Fans of the television show "Monster Garage" may remember an episode from about three years ago on which a team of top-level customizers built a '51 Cadillac convertible custom in five days and nights. That team included Frank DeRosa Sr. and Frank DeRosa Jr., father-and-son builders from Pittsburg, California. Since then Frank Jr. has completed another incredible Cadillac--this '52 convertible. This time, however, the project took a little longer--like a few decades.
Frank Jr. grew up around the family auto shop, DeRosa Custom Auto Body, his famous father started 60 years ago. He remembers first seeing this Cadillac when he was a little boy. It belonged to the owner of a local bar, who had bought it new. Over the years, he continued to see it, and when he got older he began asking the owner if he would be willing to sell the car. He kept asking for ten years, with no success. After the owner passed away in 2000, his family agreed to sell the car to Frank. Several other people had tried to buy the car, he learned, but the family had decided to sell it to him because he had shown so much interest for so long.
"The most memorable part of the restoration was right in the beginning," Frank told us. "Just being able to move the car from that garage to my shop was an amazing experience. Having the Cadillac in my shop and finally knowing it was mine had to be my favorite part of the whole process."
Of course, that was just the beginning of the process--the physical process anyway. Frank had already spent years planning the build-up in his mind. There were many reasons he wanted to keep a lot of the outward appearance intact, including the fact that it was a one-owner car, the body was very straight and rust-free, it was a true convertible and it was a "Golden Anniversary" Cadillac (as Cadillac called the '52s).
Frank did much of the build, with help from his father and others, including fellow Grand National Roadster Show Hall of Famers John Aiello, Marcos Garcia, Dick Falk, and Bill Reasoner. Most of the stock chassis was restored and modified with air bags from Air Ride Technologies at both ends. Power comes from a GM factory-direct 330-horsepower small-block--dressed up to keep up with the style that's all over the rest of the Cadillac. That includes the interior, where every mechanical component and every bit of material was selected for excellence and appearance. Of course, none of that makes any difference if the car didn't make an excellent first impression.
"The first thing everybody notices is the incredible paint," says Frank. The Candy Brandy Wine shows flawless sheetmetal, the result of hours of effort by the owner. The Carson top was the hardest part of the job, he said, especially since it was the most important part of keeping the silhouette correct. The chopped top and dropped stance create the illusion of a section job, but the body is uncut.
Frank told us a story about the Cadillac that his father told him during the build-up. In 1953, the original owner brought the car into Frank Sr.'s shop with a scratch on the fender. Fifty years later, while sanding down the paint, Frank Jr. uncovered the red oxide primer his dad had sprayed while making the repair--probably the first work ever done to this Cadillac.
"I have to say that this is the greatest custom that has rolled out of our shop, and my family has been in the business since 1949." Maybe he's biased; after all, he's had his eye on this Cadillac since he was a boy. Then again, maybe he's absolutely right. Either way Frank's not about to rest now; he's looking towards the future and says he'll most likely have to sell the "Golden Anniversary" Cadillac that he'd wanted for so long, in order to make room for the next project to roll into the family shop.