Louie Mattar and His 1947 Cadillac Could Teach Ed Bolian a Thing or Two About Long Distance Driving

Ronnie Schreiber
by Ronnie Schreiber

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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  • -Nate -Nate on Nov 11, 2013

    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 . -Nate

    • Lorenzo Lorenzo on Nov 11, 2013

      I thought the spark adjustment on the steering wheel went out with the Model T. They still had it in 1937??

  • Otter Otter on Nov 15, 2013

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

  • Analoggrotto The factory is delayed due to an investigation of a peter puffery ring lead by VoGhost, Tassos, EBFlex a Civic Type-R
  • FreedMike Looking forward to the protests at the factory accusing Toyota of excessive woke-ism. First, EVs...next, grooming.
  • MrIcky I remember when Gladiators came out and everyone was shocked at how expensive they were. Now all the off road specials have caught up or passed it financially. I like this truck a lot, but I'd still take my Rubicon over this. I'd take this over the Ranger Raptor or Tacoma TRD though. When I found out the increase in track for the new TRD was just wheel offset-I knew they were just phoning it in. Why spend so much R&D on those stupid seats when you could have r&d'd longer arms or a front locker.
  • Alan Hmm, I see a bit of politicking here. What qualifications do you need to run GM or Ford? I'd bet GM or Ford isn't run by experienced people. Anyone at that level in an organisation doesn't need to be a safety whip, you need to have the ability to organise those around you to deliver the required results.
  • Alan That's about $74k AUD, seems like a good price for the vehicle of this calibre. I think the Ranger Raptor will start around the $78k mark here. A friend of mine just bought a W580 Amarok for $97k. Nissan have the Navara Warrior which is cheaper, I think it starts in the high $50s. The cheapest is a Chinese iteration of one of these off road tuned vehicles starting in the $40s ($29k USD). But all of the above vehicles are not equal. I would think the Raptor is by far your best bet for an off roader.