By on November 9, 2013

Our Editor in Chief Pro Tempore’s post about the new unofficial coast to coast driving record, facilitated by the use of bed pans and big gas tanks, got the old synapses firing and I remembered something from my youth, maybe an episode of What’s My Line? or To Tell The Truth, about a guy who set continuous driving records in a highly modified Cadillac. Master of search fu that I am (it helps to have learned how to do an index/abstract/journal search back in the dead tree book days) I quickly discovered that the gentleman in question was named Louie Mattar. The San Diego garage owner bought a 1947 Cadillac new and started to add some custom features, like a built in shower, a back seat grill for cooking hot dogs and a wire recorder, as this 1951 issue of Modern Mechanix (today Popular Mechanics) shows. Then he started modifying the Cadillac mechanically, it so he could do things like change tires without stopping the car. Mattar made it his life’s mission to set and then break, over and over, the “record” for non-stop driving. His first record was a *non-stop drive in 1952 from San Diego to New York City and back, 6,320 miles. That trip required refueling from moving gasoline tanker trucks three times. In 1954, he and his co-drivers took an even longer non-stop trip, from Anchorage, Alaska to Mexico City, 7482 miles, including along the then mostly unpaved AlCan highway. Eventually, Mattar added a custom trailer fitted with gasoline and other spare fluids and supplies including plenty of spares. Tires today are much more durable and puncture resistant than in 1952.  Cars today also are virtually maintenance free compared to the early 1950s, allowing the kinds of modern “records” that our EiC pro tem questioned, but back then you had to regularly replenish or replace a  lot of automotive fluids. How many of you have driven a car that needed chassis lubrication? Redundant systems allowed oil and coolant changes as well as tuneups on the fly. Louie did it all without stopping.

Automotive fluids weren’t Mattar’s only concerns. Like Ed Bolian, Mattar understood that stopping to eliminate and dispose of bodily fluids was a roadblock to any kind of ultra-long distance driving, but instead of Ed’s bedpans, Mattar rigged up some kind of dual purpose toilet and clothes washer that fit under the back seat. Many of the articles about Mattar and his car made jokes about including the kitchen sink, so I won’t, but the sink, washer and toilet weren’t the only household features in the car. A 1952 article in Life magazine shows Mrs. Mattar ironing clothes in the back seat on a fold-down ironing board.  Some describe his car as the first motorhome (though there were actually some converted trucks and buses back in the 1920s).

In addition to the features already mentioned, the back seat also includes an electric stove, a refrigerator, and a medicine cabinet, hidden under the seat cushions. Up front, in addition to the custom controls for the various on-the-roll service functions, are  a nationwide mobile telephone (mobile phones were a rarity well into the 1980s), a tape recorder, a television, a bar with taps that dispenses adult beverages, a public address system with a hood mounted loudspeaker, and a  hookah, reflecting Mattar’s Lebanese heritage. The toilet isn’t the only way Mattar’s Cadillac lets you attend to personal hygiene. The antenna mast can be removed and replaced with a shower head. Since the car already has hot and cold running water, a rear taillight hides a drinking fountain.

The water for that plumbing is supplied by 50 gallons of on-board storage and another 30 gallons in the trailer which also 230 gallons of gas and 15 gallons of oil. Mattar could automatically refill the radiator and change the oil, and the axles are drilled for an early version of an automatic tire inflation system. Hydraulic jacks and casters allow the wheels to be raised for changing tires while moving, though it meant riding on a platform on the outside of the car. If the hood needed to be raised for service while driving, Mattar had inserted clear plastic panels in the hood for the driver’s visibility. The finished car weighs over four tons but it’s still powered by a stock 1947 Cadillac engine.

Mattar estimated that after all of the modifications he had spent $75,000 (much of it in pre 1960 dollars) but to him it was worth it.  He said, “If I sold that car and had all the money in the bank, I wouldn’t meet the important people I do. That’s worth all the money in the world.” Like Irv Gordon and his multi-million mile Volvo, sometimes the hobby becomes the man, and for much of his life after those marathon drives in the early 1950s, Louie Mattar was the man with the non-stop Cadillac.

