On to the rest of the chips and scars…

The new pad is a vast improvement over the old.

For all the rest of the minor chips and damage around the hood’s underside repairs, Turtle Wax Color Cure!!! This stuff when dried covers all the little chips and messy-looking areas. For the rest of the panel it imparts a nice rich shine.

Just one more “before” shot….

…. and “after”. Remember, the car is 50 years old. The idea is not to make it perfect, just to improve things. If I over-restore this piece it’s ruined. It should just look like a clean, “correct” car.

The idea here is to clean up the mess that someone else made. Note the painted bolts and overspray. While I am at it I might as well fix the minor rust damage…

Up close it’s not pretty, fifty years of deterioration.

Taped and lightly sanded. I check, double check and triple check to make sure all imperfections are gone.

The light mist coats begin, about 20 coats were needed all together.

Now to let the repair cure. The wet-sanding and assembly is to follow….

With the hardware cleaned up and installed its appearance has come a long way…

The passenger side wheelwell looks like it was hit with buckshot. From the factory the finish of this piece was already horrendous to begin with; thick tar-like paint with drips and runs. As they were originally finished, these parts were hung up and carelessly sprayed. I dreaded this part of the restoration because I only wanted to do a blend. The undamaged rear portion of this piece will remain original…

I chose to wet-sand to prevent dust . Dust is the enemy.

With a good sanding you can see all the low spots and striations in the wheelwell stamping. Special note: Look at the radiator crossmember. This clearly illustrates the kind of finish the car left the factory with. Yes it’s ugly, but it’s also the correct finish for this piece..

In the end I got exactly what I was looking for. This is after 20 coats of paint and wet-sanding with 2000 grit. Finally, it was rubbed out with Presta 1500 water-borne compound.

Just another small corner of the world that needs to be dissected. I left the shims in place and worked around them as it would suck taking them out and reinstalling them.

A relatively simple operation, thank God.

Viola! The shims look a little discolored but hey, they are supposed to be. If you look very closely you can see that I over-sprayed the shim in the right side of the hole where the bolt sits. This required me to get in there and remove that paint to correct the deficiency.

I put off this crossmember for so long because I just couldn’t bear to do it. There is no second best with this operation as this part is right in your face when you open the hood. If the paint does not lay correctly it will look like a child did it.

With wet-sanding and polishing there is always the risk of rubbing through the finish. I applied paint in thin coats for over four hours on this piece.

This is almost the final step for the front crossmember. I sanded it and ready it for compound, and yes I did have a rub through on the far end that had to be re-painted.

Finished and installed, the crossmember has a nice muted shine.

The drivers side was not as bad as the passenger side, but was ashen-looking and slightly rusted all the same.

First I protected the surrounding paint and cleaned the hood stabilizer with a brass wire brush so it wouldn’t scratch the metal.

The prep work is the most important factor, cut corners and it will show.

Light coats of paint again and again until I get the color.

Put together again, neat as a pin. All the fasteners have been cleaned until they are bright again and then tinted with three colors red, green and gold in that order has been dusted on these bright parts to simulate cadmium plating. I wet them first with brake cleaner so the color explodes on contact with the part and no spray pattern appears. Then the parts are cleared with semi-gloss.

Metal polish and a light going-over with a brass wire brush brought some nice color back to the hood latch.

Much better. The color is slightly uneven looking, but no way am I removing this part to work on it as I wouldn't want to worry about its alignment later.

It’s about small improvements. I want to work with and keep as much of the original finishes as possible. The voltage regulator cover isn’t doing any good as a rusty mess. While it’s unbolted I can clean, touch up and wax behind it.

Voltage regulator done. On the right side just past the regulator there’s another original chalk mark (#37) from the factory.

The window washer bracket has a gold cadmium brace up top. I tried to duplicate the original finish with dull aluminum by Eastwood with a satin clear top coat.

The part got taped back and sprayed with just a dusting of red, green and gold candy tint, then more satin clear.

A car is nothing but the sum of it’s small parts. I decided to take out the chassis mount brackets and do something with them. It also allowed me to tend to the bottom of the fire wall.

SURPRISE! When I got under the car to loosen the chassis mount I found the date and destination stencil on the chassis. This is a big deal.

More prep and painting.

Another little corner of the world all tidied up. The part got wire wheeled until it shined then tinted with red, green and gold with satin clear.

Instant Beauty in a can: “Cover All”. This stuff will take the ashen look off new rubber parts and will also seamlessly blend the original parts and the restored portions.

At the end of a very long haul….

The car is outside for the first time in many months.

I was so worried about the newer black paints being as dark as the original without that brownish cast. Turns out the old stuff has the same brown cast also.

Pic taken at the end of the day’s during the “Magic Light” time period.

Cleaned, waxed and ready for winter storage.

On the road…

The beginning of the disposition… In hindsight probably not the right move…

These are the guys from Belgium who bought it, Belgians in black socks no less.

Belgians setting their navigation system to get the car to the port for shipment to Europe.

The last time I ever saw it…

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