Henry Hill’s Cadillac – May 11, 1980
Ray Liotta as Henry Hill, coked out Mafia associate
Long Island, NY, Spring 1980
Release Date: September 19, 1990
Director: Martin Scorsese
Costume Designer: Richard Bruno
First things first, the scene is actually set on Sunday, April 27, 1980. For some reason, Goodfellas chose to re-date Henry’s arrest to two weeks later. Okay, glad we got that cleared up.
Yesterday, we saw a mobster’s luxury car during the post-war era. Thirty years later, the “Lincoln vs. Cadillac” debate (made famous by Donnie Brasco) rages on. While a boss like Sonny drove a Lincoln in 1947, a street guy like Henry is even able to get behind the wheel of a Cadillac in 1979. And not just any Cadillac, but a “Special Edition” Coupe de Ville Phaeton! These were not small cars, and I can’t imagine trying to handle one of these boats around tight residential corners, especially with all the substances in Henry’s system clashing with his growing paranoia. The car is especially showcased during the film’s climax, the last true day of freedom for Henry Hill before his drug arrest and life in the Witness Protection Program.
What’d He Wear?
In perhaps any other context, an oversized and untucked shirt, tight trousers, and enough gold jewelry to sink a small vessel may hardly be worthy of mention. However, it serves to illustrate how much Henry Hill’s time has already come and gone. True, fashion is cyclical and many in 1980 were still dressing though it were the late ’70s, but Henry’s prime was an earlier era of gangsterdom before the intense investigations and electronic surveillance that would doom his reckless criminal enterprise. Entrenched in the 1970s with his oversized knit shirt with its vast Disco-era collar, the cinematic Henry hasn’t a chance in the decade of American Gigolo Armani and Miami Vice pastels.
The real Henry Hill was dressed somewhat more pedestrian for his 1980 arrest, posing for his FBI mugshot in a dark sport jacket and a striped button-up dress shirt. It may have been these stripes that inspired Richard Bruno and his costume design team to dress Ray Liotta accordingly.
Sunday, May 11, 1980. 6:55 a.m.
After packing a grocery bag full of guns and loading his nasal membranes with enough cocaine to kill an elephant, Henry steps out of his humble Long Island home and into his Cadillac for a full day of family and criminal errands, both equally stressful for our harried gangster. He may be making the best money of his life, but he certainly isn’t dressing life it. The silk suits, sharp ties, and expensive leather jackets are left in the closet, replaced for the day by an oversized knit shirt, tight slacks, and a ghostly complexion.
Henry’s knit shirt is likely made from cotton or a synthetic blend, vertically in dark navy against an off-white ground with white-threaded edges binding the edges of the large point collar. The stripes alternate between a set of two thin “wobbly” stripes and a unique stripe in a repeating box pattern that resembles a broken Greek key design.
The casual shirt has a straight hem with no vents or tails, meant to be worn untucked as Henry does. There are eight white plastic buttons on the front of the shirt, with two stacked on the waistband and one that would close the shirt at the neck through a single white-threaded loop. The shirt’s roomy fit pushes the sleeves off the shoulders, and each cuff closes with a button; even when the cuffs are buttoned, however, the sleeves are still loose enough that Henry can pull them up his forearms without having to unbutton or roll back the cuffs.
Henry’s tight flat front trousers are such a dark navy that they appear black with a subtle tonal stripe and a shine indicating that they are likely a silk blend, not uncharacteristic for Henry given his many silk suits, shirts, and ties. For decades, Henry has been depicted often wearing trousers with a self-belt and these are no exception, with a squared steel single-prong buckle positioned just right of the fly. The trousers have a slim fit through the legs to the plain-hemmed bottoms.
Henry wears distinctive black calf apron-toe loafers that have uniquely ridged vamps creating a ribbed effect that extends up onto the tongue. A thin black leather corded strap across each instep is connected to a small gold-finished side-bit on the outer side, an evolution of the classic horsebit detailing introduced by Gucci in 1953.
This was a popular era for loafers, which were finding increased acceptance with American businesswear and even the bastion of British style, James Bond, was wearing slip-on shoes with increasing frequency as Roger Moore was sporting Italian horsebit moccasins even with his suits and sport jackets. Henry wears black ribbed cotton lisle socks with his loafers.
Henry’s jewelry, once the proud accessories of a mobster at the top of his game, now just look like gaudy reminders of a past life. He’s not so much Lucky Luciano as he is your sleazy Uncle Jack from Scarsdale.
