There is a multitude of ways that people come into the car hobby. There are collectors, investors, and builders, just to name a few. Some come to the hobby late in life, some earlier, and some, like Kurt McCormick, can never remember a time when they were not interested. Before he was able to own or drive a car, Kurt was poring over the buff books, reading about them, studying their lines, learning the terminology, and dreaming of days to come. He visualized himself behind the wheel of one of these sleek beauties, the rolled vinyl pressed against his body and the mellow sound of a slightly muffled V-8 purring in his ear. He could even visualize the multiple carbs sitting atop that heavily chromed vintage OHV engine. Yeah, those were the dreams of a young Kurt McCormick.
Over the years, Kurt has had a boatload of cars; there have been classics, musclecars, street rods, and customs, but his real and first love has always been customs. And, of the wide variety of customs out there, it's the early vehicles that really fascinate him. Best known as a collector of all things Barris, Kurt has put together an impressive collection of restored Barris vehicles and associated memorabilia over the years. So, at first it seemed a little odd that he would purchase a Westergard car. That is until you remember that Harry Westergard was a forerunner to the Barris brothers and is considered by many to have had a huge influence on those first (mid- to late-'30s) round-fendered, low-slung, tail-dragger cars that were the early custom movement.
As you may have guessed by now, surviving Westergard cars are highly sought-after prizes in custom collector circles, so there was no hesitation on Kurt's part when this one came along. As a matter of fact, the convoluted deal that Kurt made to get the car is an interesting story itself. When Kurt tracked it down, Steve Woodburn in Danville, California, had owned it for about four years. In the course of their early conversations, Kurt realized Steve wasn't really interested in selling the car outright but might be up for a tempting trade. He also discovered that Steve had a real passion for Joe Wilhelm cars and that level of trade could be the key to this deal.
Well, it just so happened Kurt knew Wilhelm's widow was ready to part with the Mark Mist '36 Ford coupe, so he purchased it from her, and with her knowledge, used the Mark Mist as the bargaining chip that got him this Westergard Cadillac. By the time Kurt got to the car, there wasn't a lot left-the top covering was gone, the interior was in a shambles, the drivetrain was either missing or nonfunctional, and one side had sustained some serious body damage. But, much of the original Westergard work was still intact, and when all else was said it was still one of a handful of remaining examples of his craft.
This was no simple scuff and buff restoration; it needed everything. The frame had to be boxed, all the suspension freshened, mechanical systems refurbished, sheetmetal fabricated, an interior installed, and a Hall top recreated. There would also be nods to modernization-nothing too far out, just enough to make the car more appealing in a 21st century world. For instance, rather than hunt down an era Flathead V-8 and obsolete Hydramatic transmission, Kurt opted for a freshened '62 Cadillac engine backed by a B&M enhanced 700-R4 overdrive transmission and a lockup converter. Of course, the '60s overhead-valve V-8 was nicely blended into the period piece with the liberal application of vintage speed parts to the exterior of the engine. Kurt also restyled the top to take some of the fullness out of the C-pillar area, selected a period-correct body color (all the bodywork was completed in the late '40s, but color was not applied) in a modern finish, and no doubt moved the interior a bit beyond its original state of finish. In the overall scheme of things, these are minor concessions and serve to enhance rather than detract from the car. If you're a fan of early customs, this is your kind of car.
The finished product is a stunner; the round fenders, full fadeaways, C.A. Hall top, and tail-dragger attitude are the definition of Westergard styling. It's also a fitting tribute to the skills and design savvy of its original builder and the talented people who brought it back to life.
And, check this out if you think the value of customs is not rising. When Hub Johnson bought the car from Tom Ball in 1987, it was residing on a turkey farm in Roseville, California. Hub paid $3,500 for it. By 1991, when Steve Woodburn bought it, the price had risen to $10,000 . . . and a boat.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
The original Cadillac frame was used but boxed for additional strength, with square tubing crossmembers constructed and new engine mounts welded in place. The original front suspension was completely refurbished along with the Cadillac front brakes. The stock rear springs were de-arched to get the right ride height, then Air Ride airbags were added to the rear suspension to compensate for additional loads when traveling and to aid when tire changing is necessary. A '58 Pontiac rearend with 3.23:1 gears and Quarter Master axles was bolted to the new springs and the rear drum brakes rebuilt.
