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“One Piece at a Time” – Johnny Cash Tribute Car!

Johnny Cash released a fun little song in 1976 called “One Piece at a Time”. It was about an assembly line auto worker who throughout his career smuggled out enough parts to assemble a whole car. Problem was that nothing matched, so the automobile was a strange combination of odds and ends. A year after the song was on the radio, a fan/collector built one (kind of) like it and presented it to Cash as a gift. Today, the car resides in the Storytellers Museum in Bon Aqua, Tennessee, and here on Atlasobscura as a summary of the car’s story.

As it turns out, “One Piece at a Time” would be Johnny’s last Billboard Hot 100 hit. To help promote the new tune, Cash’s crew hired a Nashville auto shop to build a Frankenstein-like Cadillac. The result was the product you see in the second photo. It was destroyed in 1977, perhaps because it wasn’t a drivable automobile. This may have been what inspired Oklahoma car collector Bill Patch to build his own Coupe De Ville out of salvaged parts. But he didn’t do it for himself: he gifted it to Johnny, free of charge.

This was not the first time a song was inspired by a car. Others than come to mind include Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally,” War’s “Low Rider,” Prince’s “Little Red Corvette,” and the Beach Boys’ “409.” But the lyrics of Cash’s tune were just as catchy, with sound bites like “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.”

Like the Johnny-built car, this one has mismatched headlights and an asymmetrical rear end. And maybe the interior is off, too, with different seating and headrests. Presentation of the auto by Patch to Cash led to a lifelong friendship, leading Cash, and his wife June to perform at a series of concerts to benefit the building of a community center in Patch’s hometown. The one-off Cadillac resides today at Johnny’s one-time private country-home getaway, Hideaway Farms, as part of the Storytellers Museum, which features some of Cash’s personal collection items.

For your enjoyment, here’s a clip of the song and not one but two other articles about this interesting bit of automobilia.


  1. Avatar photo Bluetec320 Member

    Well, it’s a ’49, ’50, ’51, ’52, ’53, ’54, ’55, ’56
    ’57, ’58’ 59′ automobile

    It’s a ’60, ’61, ’62, ’63, ’64, ’65, ’66, ’67
    ’68, ’69, ’70 automobile

    Like 24
    • Avatar photo Mark-A

      …. great minds & all that as I’ve just showed this to the folks & when explaining it I also quoted “…..its a 59, 60…..” as I grew up with Johnny Cash playing in the car in Scotland while growing up!

      Like 10
  2. Avatar photo 19sixty5 Member

    Cause I’ll have the only one there is around…

    Like 8
  3. Avatar photo alphasud Member

    Jonny Cash. Man what a singer he was. I still smile when I hear this song. That and a boy named Sue.

    Like 20
  4. Avatar photo Howard A Member

    Oh Johnny, look what they did to your,,,um,,,car. Apparently, 1 site claims there 135 songs written about cars or driving. This is a seldom visited feature of BFs, stories, and I like it. A welcome change from the greed and general mishigosh today, that irritates me so. This shows the builder still has a shred of character in these stale times, almost like a giant middle finger to the auto industry. And while this song was big, my favorite Johnny Cash song? Why, “I’ve been everywhere, man”,,,natch.
    More “stories” and less greed, PLEASE. Thanks, Russ!

    Like 20
    • Avatar photo 57Chevy

      Howard, “I’ve Been Everywhere” was not a Johnny Cash song. It was Hank Snow!

      Like 2
  5. Avatar photo Bob_in_TN Member

    I too enjoy the occasional “story” article. In fact, when I started reading the article, my first thought was along the lines of — what is this going to sell for, and who in the world would buy it, because it is already located in the proper place. Then I realized what Russ was accomplishing.

    I can add this to my small mental collection of Barn Find cars which I have seen in person. Our car club went to this small museum and nearby farmstead a few years ago as part of a club cruise. I’ve heard it may have scaled back its operations/ open times, perhaps that was due to Covid. So if you want to check it out, make sure you plan ahead.

    Like 9
  6. Avatar photo leiniedude Member

    I grew up in Janesville Wis. Home to a Chevy plant. I know for a fact that engines and tranny’s were stolen. Not sure about body parts. Most likely. A ton of tools were lifted also, I inherited some hand tools from my BIL, most were etched stolen from Chevrolet.

    Like 5
    • Avatar photo nlpnt

      The story I heard, repeatedly, was that when a line worker ordered a new car it’d show up with all kinds of extra options that weren’t on the build sheet or the Monroney (if they liked you), and that even ze Germans did this – the joke there was that it was so common they made cars found to have this done to them wear special license plates indicating they were “Weiterausgestaetet Ohne Bezahlung” (WOB=Wolfsburg).

      Like 4
      • Avatar photo 53MGTD

        “Furnished without payment.”
        Good one.

        Like 4
    • Avatar photo Howard A Member

      Yep, growing up in an automaker town, there was a reason the workers shlepped those big lunch pails, security was non-existent, anything that fit in the lunch pail, usually made it home. I don’t recall motors or fenders, but maybe. I had neighbors that worked at AMC, and if they knew a fellow workers car was a’ comin’ down the line,( most AMC workers drove AMCs,,,for obvious reasons) shall we say some “extras” usually made it to final assembly.

      Like 1
  7. Avatar photo Kenneth Carney

    We played in Janesville a few times in the early to mid ’70s. Most of the
    shows were in auditoriums and the folks we played for were really nice and appreciated the type of show we
    put on for them. Mike, you and your
    family may have been at one of our
    shows and didn’t even know. It was
    great to watch you all have fun.

    Like 1
    • Avatar photo leiniedude Member

      I probably saw you perform Ken, I was the guy with a bottle of beer and a baseball cap on! Did Ian mess with you? My big brother is still without power in Cape Coral. Take care, Mike.

      Like 0
  8. Avatar photo JEV

    I did 2 weeks at Salinas County once and got released, if not I was headed to Folsom Prison!

    Like 5
  9. Avatar photo Bick Banter

    Well honestly, it’s sure a heck better than yet another Ghostbusters tribute car

    Like 7
  10. Avatar photo Chris

    I would drive that all day long

    Like 3
  11. Avatar photo Bob McK

    It may leak….

    Like 1
  12. Avatar photo BlackTa

    Uhm, Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” was nothing to do about a car…

    Like 3
  13. Avatar photo chrlsful

    what’s that “double roof” type thing, not in the 2nd pic but the other 4?
    It’s good ta see’em w/such young faces, and the close of the era, all smiles…

    Like 0
  14. Avatar photo Keith

    Could it be that Johnny got the idea from that song when he first saw the 1960 Chrysler Valiant?

    Like 0
    • Avatar photo 57Chevy

      That or from Any Edsel !!!!!

      Like 0

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