There are rings, bracelets, and necklace medallions galore, though the only jewelry on his left hand is the gold wedding band on his ring finger. Henry evidently puts little stock in what this particular ring symbolizes as he still wears it on his hand while groping Sandy as she works. On his right pinky, he wears a gold ring with a large diamond.
Henry’s flat gold wristwatch has a round white dial, encrusted with diamonds around the ring, and worn on a gold diamond-head bracelet with a clasp. Like many southpaws, left-handed Henry wears his watch on his right wrist, where it collides with a gold chain-link ID bracelet with a lobster claw clasp.
Though he’s firmly rooted on the other side of the law, Henry wears the same sunglasses as “Dirty Harry”, the Ray-Ban Balorama. Ray-Ban introduced this wraparound frame in 1967 and the Balorama has been an iconic offering in the brand’s lineup for more than 50 years.
Although this scene is set in 1980, Henry likely wears a pair produced later in the ’80s after Luxottica began etching the Ray-Ban logo onto the top right corner of the lenses. Now designated the Ray-Ban RB4089 Balorama, you can still find these classic sunglasses in the same configuration as Henry’s, with a black nylon frame and polarized green “classic G-15” lenses (color code 601/58) via Amazon or Ray-Ban.
Like Sonny Corleone before him, Henry also wears The Mobster: a white ribbed sleeveless undershirt with a gold necklace that suspends a gold Catholic cross from it. The only difference is Henry’s addition of the Star of David on another gold necklace.
Go Big or Go Home
Goodfellas isn’t a movie to watch when you’re hungry unless you’ve got a fridge full of cold cuts or pasta and sauce on the stove. After the movie’s famous prison cooking sequence set to Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea”, we’re treated to a surprisingly more chaotic experience at home with the Hill family as everyone is pressed into service cooking a late Sunday dinner under the scrutiny of FBI helicopters:
I was cooking dinner that night. I had to start braising beef, pork butt, and veal shanks for the tomato sauce… I was making ziti with the meat gravy, and I’m planning to roast the peppers over the flames, and I was gonna put on some string beans with some olive oil and garlic, and I have some beautiful cutlets that were cut just right that I was gonna fry up before dinner just as an appetizer.
The trick to making a good sauce, as most should know, is to “not let the sauce stick” by continuously stirring it. Although the family doesn’t sit down for dinner until almost 11 p.m., the meal looks delicious. The Hills pair their Sunday dinner (which should not be served to the dog, from the table, from the plate, on top of it!) with bottles of Bolla red wine.
If you’ve got a busy day in the car and want to keep moving, Henry’s Sunday afternoon is powered by a half-dozen fantastic classic rock and blues tracks from the preceding decade. The centerpiece kicking off the action is “Jump Into the Fire” from Harry Nilsson’s seventh album, Nilsson Schmilsson, released in November 1971. At nearly seven minutes long with an impressive—and memorable—drum solo midway through, this track will definitely encourage your lead foot. (Henry’s heightened tension isn’t helped by his constant chain-smoking Winstons behind the wheel either.)
The full sequence of songs are are:
- Harry Nilsson – “Jump Into the Fire” (from Nilsson Schmilsson, 1971)
- The Rolling Stones – “Memo from Turner” (from Metamorphosis, 1975 but recorded in 1968)
- The Who – “Magic Bus (Live)” (from Live at Leeds, 1970)
- The Rolling Stones – “Monkey Man” (from Let It Bleed, 1969)
- George Harrison – “What Is Life” (from All Things Must Pass, 1970)
- Muddy Waters – “Mannish Boy” (from Hard Again, 1977)
land yacht car for the last sequence of the film is a 1979 Cadillac Coupe de Ville Phaeton. Not only that, but it was one of the 2,400 custom “Special Edition” models made in 1979.
As a symbol of elegance in an era that embraced cheesiness, the Cadillac Coupe de Ville has been seen in many mob movies, but Goodfellas truly used the car to its full potential. Henry tries to escape the helicopters watching him from above, but he is driving a distinctive luxury car that makes it difficult, just making it more fun to watch as he speeds his land yacht around corners in Long Island.
