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 Roger Jetter’s ‘55 Coop DeVille Caddy

 

These are pictures of Roger’s latest build project that he has been working on when he is not writing. Roger is the Author of “Bangin' Gears & Bustin' Heads”, “Fast Cars, 4-speeds & Fist-fights”, “Recollections, Regrets & Random Acts” and "Accidents & Incidents".  www.RAJetter.com

This build started in July, ’05, I bought someone else’s (unfinished) project. Yeah, I know, I’ve heard it all before -- “NEVER buy someone else’s half-baked project.”…but, I’ve built enuff cars to know what I was getting into, I looked it over well, struck a deal and laid out my cash.

Someone needed to save it…and since we’d “built” my brother a 1954 Caddy hardtop…and were familiar enuff with them, it fell to me…why not do another? Could be fun.

Now, to put this in a bit of perspective…. As of March 19th, 2008 -- two years, nine months after I brought it home, at 2:50 PM in the afternoon, the engine was finally fired off and runs well, sounds healthy (AND has great oil pressure…!!!) and the tranny works …not bad for an engine, tranny and carb that has been sitting in my garage for well over three years.

This then, is the ‘saga’ of how I built my Cadillac…and WHY it’s taken this long. This is simply my way and done in my back yard garage with only my bro, Dan, helping.

So… instead of “tell,” I  am using that old writer’s admonishment: “SHOW, don’t tell.” Let’s go….

Click on Photos to Enlarge

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The Caddy is a 1955 Coupe DeVille, complete with a 500 incher (used-not overhauled, was told it “had good oil pressure.” “Uhmmmmm, OK, I hope you’re not shitting me, but I really have no way of knowing.” A Turbo 400 tranny was attached to the engine and both simply “placed” in the engine bay (not bolted down). As part of the deal, I got almost enuff parts to build two cars …the Caddy also has power windows and power seat.

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When we got the ‘55 home and unloaded from the trailer, we put the ’48 into ‘sleep mode’ for a while, rolled it into safe-keeping in the dry shed and put the ’55 in the big garage…then we pulled the body off the frame…

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The ’55 Caddy is an original ColoRODo car…so, no rust…then we set about scoping out the ’78 Trans Am sub that was only mig welded, full of burn holes and crappy piled up welds that wouldn’t hold anything together at 70 mph…!!! It was mounted into the original frame at the firewall. We pulled the engine and tranny out and set it off to the side…first things first, ya know…we’ll deal with that later. Before we go farther, please don’t give me any crap about putting the body up on cinder blox…they hold up a two (or more) story building just fine and they stack them higher then I ever will, they’ll work for holding up a Caddy body. Besides, no one is putting any down force on the blocks and the body certainly isn’t moving around, and, BTW, that body didn’t “bend” in the middle either, because of no center support. And that was over two years ago…not one of those blocks cracked or broke.

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Once the engine and tranny was out, I borrowed a trailer again, hauled the whole thing up to a sandblaster and let them go at the 50 year old crud…once back, I cleaned up the frame graft, ground off some of the crap, mig welded up some spots to add a bit more strength to it and then cut 1/8” plate in order to fish-plate the two frames together…and then TIG welded all of it together I might add…

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I cleaned it all up nicely and then epoxy sealed it and sprayed it urethane gloss black.

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While the frame was drying, I decided to do the body…

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the bottom of the old Caddy body was relatively clean (old undercoating already finally falling off after all these years)

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 so, wire brushed that, sanded a bit, sealed it with epoxy and sprayed Lizardskin…(best insulation in the world…!!!)…

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once that was done, I painted it all gloss black and proceeded to get ready to set it back on the frame.

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So, while the under side of the body was sitting and drying (after shooting Lizardskin and black paint), in the meantime, I pulled all the old stock heater crap and air “boxes” off the firewall (must’ve taken off 200 pounds of metal and at least 11 miles of ancient, rotten rubber heater hose) simply cuz I wanted a clean, flat firewall…and, with the plan of adding heat/air conditioning/defrost via under-dash Vintage Air…all that crap was just so much extra weight…and……in the way.

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I welded in new panels (allowing a ½” opening at the bottom of the firewall/air box -- each side) for the outside air ( as well as rain, wash water, snow, etc) to continue the flow in to and out of the openings under the windshield stainless. These opening were used to force outside air into the heaters (one on each side of the interior). Blocking these by welding them shut would result in rust, eventually – when -- not if -- they filled with water and debris.

