A 60s kustom ticking all the right boxes!
1961 Cadillac powered by Chevy!
As many of you would know, last year a bunch of us checked out all the action in America, namely LA and Detroit. We spent a month taking in as much auto shows, museums, chop shops and swapmeets we could find, after all, we were there for a good time, not a long time!
While in LA, it was suggested we check out Hollywood Hotrods in Burbank, California as they had some cool rides on the go. We added it to our ever growing list of things to do and headed over there at the first available opportunity. It was a Monday and unfortunately, they were closed, but the place next door was open, Old Crow Speed shop! This was a cool place with plenty of old s’cool rides under construction but I do digress! They informed us that Hollywood Hotrods was open the next day so we penciled it in!
Rocking up there on Tuesday, Troy and Jim are used to visitors wanting to check out their establishment and welcomed us in. Heading through the merchandise shop and out the back, we were greeted with the sights and sounds of a typical custom and restoration shop as the hustle and bustle of grinding, banging and welding went on around us. The nostrils filled with the smell of hot metal and old cars as we took in the variety of custom classics and retro rods receiving a host of modifications. Check out more on our visit to Hollywood Hotrods here!
As we made our way around the moderately sized workshop, I wandered out the back as there are always interesting pieces to be found in autoshop backyards; an old rod or race car from the past, sections from a bygone era or in this case, unfinished projects. The bright orange and white paintwork caught my attention and I took in this chopped sixties classic sitting low and thought “cool”! I didn’t give it another thought and moved on. One of my mates, Daryl, wandered over and asked me what I thought of the unfinished project to which I replied, ” it’ll look good finished” and he responded ” and reckon you’re the bloke to do it! It’s for sale you know!” Thanks for planting the seed, Daz! My brain kicked into gear (insert rusty cog sound) as I headed back over to see what was actually involved. The basics were all there; cool fiined car from the early sixties, chopped roof from a later Bonneville, airbagged and the sweetener; a small block Chev that’d been stroked! All the chrome work, trim, old interior and other parts was all upstairs, Troy informed us. She was a project on the go until the previous owner ran out of coin thus leaving Troy holding the remains. We talked shop and agreed, if they could set it up for us to hear it running on a pre-arranged date, then we’d have a sale. As we were heading to Detroit for two and a half weeks, it gave them plenty of time to set something up on our return. Needless to say, I left there with my head swimming; am I doing the right thing, could it be done, what would my wife say! GULP!!
After returning from Detroit, we headed over to Troy’s and they fired it up for us! It sounded tough with straight out extractors and the deal was done! Once back home, I set about purchasing the necessary parts including having a screen cut for the chop. Over the next few months, with (much appreciated) help from Jim and Troy, I had various boxes of parts sent to the shop where they would pack into the car once ready for shipping. This took place the following February and landed on our shores in March.
Once again, good mate, Daz, helped out with his trusty troop carrier and car trailer and we headed to the importers. Getting this low, wide, heavy, packed to the roof piece of American iron onto the trailer proved to be a challenge and we had to do some creative trailer leveling and enlist the help of a folklift just to get it on without damage! We did it though with pretty much all of the boot hanging off the back of the trailer! Once home, in the dark of cause (any car guy knows we like to make challenges for ourselves) we towed it into the shed and
had an opportunity to finally check what I’d actually bought! This was the moment; did I get a good deal or had I bought a chuck of shit? We slowly pulled out all the bits and pieces including the 1960 Impala dash I decided to install in it, boxes, chrome parts, tubes, the old Cadillac parts and shine a torch around, down in the doors, under the bonnet, in the boot, etc. I gotta say, I was suitably impressed with what I saw as it was what the guys at Hollywood Hotrod had described to me including all parts. Now the next step starts: build it, finish it!
I’ll post regular updates on this page as the build goes along so if you’re interested in following it and aren’t already following the blog, jump on board, stay up to date and feel free to have your say! I’ll sign off by saying, I guess this is one hell of a souvenir to bring back from holiday!
Keep on cruisin’
UPDATE 25TH OF AUGUST, 2014
It’s been a while since I started this page but as anyone who has been down this path before knows, there is a lot of non-visual stuff that goes on, especially in front of the computer! Anyway, here’s a update on the project as we get underway.
