Although he tried to play it cool, Gilbert Hilton loved the attention he received whenever he’d drive around Philly in his “Badillac,” a 2004 Cadillac SRX he decorated with hundreds of household items, from candelabras to curtain rods.

His wife, however, was not a fan.

“Oh, I hated that car,” Evonne Hilton said. “When people would be taking pictures, I’d be putting my head down.”

But there is one memory of her husband’s unusual automobile that always makes Evonne smile.

“One day his granddaughter walked out of the house and he was out there washing his car,” she said. “His granddaughter said, ‘What are you doing, Pop-Pop? Washing your dishes?’ and I fell over laughing because that’s what he had on his car.”

On Sunday, Mr. Hilton, a true Philadelphia character who added to the character of this city, died in his sleep at his North Philly home. He was 77.

Mr. Hilton, whom The Inquirer profiled in 2019 as part of its We the People series, about the people who make Philly extraordinary, was born in Philadelphia. When asked what section he grew up in, he said, “All of them.”

As a kid, he’d sit on a stoop in West Philly with his cousin, looking out at cars and imagining the “pimpmobiles” they might get one day.

“I always liked them pimp cars,” he said. “I used to admire the players when they used to come up to the clubs in their Cadillacs and convertibles with the fur on the seats, you know?”

It was at a nightclub where Mr. Hilton met his wife in 1971. This January, they celebrated 40 years of marriage.

“He was nice and generous and caring,” Evonne Hilton said. “We liked to do the same kind of stuff and we just hit it off.”

Mr. Hilton had four children from a previous marriage, 20 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren, his wife said.

Mr. Hilton attended West Philadelphia High and worked in many industries, including assisted living, manufacturing, and food service. He also worked as a hack driver for a while (think Uber before Uber was a thing), and he DJed weddings and block parties. In his interview with The Inquirer, he claimed he was one of the first DJs in the city to use double turn tables and one of the first people to have a boom box, “back in 1964.”

After he retired, Mr. Hilton said he “started getting buck wild, partying, running up and down the street.” But after he suffered a heart attack in 2014 and required triple bypass surgery, he stopped partying altogether.

In his newfound sobriety and boredom, Mr. Hilton began decorating his Cadillac. He started small, with chrome emblems of dogs and naked ladies. Then, it got next-level.

“I said, ‘To heck with that! I’m gonna put some pots and pans on here,’” he said. “I didn’t have nothing else to do, so I took it out on the car.”

Eventually, Mr. Hilton covered his car — which he dubbed “The Badillac” — in hundreds of items he bought from Goodwill that he power-drilled to the body of the vehicle. Among those items were gravy boats, casserole pans, and colanders; a brass spittoon, a deviled-egg tray, and door handles; and a TV stand, fireplace posts, and towel racks.

“Most all that stuff was strange,” his wife said. “When he put that towel rack on there I said, ‘Really?’”

In 2018, Mr. Hilton bought a second car, a silver 2000 Dodge Stratus, to drive in the winter because there was too much stuff on the Badillac to clear snow off of it. But he quickly started decorating the second car too.

“The kids call it the Back to the Future car,” he said of the Stratus. “That’s why I try to make it look like a spaceship.”

Photos of Mr. Hilton’s cars became the subject of Reddit threads and social media posts (”I’m all over Facebook, Yourbook, Mybook,” he said). Wherever he drove his mobile imaginariums, they left behind wonder, glee, and confusion in their wake.

“This one guy said, ‘Let me shake your hand, man. I ain’t never seen a car like this in my life’ and I said, ‘You must not live in Philadelphia, then, because I been all over the place,’” Mr. Hilton said in 2019.

In November, Evonne Hilton said a mechanic who was working on the Badillac left it on the street for too long and someone reported it as abandoned. The car was towed, and in the process, the transmission was shot.

“He couldn’t afford to fix it and he sold it to the graveyard,” she said. “That broke his heart to do that.”

After getting rid of the Badillac, Mr. Hilton sold his Back to the Future car to his cousin, who’s keeping it just the way he left it “because he just like him,” Evonne Hilton said.

And while Philadelphia may always remember Mr. Hilton for the joy he brought to this city with his cars, his family will remember him for the joy he brought to them, his wife said.

“He loved his family. Any time the kids called him, he would always come,” she said. “He was so dependable. If anybody needed anything, before we knew it, he did it for them.”

A viewing for Mr. Hilton will be held 9 a.m. Saturday, March 19, at Ebenezer Temple Pentecostal Church, 5649 Christian St., Philadelphia. A funeral at the church will immediately follow at 10 a.m. Interment will take place at Eden Cemetery in Collingdale.