Rose colored glasses…

Posted: November 24, 2012 in Classic Cars
Tags: , ,

A friend of mine, Bill McGuire (Mac’s Motor City Garage), posted pictures on his blog the other day of a ’53 Cadillac “Dream Car”, the “Lemans”, which looked startlingly like my long gone ’56 Caddy custom convert.  Today, another car buddy, Kirk (aka “Crafty B”) posted some photo’s of cars he’d had in the past on Facebook.  This inspired me to find the few pictures I have of that car, and take a little nostalgia trip of my own. 

Of course, it’s always nice to look back,  reminisce about the good things, while conveniently forgetting the bad.  It’s a defensive device our brains come up with, I’m sure,  which causes waves of nostalgia tinged with regret.  As in, “I should never have sold/traded/given away…” whatever the object of (one time) desire was.

In the case of the Caddy, at the time, I wanted a Harley Davidson motorcycle.  Of course, I had no money, but I did have the Caddy, in addition to a ’41 Chevy convertible sedan, and the ’48 Pontiac convert.  They all needed something, as all my cars seem to do, and for a variety of reasons, I was tired of the Caddy, and didn’t feel like getting the seemingly endless list of “things to do” done.  Like, install side windows, put a working radio in it, and most daunting of all, rebuilding the rather tired Pontiac 455 that would periodically suffer from a complete set of 16 collapsed lifters, resulting in a hard-start when hot, and then a few seconds of expensive sounding clatter from the valvetrain when it would finally light up.

I’d bought the car from a customer of mine in my used-car salesman days, who sweetened the deal by reducing the price of the 4 door hardtop with a stuck engine to $250, offering to deliver it to my driveway, AND give me a bushel of sweet-corn.  He wore me down, and finally won with the sweet corn, which as I recall, was pretty good.

When I was off work anticipating aortic valve replacement surgery, too ill to set at a desk but evidently well enough to build a custom car, bored at home all day, I drug the Cad from behind the garage with my lawn tractor, and cut the top off with my Sawzall.  Standing back to admire my work, it was out of proportion, and looked like a 4 door with the roof cut off.  Figuring I couldn’t hurt the car at that point, I pulled it in the garage, and cut it in half, thinking to shorten it.

I’d carefull blocked up the car in the middle, to prevent it from collapsing at the center, when I cut the frame.  (I’d cut the rust-free floor out of the rear seat area to do this.)  Imagine my shock when, as the torch made its final cut through the frame, the front half of the car tipped forward, untill the bumper hit the floor, and the rear, no longer weighed down by the front half, shot up about 6 inches on the springs, tipped back onto the rear bumper, and actually rolled out of the, happily open, garage door.  Leaving me standing on the garage floor between the two halves of the car, one inside, one outside, about 10 feet from the garage,  holding a torch, and wondering what to next.

Not wanting to give up on my $250 investment and days worth of probably near fatal work, I jacked up and leveled the front half, and with two come-alongs, winched the rear of the car back into the shop.  Then, with the Sawzall, I cut a little over a foot off the back of the rear doors, cut a little less out of the frame on the rear half, pie cut the rails to be able to slip the front half of the frame inside, and winched the two halves back together. 

When everything was (reasonably) square and level, I welded the frame together, using sections of the original rails a filch plates, brazed the rear door skins to the quarter panel (I didn’t have a wire welder at the time), and pushed it back outside to take a look at my days work. 

What it looked like was that it needed about 3 inches off the windshield, so back in it went, out came the Sawzall, and the windshield posts were trimmed untill everything looked right.  A little filler on the seam where door-skin met quarter panel, a patch panel on the rockers, and some black rattle can primer had it looking, from 10 feet, like it was something Cadillac should have built.  A 2 passenger convertible DeVille. 

The car sat that way in the garage untill after I’d recovered a bit from surgery, and I bought from a neighbor, an extremely rusty but pretty good running ’68 Pontiac Catalina convertible.  I hadn’t thought about a top at all for the car, untill the convertible came home to donate it’s (rather tired) 455/Turbo 400, but the bows LOOKED like they could be made to fit the Cad body.  That cost $200, so I now had everything I needed to make the car a runner, and less than $500 bucks, a bargain even back in 1983.   I never did have enough extra cash to get the bumpers re-chromed.  Mono-chromatic paint jobs with painted trim was just starting to be popular, which fit my budget.  The bumpers, rust free, unusual for Cadillacs of this era, got painted the body color, and all the stainless was sanded and painted satin black.  Admittedly, it would look better with at least the front dagmars chromed, but I think the car still looks good today.

Over the next year, I got it together, painted a rather odd slate/blue and white tu-tone.  We had a ’75 Buick Electra 225 (“Duece-and-a-Quarter” with 4 buckets a console, wide whites and a padded landau top) that blue color that I liked, and so the Caddy got that.  A year later, I painted it the candy brandy-wine color, made a new black top, added a grey leather interior scavenged from a FWD Eldo, and the car was “finished”.  It never did get side-glass, a radio, a real exhaust (I had also salvaged the Catalina’s single exhaust, sans muffler),  or finishing details, but it was pretty enough to get a quarter page color photo in “Street Rodder”, and to get a personal compliment from Gene Winfield, my idol, on the candy paint job.  

“You’ve got balls to cut up a high-dollar car like that”, he told me, extending his hand, and added, “My name is Gene Windfield, and that’s some nice work.”

Somehow, after that, the car WAS finished,  that casual comment from my boyhood car-guy idol, made whatever else the car needed, irrelevant.  I would not, could not, make the car any better, and it seemed time to move on.  I miss it once in a while, but that is tempered by the other things it’s enable me to have, and the memories we had while it was ours.  

I hope it’s still around somewhere, and that somebody since has put windows in it, hooked up the wipers, put a decent stereo in it, and rebuilt the tired old Pontiac engine. 

Someday, if I find another similar one, it’d be fun to do it “right”, although maybe just the memory is enough.

  1. Kim says:

    You forget to mention your wife’s surprise at finding that ugly beast in the driveway when she got home!

  2. Tom says:

    Great story. Thanks

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