I thought I’d start with fitting the 59 Impala dash in once I’d pulled it apart. It’s not a bad fit but did require some cutting and welding to have it looking right. I’ve decided to go the smooth path with it too by deleting any unnecessary joins or knobs, etc. Having not seen the car in its original guise, it’s hard for me to know what parts were originally used but thanks to a great forum site with a great bunch of Caddy fanatics I’ve got onto, they’ve been able to fill in the gaps for me (so to speak).
I’ve cleared space under the dash for such luxuries as aircon and heat while also requiring plenty of space for wiring and a relay board I’d say. This just meant re framing the brackets keeping it all square.
The next stage is to introduce an engineer to find out what needs to be done so she can be properly registered.
It’s been a while since my last post on here and not due to lack of work being done, time has just got away!
With the dash work completed, it was time to separate the main components in order to start the rebuilding process.
I pulled out the motor/ auto and began work on the engine bay. This included tidying up the chassis and engine mounts as well as smoothing off the firewall.
Because I’m running a small block Chevy in the Cad instead of the original 331c.i Cadillac motor, extensive
modifications was required for the engine mounts. These were constructed in America before I purchased the car but I decided to tidy them up by blending them into the chassis by boxing them. It has made for a much smoother look. I also smoothed off various welds as well as box up a number of other braces for appearance as well as ease of cleaning.
To clean up the firewall, I filled in the various access panels and removed the overhanging lip above the wiper motor cavity. I also tidied up the heater box which had a weirdly placed temp controller on the outside of it. This has now been relocated to the inside and an actuator will replace the vacuum operated heater flap allowing me to delete the vacuum server. I also filled in the seam running across the firewall.
With help from mates, we separated the body from the chassis in a day and put the body on a rotisserie for ease of refurbishment. With the chassis seeing daylight for the first time in 53 years, covered in decades of dirt, oil and grime, I began to wonder what I had got myself into! Where do I start?? Well I started that night by stripping down the front end and finishing the rear end the next day leaving me with a pile of dirty parts and a filthy chassis!
I figured the easiest way to clean this mess up was to get it blasted so I got John from Dustless Blasting to come to my house and spend a number days blowing off the miles of dirt and grime that had accumulated during the cars’ previous life. He did a fantastic job as I watched the black surface of the underside of the body and chassis become a much more visually appealing bare metal colour allowing me to start on the repairs and repaint almost straight away. John also took care of the numerous other parts and panels I cared not to have to clean!
While the underside had minimal rust for a car of this age, it still had its fair share of dents from rocks as well as factory imperfections and construction work that wouldn’t normally be seen by the purchasing demographic of the era. It was simply a case of working my way over the floor front to back finding all the flaws and cleaning them up.
With the underside in primer and ready for colour, I moved onto the chassis. This also required a good clean up and repair. I smoothed of a number of sections on the chassis as well as various suspension parts to create a more visual appearance when viewed from underneath yet can still be easily cleaned when required. I finished the chassis in silver complimented by zinc coated nuts and bolts. Some steering parts were powder coated in a colour matching silver as durability of these components will be an issue when driven. Reassembly is a time consuming job as each piece must be cleaned to as new if it hasn’t been painted. i had to also try and fit in the various suspension parts with their new bushes without scratching the freshly painted surface. That’s not an easy task!
Putting the wheels on and having a rolling chassis again was one of those mementos occasions when you realise you are progressing! To be able to roll it outside and give me more floor space inside the garage during the day is great and will probably clock up a few kays just from that activity!
The next big job and one I hadn’t been looking forward to was stripping back the roof! Although it had been
painted as had the body, a major piece of the high-flek paint was missing from the center! I guess it had lifted over the time the car had sat idle before I purchased it. There were other cracks in the paint through to the filler underneath as well so I knew it had to be stripped back! This is where the rotisserie comes into its own! I spun the body on its side so I was facing the roof and began stripping back the many layers of paint and filler including the original 1967 Bonneville paint using both paint stripper and stripping pads on the grinder. Once I had it back to bare metal, I was able to see how the roof was fitted to the body via the various welded
sections. Then it was time to redo the filler down both flanks of the roof and the rear section too. I didn’t add the hours involved but I can tell you it counts into a number of full days before having it back up to a smooth finish and ready for top coat!
I have continued to work on numerous other parts by welding up and smoothing off unwanted areas that will be seen when the car is on display. The radiator support panel is made up of six sections, all bolted on. I’m not sure why Cadillac did it this way but I have welded all the sections together and boxed off the lower brace to make for a cleaner, smoother look and easier to clean. I also cleaned up the inner guards by filling in the unused holes and stamping marks.
