Ferndale woman to showcase trademark Cadillac at Autorama

By: Jeremy Selweski | Woodward Talk | Published February 22, 2011

 Pearl Watts, 68, of Ferndale will be showcasing her white 1955 Cadillac Coupe DeVille at the 59th annual Autorama, held Feb. 25-27 at Detroit’s Cobo Center.

Pearl Watts, 68, of Ferndale will be showcasing her white 1955 Cadillac Coupe DeVille at the 59th annual Autorama, held Feb. 25-27 at Detroit’s Cobo Center.

Photo provided by Pearl Watts


FERNDALE — Pearl Watts was grieving the loss of her father in 1996 when she first laid eyes on the car that would become her signature among the legions of classic vehicle owners in metro Detroit.

At that time, the 1955 Cadillac Coupe DeVille was not exactly a beauty in the typical sense, but Watts could see the potential just waiting to emerge from underneath a body covered in rust damage and bullet holes.

“When my father passed away, I was just trying my best to keep it together,” said the 68-year-old Ferndale resident. “I saw this beat-up old car behind a garage at Seven Mile (Road) and Woodward (Avenue). That car was raggedy as the devil. It was beyond repair, but I took it into a body shop anyway, and it took them three or four years to restore it. But let me tell you, it was worth the wait.”

Watts’ snow-white Cadillac, which she calls “’55 Pearl,” will be making an appearance at this year’s Autorama, held from Feb. 25-27 at Cobo Center in Detroit. This will mark Watts’ third showing at the massive automotive celebration following visits in 2001 and 2006. At the latter event, Watts received an award for the extensive work she put into restoring the car, becoming the first black woman ever to win an award at Autorama.

Watts’ ’55 Pearl has been displayed all over the world, including in China and on the Travel Channel, where Watts was proclaimed the “First Lady of the Woodward Dream Cruise.” It also appeared in the General Motors Century Cruise parade in August 2008.

The Cadillac is always a work in progress, Watts said, but it reflects a lifelong passion for cars that she learned from her dad and brother, and that continued through her late husband, David. “My husband spoiled me, and anything I wanted, he would get for me,” she said with a chuckle.

Watts’ daughter, Rosetta Watts, said that her mom has been a classic car enthusiast for as long as she can remember. “She is a really devoted Cadillac lover,” she said. “As a kid, she used to dream of having this exact car. Now that she does, it’s her baby. That car is beautiful, and it’s because she has put her heart and soul into it.”

Although Watts does not do any repair or custom work herself, she has always been closely involved with the restoration of her cars. Over the years, she has managed to find a few mechanics that she trusts to handle her projects. “I’m not a mechanical person, but I know what I like,” she said.

The 59th annual Meguiar’s Autorama, presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts, will feature a huge selection of hot rods, custom cars and ‘50s classics. The Motor City tradition attracts visitors from across the U.S. with over 1,000 exhibits of one-of-a-kind vehicles of the past and present. This year’s event also will also include numerous celebrity appearances, a charity auction, a student career day and live music and other entertainment.

Watts had also hoped to enter a second car — her new 2011 Cadillac CTS Coupe — at Autorama, but event organizers told her that she was only allowed to showcase one vehicle. At press time, she was still trying to get them to change their mind.

“I’m crossing my fingers that I can show both cars,” she said. “I would really love for people to see them side by side, so they can compare the two.”

No matter what happens, Rosetta Watts is just happy to be attending Autorama with her mom, who, at nearly 70 years of age, shows no signs of slowing down.

“I’m looking forward to seeing all the cars and hopefully seeing my mom get up onstage for another award,” she said. “She’s just a really great person, and I would love to see a smile on her face at yet another event.”

But for Watts, her automotive passion is about more than being lavished with personal attention and praised. She has also used it as a way of giving back to the community. For three straight years beginning in 2001, she organized her own event, Pearl’s Family Fun Day, a car show featuring free food and entertainment. She feels just as proud of that achievement as she does of her prized ’55 Caddy.

“This is not about money or winning awards — it’s all about the love of cars and making people happy,” Watts said. “It’s not about material things. Whatever you have, if you can take it and use it to make someone else happy, then it’s all worth it.”

For more information on the 59th annual Autorama, call (248) 373-1700 or visit www.autorama.com.