Johnny Cash’s “One Piece at a Time” Cadillac
A fictional Coupe DeVille built by hand and gifted to the Man in Black himself.
Plenty of songs have been inspired by cars: Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally,” War’s “Low Rider,” and Prince’s “Little Red Corvette,” to name a few. There’s likely only one car, however, that’s been inspired by a song: Johnny Cash’s “One Piece at a Time” Cadillac, located in Bon Aqua, Tennessee.
His 1976 song of the same name, written by Wayne Kemp, was Cash’s last song to make the Billboard Hot 100. It’s a bouncy number about a Detroit auto worker who, assembling Cadillacs day after day, dreams of owning one himself. He hatches a plan to fashion himself a car out of parts he patiently steals off the assembly line—one piece at a time. After 25 years, he assembles the stolen parts only to realize they’re freakishly mismatched. The 1949–1973 patchwork car is the laughing stock of the town, but the narrator ultimately gets the free Cadillac he’d been dreaming of, which is of course, completely one-of-a-kind:
I got it one piece at a time and it didn’t cost me a dime,
You’ll know it’s me when I come through your town.
I’m gonna ride around in style, I’m gonna drive everybody wild,
‘Cause I’ll have the only one there is around.
In 1976, Cash’s team hired a Nashville auto shop to construct a frankensteined Cadillac Coupe DeVille to promote the song, but it was ultimately destroyed the following year. In 1977, an Oklahoma car collector named Bill Patch constructed his own “One Piece at a Time” DeVille from salvaged parts, but this time as a gift to Johnny Cash himself.
The meticulously constructed car features not just mismatched headlights (“now the headlight was another sight / we had two on the left and one on the right”) and asymmetrical rear-end (“the backend looked kinda funny too / but we put it together and when we got through / that’s when we noticed that we only had one tail-fin”), but incongruous seating and headrests in the interior as well.
After Patch presented it to Cash free of charge, no strings attached, the two became lifelong friends. When Cash found out Patch’s hometown of Welch, Oklahoma, needed funding to construct an auditorium for their local community center, Cash and his wife June played a series of benefit concerts there, also free of charge. In fact, they drove Patch’s “One Piece at a Time” Cadillac to get there.
Today, the Cadillac rests at Johnny Cash’s one-time private country-home getaway, Hideaway Farms, where he would often unwind after long tours. The car is part of the Storytellers Museum, which features Cash’s personal memorabilia, several small performance stages, and the home that Cash once called “the center of my universe”—a uniquely personal window into the private life of the Man in Black.
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