The Cadillac Coupe de Ville – and the de Ville series – carries many similarities to the history of the Lincoln Continental. Like the Lincoln, its origins were in the 1940s when the “Coupe de Ville” nomenclature denoted a prestige trim level of the Cadillac Series 62 luxury coupe. In 1949, a prototype Coupe de Ville was built on a Sixty Special chassis, equipped with a glove compartment telephone and secretarial accessories in the rear armrest. This prototype was used by Charles E. Wilson, GM President, for eight years until he presented it to his secretary. The production series of the Series 62 Coupe de Ville was introduced late in the 1949 model year and cost just about as much as a Series 62 convertible at the price of $3,496. Eventually, demand for the Coupe de Ville flew through the roof and the model enjoyed a long and esteemed career as a luxury V8 coupe.
In 1977, the fifth generation of the de Ville series was unveiled, with both the Coupe de Ville and Sedan de Ville taking style nods more from the era’s K-cars than from the luxuriously decadent high-finned models of the early ’60s. To the untrained eye, a Sedan de Ville could just be another Buick Century. Cadillac soon realized the need for a more exclusive custom series. They had the d’Elegance package for $650, but it wasn’t enough. In 1978, Cadillac introduced the “Phaeton” package for both the coupe and sedan, featuring a simulated convertible top, special pin striping, wire wheel discs, and “Phaeton” name plates on the rear fenders, as well as leather upholstered seats and a leather-trimmed steering wheel. The package, much more exclusive at $1,929, was available in Cotillion White with a dark blue roof, Platinum Silver with a black roof, or Arizona Beige with a dark brown roof.
The 1979 model, which Henry drives in the film, saw little variation from ’78 except for a new lightweight aluminum hood and new grille design. The exclusive “Phaeton” package now cost $2,029, but the colors Slate Firemist replaced Platinum Silver and Arizona Beige was replaced by Western Saddle Firemist with a dark brown top. It is the latter, with an “Antique Saddle” leather interior, that Henry charges around the suburbs in. Of the 215,101 de Villes produced in 1979, 121,890 were coupes and only 2,400 of those were Coupe de Ville Phaetons. Adding the $2,029 package to the Coupe de Ville base price of $11,728 brings the cost of Henry’s car to $13,727, although it’s doubtful he paid the whole price because, come on. Despite being paranoid and higher than a kite all day, Henry manages to handle this 4100+ lb. car with aplomb, narrowly avoiding an accident that would have ensnared a lesser driver.
The power plant in these 1977-1979 era de Villes was a standard 425 cu. in. (7.0 L) Cadillac “L33” V8 which made 180 horsepower with a four-barrel carburetor. This Cadillac big block was the largest engine offered by GM in 1979. An optional electronic fuel-injected version, the “L35”, was also offered, with an additional 15 horsepower, for $647.
1979 Cadillac Coupe de Ville Phaeton Special Edition
Body Style: 2-door phaeton coupe
Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)
Engine: 425 cu. in. (7.0 L) Cadillac “L33” V8 with a 4-barrel carburetor
Power: 180 hp (130 kW; 182 PS) @ 4000 RPM
Torque: 320 lb·ft (420 N·m) @ 2000 RPM
Transmission: 3-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 121.5 inches (3086 mm)
Length: 221.2 inches (5618 mm)
Width: 76.4 inches (1941 mm)
Height: 54.6 inches (1387 mm)
The Phaeton was discontinued for 1980, and a V6 engine was introduced. 1979 was the last great year for the Cadillac de Ville series. From 1985 on, all models were front-wheel-drive only. Front-wheel-drive may be more practical, but the Coupe de Ville was never intended to be a practical car. In 1994, the coupe was dropped altogether and the Sedan de Ville became just the DeVille. By this time, the only engine option was a V8, but the damage had been done. The DeVille ended production in 2005, replaced by the similar Northstar-powered Cadillac DTS.
After he returns home from his arrest, Henry Hill is in a dark place. The Mafia and the FBI both have him in their crosshairs, he has no liquid assets and no quick way to make any money, and his mind is likely still “mush” from a steady intake of cocaine throughout the day. He tries to fall asleep next to his wife, both fully clothed, with an Astra Constable semi-automatic pistol dangerously ready for action in his hand.
The Astra Constable was Spain’s answer to the Walther PPK, offered in similar calibers of .32 ACP, .380 ACP, and even .22 LR. It’s been seen in many films such as Taxi Driver, Three Days of the Condor and Trading Places, often serving as a stand-in for the more recognizable PPK.
The Constable was produced from 1969 to 1992 by the Spanish firm Astra Unceta y Cía, a manufacturer that made many lower-priced clones of popular weapons including the Mauser C96 and the “Baby Browning” .25-caliber pistol. (Interestingly, Astra’s last successful manager and owner, Augusto Unceta-Barrenechea, was killed by ETA separatists in 1977.) The company soon merged with Star—maker of the 1911 clone Model B—and they produced firearms as ASTAR until May of 1997.