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It took a couple weeks worth of welding, bondoing, sanding and priming to get it correct and flat…and then priming and painting it yellow (color choice at the time)…but I think I’ve since changed my mind!. I don’t think I can deal with that much chicken-fat yellow every day and all the time. This car is not small…it has acres of sheet metal.

Note the expensive making paper …this is a “low-buck” build…!!!

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Once I was satisfied it was flat…I sprayed it yellow. I thot this was a very light yellow when I had it mixed…it was lighter than anything else I’d seen and the color chip was almost no yellow …but, once it was down, still not light enuff for my tastes. Waaaaa-aaaaaaayyyy too much yellow…!!! AND since I didn’t want to spend the time to sand it all back off…I decided to leave it alone...maybe it’ll grow on me…

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With the firewall looking good, it was time to put the body and frame back together. It took a few hours to lower the body onto the frame. We raised it with floor jacks...we lowered it with floor jacks, one on each side of the car, moving from front to rear and back to front as we carefully lifted, then removed each individual block until it sat down on the frame and we removed the floor jacks. Lining up bolt holes with the body mounts was the tuffest part. But we got it remounted and mounted solid…

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I think we were only ¼” off side to side and front to back…remember boys and girls, necessity is the Mother of invention…or building cars…!!!

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Done…after a few hours of lowering…and certainly glad that part of the build is over.

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After cleaning all the grease and oil off the engine and tranny (my bro, Dan, gets the dirty jobs cuz he’s younger than I…Besides, I was busy with other stuff – thinking, scheming, drawing, supervising …and the like…oh, I did build some motor mounts, built a tranny mount and made sure everything was level and the oil pan sits ABOVE the lowest part of the Trans Am cross-member –don’t need anything hanging below the frame rails…CUZ it’s gonna get lowered…!!!.. was going to paint the engine all up…but that old color choice came back to haunt me…and I didn’t want a yellow engine…OK…put the engine back in in its original factory color. We’re gonna have to take it apart later after we know everything on the car works. We slid the 500”/Turbo 400 Caddy back in…

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With the front clip back on so I could scope out what needed to be built (and to me, this is the fun part of the build)…and fitted… then the real work came…mating ’55 Caddy stuff to a late model disc brake sub-frame. Already looks like that radiator support is going to need some modifying

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As you can see, sliding the motor/tranny onto the ’78 Trans Am sub has the front of the car sitting a lot closer to the concrete…and that’s the way I like it. Wait til I get the front bumper brackets built and get that 200 pound Dagmar unit mounted…!!!

After I was satisfied the firewall was “close enuff for the girls I go out with” (not that they’d care if it was off some anyway) and the body was mounted on the frame ‘close enuff,” I turned my attention to the “next” thing in line…Brakes.

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I needed to figure out how and what. I wanted to keep the original floor brake pedal (and since I made the firewall flat, an ugly ol’ master cylinder hanging there on the firewall just wasn’t going to work, nor look good.). Time to put the thinking cap on, pull up a stool and do some studying… Back to the problem at hand…I knew I wanted a power booster on the brakes…big cars need help stopping…in my crazy way of thinking and building a car, I went to the junkyard, had them cut part of the X-frame/main frame section out of a ‘55 four door and I built a dummy master cylinder/booster mount out of sheet metal (not shown) for the new 7” Master Power booster/Corvette master cylinder. This photo  is an “after” shot and that’s the stock Caddy pedal showing there. Having to NOT work on my back, under the car sure made building the dummy mount easy, and to be able to see exactly HOW it would work mounted to the frame…

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I then had it cut out of 3/16” plate, formed up, complete with stock brake pedal and had it all TIGed together, sent it out to be powder coated silver and hung it in the stock frame…under the floor of the Caddy…fits nice…hope it works as nice.

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I started on the interior - I pulled everything out of the interior, dash included, and the cardboard heater vents (at the kick panels) that ran from the firewall into the doors (so the back seat could be heated) via the kick panels and proceeded to wire brush, sand and clean in prep for the Lizardskin on the interior --- when it was reasonably clean, I sprayed floor, firewall, doors, package tray, trunk and roof with epoxy sealer first.

