SAN DIEGO — Imagine spending a week driving to New York City then back to San Diego without stopping. In this Zevely Zone, I revisited an epic road trip and climbed inside the most incredible car I've ever seen.
In 1952, San Diego resident Louie Mattar drove his 1947 Cadillac from San Diego to New York City without stopping. Louie and two other men established a cross-country endurance record by driving the Cadillac from San Diego to New York and back. Their trip totaled 6,320 miles and required refueling from a moving gas truck three times.
"This is the famous Louie Mattar's fabulous car," said Sally Hansen from the San Diego Automotive Museum. Sally told me the 1947 Caddy is without question the museum's top attraction. "It's by far the vehicle we get the most questions about," said Sally. Questions like how did a San Diego mechanic organize police escorts for six thousand miles?
The museum plays a documentary at the exhibit that shows Louie in action. "Look at that drinking fountain, ice cold water comes out of there," said Louie drinking from a water fountain that came out of the car's taillight. Louie modified the car with all of the comforts of home, so he could shower on the road. "It holds 50 gallons of water. The person who stands on the catwalk on these non-stop runs," said Louie who also rigged the car with an electric shaver. "There she goes boy that feels good especially in the car it's unbelievable."
The car also came equipped with a kitchen. "Electric refrigerator, you open this thing up and you got 7-Up and you got Ginger Ale, anything your heart desires," said Louie about the car which had a phone that could call from coast to coast with a hookah pipe and full bar attached to the dashboard. In the back seat there was a sink and more. "Right there you see it? There you are, you even have soap in there too," said Louie. "This is the electric washing machine, put the clothes in there and you put this guy in there." Louie also installed an ironing board. "This is your iron. Then when you are through washing clothes you put the thing like this and you iron like this," said Louie.
Louie Mattar died in 1999 at the age of 89 but San Diego remains filled with Mattars. "My cousin Dan, my cousin, Louie, we are all Mattars here," said Louie's grandson Simon Mattar. We met three generations of Mattars who are still explaining the legend known as Screwy Louie. "I tell them that my great grandfather was a famous inventor, and he was a genius," said Louie's great-granddaughter Mia Mattar. Louie's son Paul told me his dad refused to sell the car. "It was his joy," said Paul.
In 1954, Louie traveled 7,482 miles non-stop from Alaska to Mexico City and even devised a way change a tire on the go without stopping. "That a boy, here is the impact wrench. There you are okay here comes the tire," said Louie as he changed the tire while the car was driving down the road. Oil changes and fueling were also done without stopping along with barbequing. "Oh boy look at that. Isn't that nice? Don't you wish you had some?" said Louie holding up a shish kabob. Louie also installed a toilet in the car. "When you are making non-stop runs from New York and from Alaska to Mexico City when you got to go you got to go," said Louie.
Louie's grandsons Simon, Dan and Louie told me when the Smithsonian Institution asked for the car, their grandpa said no. "He just wanted to make sure the car stayed in San Diego," said Dan. And there it sits just aching for another adventure. "Road trip, get in, let's go," I shouted. Simon, Louie and Dan piled in.
The car hauled a trailer that holds 230 gallons of gas and 15 gallons of oil in addition to the dining area at the end. It took Louie Mattar five years and $75,000 to make his dream a reality. If you adjust for inflation, $75,000 would be nearly a million dollars in 2022. But the car was worth far more to Louie. 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."
The Mattar family says the car still runs or at least it did when they drove it to the San Diego Automotive Museum where it remains on display every day. For more information click here.
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