The Constable shares many dimensional similarities with the PPK, including length (6.5″ vs. PPK’s 6.1″), barrel length (3.5″ vs. PPK’s 3.3″), and weight (25 oz. unloaded vs. PPK’s 21 oz.). The most popular Constable model, the .380, carries eight rounds in its magazine. It is a double-action, blowback-operated, semi-automatic pistol.
It’s hard to determine where Henry acquired the pistol, though it’s likely that he had it hidden away somewhere in the house or in the yard where he knew it wouldn’t be easily found. For what it’s worth, it’s not the same gun as the nickel-plated Iver Johnson .380 that Karen hid in her underwear during the police raid on their home.
How to Get the Look
Henry Hill’s oversized white striped knit shirt, tight trousers, distinctive loafers, and gold jewelry are a time capsule to a transitional period for men’s fashion and the mob, both of which had been experiencing a gradually increasing excess over the past decade that would be all but declawed by the end of the next.
- White (with dark navy abstract stripes) knit sport shirt with large disco collar, a straight-cut waistband, and buttoned cuffs
- Dark navy tonal-striped self-belted flat front trousers with side pockets and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black calf leather apron-toe side-bit loafers with ridged vamps
- Black ribbed cotton lisle socks
- White sleeveless ribbed undershirt
- Ray-Ban Balorama RB 4089 black-framed wraparound sunglasses
- Gold wristwatch with a diamond-encrusted dial and round, white face
- Gold chain bracelet
- Gold necklace with a plain Catholic cross pendant
- Gold necklace with a Star of David pendant
- Gold pinky ring with a diamond
- Plain gold wedding band
A shirt like this would be next to impossible to find, though some knitwear specialists likely offer similar products. If you don’t mind sacrificing sleeve length, collar width, and stripe pattern integrity, there’s the Safire Silk “Edition S” shirt in white knit rayon with black saddle stitch accents (via Amazon), but I welcome any other options as quite a few have expressed interest in channeling this look.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
For a second I thought I was dead. But when I heard all the noise, I knew they were cops. Only cops talk that way. If they’d been wiseguys, I wouldn’t have heard a thing… I would’ve been dead.
What I liked about your last Car Week (and this one thus far) is that, except for the obligatory nod to the Olympic Champion BAMFmobile (Bullitt’s Mustang), you don’t shoot for the obvious. Anyone else would have come out of the gates with Starsky’s striped tomato, the General Lee, and Sonny Crockett’s fake Ferrari (which, don’t get me wrong, was badass).
We know your armament is a Browning Hi-Power (I wrecked mine with too much Buffalo Bore — please, save that for the Glock or 92FS), but, unless you’ve said so elsewhere that I missed (good possibility), we’re still waiting to hear about your wheels . . .
Thanks, Max! That’s not to say those won’t be covered; the General Lee was instrumental in getting me interested in cars when I was young, and my dream car is still a ’69 Charger R/T with a 440 Magnum (or a Six Pack in a ’70) and 4-speed trans. I do like to focus on more of the “everyday” car that is so well-incorporated into the film’s world that you really need to step back and think, “Well, that IS a great car.”
Those old shows really did have some greats though. In addition to the Dukes and Starsky, Miami Vice is full of beautiful autos including the original Crockett kit Ferrari you mentioned, Tubbs’ blue Caddy convertible, Gina’s ’71 Cougar, all of the exotic and classic cars driven by villains and side characters, and – of course – the iconic white Testarossa. I remember an episode with a Grand National too; the Grand National is a great example of a deceivingly standard-looking car (unless it had that black paint) with a shockingly fun engine inside.
But none of that answers your question! Apologies if my answer is more verbose than it could be. My first car, which I inherited because no one else in my family wanted it, was a dark red 1992 Plymouth Acclaim sedan. I started driving it right after I got my license in February 2006, and I’m not ashamed to say I loved it. The Acclaim had two engine options that I know of that year – a base 2.5 4-cylinder and a Mitsubishi 3.0 V6. I had the latter, and that V6 in such a light car was much more of a force than I had expected. The car performed exceedingly well, racking up a top speed of 117 mph once, and still getting about 20-22 mpg in its earlier days with me at the helm. To say I mistreated it would be unfair; I lovingly wore it out. That car could do anything I wanted it to; I would use it for quick interstate cigarette runs, races through suburbia and the city limits, and Dukes-learned maneuvers including a relatively impressive handbrake turn. It lasted six years with me and probably would’ve lasted a few more, but the cost of upkeep and constantly replacing tires and needing alignment. I’m sure that’s due to the car’s age and not my Cary Loftin-wannabe techniques. Plus, it was an aging car with no A/C and none of the convenient little things (like an iPod-using auxiliary cable) that I was starting to envy in my friends’ cars.