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Lizardskin is easy to spray, stick a heater hose tube in the 2-gallon bucket, attach the air hose to the gun and spray away (oh, you need to use a body schutz gun, tho)…credit card thickness is all you need. I used one 2-gallon bucket on the interior. Here I am shooting the roof of the Caddy…oh, and wear a cap and or glasses of some kind…the stuff goes all over.

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Time perspective: removing stuff, cleaning, sanding, covering, masking the interior took the better part of a month to get everything ready for the Lizardskin…and then that only took a few hours to spray it all in.

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Once the interior was done and dry, I put the dash back in, but NOT the original Cadillac cardboard heater crap…no sense spending good money on new cardboard “ducting” when a Vintage Air unit will cool and heat the car for what little I need. All that wiring seen on the floor is stock ’55 Caddy wiring…all of five circuits/fuses in the entire car…at this point I’ve got an EZ wiring kit coming…just as well do the car correctly and add a few more needed circuits.

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Well, as you can see by the column being mounted, it looks like it’ll work…but, no matter the length after all, it wouldn’t…and we trashed about ¾’s of the column. I retrieved the stock ’55 Caddy column from my storage shed and noticed it had the shift linkage arm on the engine side of the firewall and it went up over the top of the brake pedal…Oooops, didn’t figure on that one…new column and linkage shift arm needed. My friend (and hot rod builder) Quenton Sonnenfeld (of Sonnenfeld Enterprises in Denver) built me a new column, complete with required shift arm on the engine side of the  firewall.

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While I was in the interior, I decided I didn’t like the stock ’55 dash… “OK, let’s change it now, before we go any further.” First choice was a ’57 Chevy dash since I know them (I’ve had a few ’57 Chevys in my lifetime) and thot that would look good in the Caddy…I’d planned on mating 3/4’s of it to the original chromed ’55 Caddy dash-pod…I called up my friendly neighborhood junkyard and asked them to remove a ’57 dash for me…cost me all of $100.00 for it. The stock ’55 Caddy dash/radio opening is so narrow (height-wise) a nice CD player (yes, I LIKE traveling music -- loud) will not fit in without cutting up the cast metal dash trim…and I didn’t want to fight that, didn’t think it would look good and besides, a ’57 dash is wider and a nice FM stereo is available for it without cutting anything.

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When I went to the junkyard to pick up the ’57 Chevy dash, I walked over to a derelict ’56 Caddy sitting there…wow… it had a complete dash in it…bigger radio opening than what I had…OR the ’57 Chevy dash had. ”Hmmmmmmmm, Bill, how much for the Caddy dash?” “Do I need to cut it out?” “No, I think it simply unbolts.” “If you take it out -- $50.00.”…OK, I unbolted it, went home with two dashes and minus 150.00 in my wallet…anyone need a ’57 Chevy dash?  …and got ready to mate the ’56 to the ‘55…Note: the stock ’55 dash had the glove compartment way over on the right side (passenger side) directly in the way of a soon-to-be under-dash Vintage Air unit…that simply ain’t going to work. The ’56 dash has the glove compartment in the center…Yep, that’ll work better.

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 …and got ready to mate the ’56 to the ‘55…Note: the stock ’55 dash had the glove compartment way over on the right side (passenger side) directly in the way of a soon-to-be under-dash Vintage Air unit…that simply ain’t going to work. The ’56 dash has the glove compartment in the center…Yep, that’ll work better.

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Then I had the ’56 dash glass-beaded…all the better to weld on…

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In this pic you can see how the dash is fitting to the ’55 side…note the right side hold-er-onner…nothing is welded up yet…and if you look closer, you can see that I’ve fitted the original ’55 column covers to the new column…should look cool once painted and finished.

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That cast metal insert will go away, BTW…Cadillac style woodgrain will replace it. Also note that the top of the dash is now all bare metal…most Caddy dashes are leather covered, I ripped all of mine off…I wanted it painted.

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A little MIG welding here and a little MIG welding there, a bit of bondo here and a bit there, some sealer and some primer, a bit of paint and it will be soon one piece and finished…Hey, that don’t look too bad in a picture…

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I then sealed and primed the dash, and all the window trim and door panels…and painted everything white…the interior will be two-toned (and NOT chicken fat yellow it was decided -- for the final time), the bottom of the dash will be white and the top of the dash and most of the door panel trim will be another color (to be determined…!!!)

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