Kurt selected a rebuilt 390-cid Cadillac engine for reliability and smoothness, then bolted a Wilcap adapter to the back of the block and a B&M 700-R4 GM transmission with a lockup converter. To give the stock Cadillac engine a vintage look, Kurt added a Detroit Racing dual-quad manifold, a pair of WCFB carburetors from a '57 Dodge, a pair of Hy-Power air cleaners, a pair of Pribble finned aluminum valve covers, and a finned aluminum coil cover.
Wheels & Tires
The wheel/tire combo is a very traditional blend of '52 Cadillac 15-inch steel rims wrapped with 7.00x15 US Royal tires with 4-inch-wide whitewalls and a full set of Cadillac sombrero hub caps.
Body & Paint
When it came to the body and its many modifications, Harry Westergard had already done the heavy lifting in 1948. The doors, deck, and hood had been shaved and the hood sides filled. Full fadeaways had been crafted and the license plate sunken into the decklid. Some '48 Cadillac rear fenders were grafted to the body, a '47 Cadillac grille and bumpers installed, and '41 Buick side trim added. Sure, there were things that needed repair; Kurt and Bill Kline had to reconstruct one of the fadeaways that had been destroyed in an accident, but for the most part, the original work was intact and ready to go. One of the casualties of time was the deterioration of the original top-all that remained of the C. A. Hall (Oakland, California) creation was the framework, so it had to be completely reconstructed. During the process, it was slightly redesigned to remove a bit of bulk from the rear C-pillar area, and then Jamie Rice (Yakima, Washington) was called in to re-cover the framework. The car's exterior had never been painted after it was finished, so there was no right or wrong answer-it just had to be appropriate. After a lot of searching, Kurt came up with a DuPont Salsa Red Pearl base/clear that had the richness he was looking for. He then had Tim Strange at Strange Motion Rod & Custom Construction (Cambridge, Illinois) lay down a slick coat over the entire exterior surface. The finished product looks like it rolled right out of the pages of an early custom magazine, which is the exact look Kurt was shooting for.
When it came time for an interior, Dave Martinez (Indianapolis, Indiana) was called in to turn out the perfect complement to this traditional custom. The original seats and door panels were covered in rolled ivory-and-maroon-trimmed vinyl, the floors in Black English wool carpet, and the headliner in ivory vinyl with plenty of chrome trim. The dashboard is a chrome-plated original, refitted with refurbished original instruments and provisions for the air-conditioning vents behind the open grillwork in the dash. The steering column is a chrome-plated original and is topped with a cool-looking restored Pontiac wheel. The brake pedal is from a '55 Cadillac and the gas pedal from a vintage boat. This is the custom interior everyone wanted when these cars were originally being built.
Westergard Cadillac Chronology
* First Owner:
Richard Smith's father, a bookie by trade, bought the car new in 1941 from J. Jacobs Cadillac in Sacramento CA.
* Second Owner:
Al Lauer, the man who had Westergard perform the custom work in 1948.
* Fourth Owner (Maybe):
From there, things get a bit sketchy until 1963
* Walt Rief: 1963
* James Mateos, Sacramento, CA: 1965
* Tom Ball, Orangeville, CA
* Hub Johnson, Chico, CA: 1987
* Steve Woodburn, Danville, CA: 1991
Kurt McCormick, Imperial, MO: 1997
The Westergard Style
Harry Westergard is often recognized as one of the true pioneers of the custom car-building movement. Harry moved from Michigan to California sometime in the late '20s to early '30s. It was in Sacramento that he made a name for himself as a metal craftsman, working out of an old chicken coop behind the house he rented on Fulton Avenue, and later for Dick Bertolucci at his shop. Known by all the area gearheads for his custom talents and love of racing, Harry was fortunate enough to be involved with building and racing of some really neat Sacramento customs. Early on, he perfected a look that included Packard and LaSalle grille transplants, solid hood sides, full skirts, DeSoto ripple bumpers, sunken headlights, and the tail-dragger stance we still see today. Shortly after that, he was doing full fadeaways or simply removing the running boards and rolling the exposed rocker panels under the car. Other early innovations attributed to Westergard are the use of Buick six-volt solenoids as door and trunk poppers for shaved cars, the use of body parts and panels from different cars in the customization process, and last but not least, the use of gasoline as the wetting agent in the final rub-out process.
Harry's cars never got any magazine coverage while he was alive. Of course, there weren't any buff books at all until 1948, and then only a handful of cars were featured each year for some time after that, so it's not surprising.
Harry's life ended abruptly at age 40 in 1956 when his new Thunderbird left the road at 100 mph and struck a tree. It may just have been the way he wanted to go-wide-open throttle, on the way to a new adventure.