Anyway, last May, I finally said goodbye to the Acclaim and was shopping for a new car. My first choice is one of the new series of Challengers, preferably with the new HEMI V8 and a 6-speed Tremec. However, RWD was out since Pittsburgh winters are angry. All of my friends with RWDs typically have a backup car they can turn to for the season. I would not be so lucky. Unfortunately, this also ruled out many models of the new Charger, and I really liked the 2012-2013 redesign. I was looking for a moderately-priced 2012 Charger AWD at a local Dodge lot, not allowing myself to believe that such a thing didn’t exist, when I spotted a silver 2007 Volvo C70 convertible on the lot out of the corner of my eye. Very soon, I ended up behind the wheel and – for a shockingly good deal – out of the lot.
Now, while my heart will always be shooting for a solid piece of classic American muscle, this C70 is a pretty nice machine. It has Volvo’s 2.5 T5, which is a smaller engine than I thought I wanted, but it has solid acceleration and hits around 227 hp, which is a 86 hp upgrade from the Acclaim. The FWD is pretty good in the aforementioned Pittsburgh winters, and the car itself is both big and sleek. The best part is the retractable hardtop, though, which impresses children, young women, and old men alike. After my 4-year-old niece told me she was impressed that I was driving a “Transformer”, I knew I had done something right.
Fellow PIttsburgher here, (note the “h”)
Good article. I think I was the last person in the world to see Goodfellas, and I still watch it any time it’s on tv. There’s so much to hate and love in that movie. I did own a Cadillac once. A very used and worn out
66 Sedan de Ville. I think it was called a Park Ave edition because it was about 2 feet shorter than the regular Sedan de Ville and was meant for inner city driving. Still a boat though.
I love the Challengers also but as you said they’re not practical around here unless you have a winter back up.
It’s a little late for Christmas but how about the car that Darren McGavin drives in “A Christmas Story” for this year? Just a klunky Olds, but no one’s ever done that before.
See you on the Parkway.
Always a pleasure to hear from a fellow ‘burgher! As you might be able to tell, Goodfellas is a favorite movie with me; if you ever get a chance to read the book Wiseguy (or any subsequent books about the case), it’s well worth your time. A ’66 Sedan de Ville must’ve been a pleasure to drive, especially with the big 429 under the hood. Dare I ask how it handled the winters here?
“Some men are Baptists, others Catholics, my father was an Oldsmobile man…” The ’37 Olds from A Christmas Story would be a great holiday-timed piece. I’ll get my hands on a copy of the film and see what I can put together.
Great to hear from you! I’ll be stocking up on Eat’n Park quarts of soup tonight… best thing for a cold day.
What is the brand of his wrist watch please
It’s maybe a bit late, but… I’ve been searching for this kind of shirt for somehing like two thousand years… if not this one, something closely related, does anyone know where I could get something approaching it ?
Reblogged this on BAMF Style and commented:
Goodfellas fans likely recall that 40 years ago today was full of manic mayhem for mob associate Henry Hill. Check out this throwback Car Week post for a look at Henry’s oversized striped knit shirt, pounds of gold jewelry, and his saddle-colored Cadillac from this famous sequence!
The first car I ever bought for myself (in 2008) was a ’96 Cadillac Sedan DeVille in “Champagne” (although all my friends would claim it was simply tan). These were the last of the “big bodies,” and I loved it. It had every option available for that production year up to and including a built in, inoperable, car phone. The FWD with additional traction controls could handle a Kansas blizzard in style, the heated leather seats kept things cozy, and the pseudo-wings on the rear end inspired more style than I (as a skinny white kid) reasonably possessed. Unfortunately, I was not wealthy enough to keep up with the CONSTANT maintenance issues, and after accepting that my Caddy was nothing more than a champagne colored money pit, coughing and wheezing its way to a rapid death, I decided to replace it. My love of big body V8 sedans led me to a Kansas City police auction in 2010, where I purchased a 2007 Ford CVPI (technically in tan, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s also champagne colored). Had it ever since; hopefully have it forever.