Louie Mattar has passed on to the great highway in the sky but his custom 1947 Cadillac survives, on display at the San Diego Automotive Museum. One note about the videos, I’m not exactly sure what the narrator was doing, he’s kind of weird, but the videos have plenty of archival footage of Louie’s fabulous non-stop Caddy.

*I’m not exactly sure of the definition used for “non-stop”. While some sources reference police escorts, one presumes that for the most part Louie and his co-drivers observed traffic laws and stopped for red lights and stop signs.

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17 Comments on “Louie Mattar and His 1947 Cadillac Could Teach Ed Bolian a Thing or Two About Long Distance Driving...”

  • avatar

    “How many of you have driven a car that needed chassis lubrication?”

    I had a 1998 Volvo S70 that called for periodic re-greasing of the steering stops. (Otherwise, with the steering wheel full lock and driving over bumps, the stops might make groaning noises.) But this is the exception that proves the rule.

    I’m trying to come up with a witty reference to “precious bodily fluids” right now…

  • avatar

    Correction: Apparently Modern Mechanix is the name of a blog. The article about Louie Mattar was in the January 1951 issue of Popular Mechanics.

    • 0 avatar

      Ronnie, there was also a “Modern Mechanix” magazine in that era–and it went through a few name changes–so before you made the correction you were closer than you might realize.

  • avatar

    there’s a gong show vibe about those videos

  • avatar

    I think it’s amazing the ingenuity and determination of one individual to push the limits, but… Is that a car anymore? It’s a rolling workshop / house combo that resembles a car. Fun but a bit OCD ;-)

    • 0 avatar


      And very expensive OCD. Assuming the $75,000 for modification was in average 1950 dollars, this guy spent nearly 3/4 million in current dollars.

      And with all the weight of the redundant stuff, it would not have been fun to drive, even by the standards of its day.

      I did not watch the videos, but I’m wondering whether he got his wife to spell him on the drives, or what. Obviously he couldn’t keep driving for 6,500 miles straight. He would have had to sleep.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Pretty awesome. I think that narrator dude is on LSD or something.

    The mobile phone is intriguing – how was that done back then?

    Reminds me of the men who set airborne records in the 20s and 30s in aircraft that could be serviced while flying. They’d send a mechanic/co-pilot out on a platform to work on the engine (spark plugs, too), in the freezing air – only inches from a whirling propeller.

  • avatar

    Loved this story.

  • avatar

    I remember seeing this on “That’s Incredible” when I was kid. I specifically remember watching him change a tire while the car was moving.

  • avatar

    The last minute of the first video was very reckless yet awesome at the same time.

    • 0 avatar

      its a circus trick

      you need 2 or 3 guys + someone at the wheel + all kinds of unlawful and potentially fatal steps

      if you worked it out, you could pull over, hit the onboard gas jack and change the wheel safely and then drive on at a normal pace

      to do all that at 30mph doesnt seem worth it

  • avatar

    Very fun museum to visit whenever you’re in San Diego. The Caddy and the trailer are fascinating pieces of hardware. Yes, he spent an absurd amount of money on the mods, but some of them are pretty ingenious.

  • avatar

    I well remember this car and the men who drove it , a lengthy TV program detailed it .

    I’ve tried to tell others about it but they all claim I was story telling , esp. the part where he changes a tire whilst moving .

    Our old 1937 Bentley St. James Coupe had a chassis lubrication system , you depressed one pedal whilst driving and it lubricated the entire suspension .

    That car also had spring tensioners you could adjust by levers on the steering wheel for when you encountered bad roads .

    Spark & Throttle adjusters on the steering wheel too .


  • avatar

    Watching him open up the taillamp and pull out a water fountain cracked me up.

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