The dash has continued to be a major work in progress as I believe it will be a major part of the finished custom so it has to be right! After all, it’s what I’ll spend most of my time looking at! The dash has a lot of character in it with the design so I want to make sure that’s what stands out. By making it as smooth as possible, it should be a highlight of the car, that’s the plan anyway!
I’m about ready to start putting some colour down onto the many finished parts as well as set the motor and auto up to be reinstalled back into the chassis. It’ll be good to see the big pieces of the puzzle start to go back into place.
Here’s looking into 2016!!
While 2016 may not have been as proactive on the Caddy as I would have liked, I am determined to find the time in 2017 to get the project rolling again!
As with any custom car, they are unique and therefore we head into uncharted waters when it comes to the build process. Combining various parts to other parts and making them fit while looking as though they were supposed to be is a challenge in itself and you can find yourself getting bogged down on small items as you scourer the Net and chat with fellow car mates for ideas. It’s always a great excuse to catch up for a beer and a chat though!
I did find time throughout last year to work on the panels and bring them up to the point where they are ready for paint. All I can say is this is one big car!! I have a new found respect for people who bring these over length machines to the high standard I see at car shows! The bonnet, while looking ok in its faded white paint, turned out to be anything but straight and required a substantial amount of work to bring back to a suitable finish! Wet rubbing back those acres of high fill on the flat surface felt like wet rubbing the salt flats of Bonneville!
During this time, the engine was looked over and a new transmission built to suit the performance of the Chev and the ratio of the 9 inch. I then proceeded to tidy both mechanical items up before mating them together and finally dropping the running gear back into the chassis.Since I had swapped out the T700R that came with the car initially with a T400, I now had to modify the transmission mount as well as the tail shaft! Change one thing, it affects another! Pete from A1 Automotive in Geelong lengthened the tail shaft and supplied the right drive shaft.
The motor originally came with a serpentine system that wasn’t going to suit the final vision I was after so I sold the complete system off and started sourcing replacement parts for that old school look. I made the decision to go with a short water pump and Rohan Hutson from Radiator Workshop in Mornington helped get the ball rolling on this part of the build by supplying me with steel brackets and bolt kit for the alt and air con compressor as well as an air conditioning compressor. All I now had to do was continue on from there! Remember, when you buy a water pump, it doesn’t come with bolts! Belt size? two belts or three? I’m still nutting out the right power steering unit to fit in the space available as well as make sure the PSI is compatible with the steering box!
A job I had been looking forward to was finally applying my chosen colour to the body! With the underside finished and prepped for painting, I utilised the versatility of the rotisserie to paint into every corner and crevice for a full coverage! I decided to go with a satin finish on the underside as a gloss shine may have made the floor look too busy. I like the look of the finish as it has an old rich leather look about it. With coats of base first, then colour and finally clear while rotating the body from left to right throughout all coats, it made for a big day but with rewarding results!
With the underside completed and the chassis all set up, it was time to drop the body back where it belongs giving me something that finally resembled a car again! I used the crew of mates that helped me lift the body off back in 2015 to drop it back onto its mounts. Daryl and Frankie were spot on and we had the job completed without issue in just a few hours! It was nice to be able to cut out the bracing inside the body as well as gain some valuable room in the shed with the rotisserie gone! A good sweep out of the garage and I could sit back with a beer and admire a rolling body parked central of the garage! Another milestone completed!
One panel I was not able to do while the body was on the rotisserie was the boot as it fouled with the frame when mounted on the car. Due to damage done in transit and rust issues, I had to cut out the back end of the boot on both the inner and outer panels before passing the rusted pieces off to another mate, Al to be used as templates for the new sections to be shaped in his folding and shrinking machines. I knew this was going to be a big job and time consuming. I didn’t want it to linger on so I attacked the panel in a marathon effort running over a four day break! With plenty of fitting, cutting, tacking, refitting, cursing, bending, hammer and dollying and realigning, I had the sections in to the point I could remove the boot from the car before welding and grinding up the repairs. Some filler and high fill, and that’s the last panel done!
It’s booked in for the exhaust in a couple of weeks and I am running a number of jobs at the same time as I continue to merge various parts together while sourcing suitable bits and pieces. I’ll keep you posted!
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