After Presley drove his black 1973 Stutz Blackhawk III home,
just hours before his death, the 230-horsepower V-8 vehicle with
soft red leather interior and 18-karat gold trim sat nearly idle
for decades at Graceland, the entertainer's Tennessee estate.
The vintage car is on display this weekend in North Carolina,
for the first time since undergoing a refurbishment aimed at
getting it back in working condition without losing any of its
physical ties to the "King of Rock and Roll."
"It still has all of Elvis' DNA on it," said Walt Hollifield,
the car collector and restorer chosen to oversee the recent
12-week preservation effort.
The Stutz will be featured in an auto show at Charlotte Motor
Speedway through Sunday, then returned to the Graceland auto
museum in Memphis to be exhibited with more than 20 others in
the performer's collection.
Presley typically drove cars for about six months before trading
them in or giving them away, but the 1973 Stutz proved to be one
of his favorites, said Angie Marchese, director of archives at
He put 8,450 miles on the car in about three years and, unlike
his others, did not allow any members of his entourage to drive
it, Marchese said.
A fan waiting outside the Graceland gates snapped a photo of
Presley in the car just after midnight on August 16, 1977, as he
returned from a dentist appointment. The singer was found dead
in his house later that day.
The Graceland staff chose the Stutz as the first in the
collection to undergo preservation work, and tapped 67-year-old
Hollifield of Mint Hill, North Carolina, for the job.
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After an 11-hour, white-knuckle drive through a January snowstorm to
deliver the car to Hollifield's shop, his team began a systematic
review of the car's components to see what still worked and what
They replaced the tires with duplicates of the originals and changed
the oil and fluids, but left intact the paint job and any dents on
the exterior, said Hollifield, an avid Presley fan. The car's
interior was not cleaned in order to maintain its time-capsule
"It was very important to us to preserve the integrity of the car
the way Elvis had it," Marchese said. "To hear the car started up
for the first time in 36 years was absolutely amazing."
The work brought some surprises even to those most familiar with the
car. Because of a long-missing key and a blown fuse, no one had seen
the inside of the trunk since Presley's death, Hollifield said.
After replacing the fuse, his team found a hidden button that popped
the trunk open.
"And lo and behold, it's got black, long furry carpet inside," he
said. "It is beautiful, absolutely gorgeous."
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