Elvis owned '57 Ford Fairlane getting makeover

by Byron Crawford, Louisville-Courier Journal

While Elvis Presley was in Louisville for a concert 50 years ago this week, he bought a new car and a color TV for his grandfather and step-grandmother, and delivered the gifts to their home in south Louisville.

Charles Burney; his wife, Debbie; and their daughter Cheyenne posed with the Ford Fairlane Elvis Presley bought in 1956. (Photo by Byron Crawford, The Courier-Journal)

"The King," his grandparents, and perhaps the TV are long departed. But the colonial white-over-mist-blue '57 Ford Fairlane is getting a tender loving makeover -- except for its original steering wheel and mirror -- in a Valley Station garage where it has been parked for many years.

"I finally found somebody that would come to my garage and paint it," said Charles Burney, who in 1982 split the $2,500 cost of the car with his father, C.W. Burney.

The Ford came with a handwritten cardboard sign in the window declaring it to be an Elvis car, and a bill of sale from Riggs Motor Co. at 530 W. Broadway in Louisville, listing the original owner as "J. D. Pressley, 4008 Beaver St." in Louisville. But Burney was skeptical of its Elvis connection, as was the former owner in Louisville, who sold the car to settle the estate of a son.

Then Burney met a co-worker, Sandra Slater, at what then was Louisville Ordnance. She had been a neighbor and friend of Presley's grandparents, Jesse and Vera Pressley, in the Ashland Avenue area off Taylor Boulevard. She remembered when Elvis gave them the car.

Newspaper accounts indicate that Jesse Pressley, who once worked for the Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. in Louisville, began spelling his name with only one "s" after his grandson's meteoric rise to stardom. He died during the early 1970s and was buried in Louisville Memorial Gardens West.

Dealer sure it's real

Tobby Riggs, the dealer who sold the car to Presley, is also deceased, but his son Toby, who now owns Riggs Motors Inc. at 3317 Taylor Blvd., said he is certain that Burney's '57 Ford is the car that Elvis bought from his father in late November 1956.

"Believe me, it's legit," Riggs said. "I was not there at the time of the sale, but my father told me about it. Elvis was in town and was going to perform, and they were evidently driving down Broadway, and he glanced over, I assume, and saw this car and liked the color. Then my father got a phone call, or the company did, asking about the car.

"Who comes over but (Elvis') agent, Col. Tom Parker. As I recall there wasn't any dickering on the price. He just cut the check and that was it. That was probably the easiest sale that my father ever had. The check was signed by Parker -- and I have seen a copy of the check -- but I have no idea what happened to it."

Ten years ago, after an article about the car appeared in the Neighborhoods section of The Courier-Journal, Jack Fuller of Valley Station was one of several who contacted Burney with memories of the car and the Presleys.

Fuller had lived in their neighborhood and said he was among the onlookers when the car was delivered. He recalled seeing Elvis leave in the back of a pink Cadillac "with pillows all around him" and two husky bodyguards in the front seat.

Burney is a member of the Kyana Antique Automobile Club and hopes to have the '57 Ford ready for shows by early next year.

"I don't know what the car is worth," he said. "But I've had a million dollars' worth of fun out of it."

A few years before Parker died, Burney wrote the famous manager a letter inquiring about the car, but the letter came back unopened.

"It's stamped 'Return to Sender.' "


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