Rod & Custom Feature Car
1955 Cadillac Coupe De Ville
Government is big. Hit movies are big. Texas is big (however, Alaska is even bigger). Problem is, government is only going to get bigger, so why not join in and build a car that’s bigger than most?
Colorado kustom enthusiast Roger Jetter decided to do just that. After playing with a few “smaller” ’57 Chevys through the years (including the resurrection of a survivor ISCA kustom from 1964), he embarked on building a big ’48 Cadillac Sedanette, a relic found next to a creek in Kansas. A year into the project, however, the larger ’55 Cadillac featured here fell into his lap. It was bigger than the ’48 by a few inches and came complete with a trailer load of extra parts.
The 1955 Cadillac Coupe De Ville was someone else’s failed project and the big body had been reattached to the frame by only four bolts. Once home, it came back off to rectify past mistakes. The ’78 Pontiac Trans Am subframe had been badly installed, so Roger and his brother, Dan, set to work fixing it in Roger’s backyard garage. Being a rust-free Colorado car, the underside of the Cad was cleaned, sealed, and treated to Lizard Skin sound-deadening material, as was the interior. After building engine and transmission mounts for the 500-inch Caddy engine, the frame was painted urethane black and the body was once again installed—this time using all the bolts.
Roger is a longtime kustom connoisseur, so the fun part for him was planning and executing the body mods. He wanted a traditionally inspired kustom, but considering the car’s size and stature, he knew care had to be taken in both design and execution to maintain the gorgeous Cadillac lines. The overall effect needed to be subtle, not gaudy. His background as a graphic artist helped him visualize the end result of the many planned modifications; he worked toward the final product guided by those visions.
The grille is the most obvious change to the car’s forward appearance. To facilitate the new look, though, both Dagmar support bars had to be narrowed 2 1/2 inches, moving them out and up toward the upper grille trim. The stock ’55 grille and crossbar were removed and a new grille fabricated from 1/8-inch flat aluminum stock laser cut to conform to the shape of the bumper and hood. There are 46 bars, with an 1/8-inch gap between each one, and park lights hidden behind the corners. From a distance the grille looks solid, but it allows plenty of air to the aluminum radiator.
Moving upward, the hood was peaked with 3/16-inch rod and the headlight hoods lengthened 1/2 inch. The side scoops were opened up, with the stock side trim disappearing into the void. Each scoop has three additional spears that were removed from a car in a Pull-A-Part yard; Roger has no idea what their original application was. The shapes of the scoops were designed to visually flow into the handbuilt metal fender skirts. Those skirts, incidentally, are 74 inches long and were built in three 26-inch sections, rolled on a Harbor Freight roller and welded together. They are secured with six bolts each.
Around back, the decklid was peaked to match the hood and the bumper was heavily reworked, although it’s so well designed you’d be hard pressed to notice the changes. The stock exhaust outlets at the bumper ends were typical of early Cadillacs—completely rusted through. Roger noticed that his ’48 Caddy bumper ends fit the shape of the ’55 opening, so he welded a pair to the ’55 centersection. The license plate was originally an afterthought on ’55 Caddys—simply bolted above the bumper. Roger wanted a more integrated look. His son had a ’59 Caddy parts car, so the license box was robbed from the front bumper (his son still doesn’t know it’s missing!). Ogden Chrome in Ogden, Utah, handled all the chrome work and Jose at Mile Hi Polishing did the stainless. A pair of ’94 Cadillac dual exhaust tips tucks up nicely against the bumper.
Inside the spacious cabin, a ’56 Cadillac dash was installed because Roger felt its center glove compartment would work better with the Vintage Air A/C unit, essential for those long summer trips (yes, this cruiser gets driven). Ed Banes at Banes Interiors stitched the stock power seat—as well as the balance of the interior—in pearl white Naugahyde and contrasting purple fabric similar to a stock ’55 Cadillac material. Grape carpet covers the floors. The dash was stripped of its leather and painted roof color, as were the door moldings.
Speaking of color, did you notice the car is two-toned? Very subtle. The top is painted 1955 Ford Regency Purple. The paint on the body has been kustom-mixed to match a pearl printing ink—Roger calls it Lollipop Lavendar. The trim separating the two colors at the rear window has been lengthened 6 inches on each side to bring more color onto the deck. And did you notice those two scoops at the rear of the roof? You’ll never guess what those came from. No, they’re not a ’58 Impala. Thinking outside the box is of prime import when building a kustom—so, too, is keeping a few secrets!
Once the body mods were finished, Roger drove the car to Len Hoogland for finish bodywork, and then to Wright Weldon’s paint booth, where Weldon applied the glossy PPG finish and did the polishing. Final assembly took place back in Roger’s backyard garage. On its first outing—Greybeard’s Crème de le Chrome Auto Show in November 2010—the Coupe De Ville captured a First in the Full Kustom Class, plus Outstanding Use of Color-Kustom, the first of many awards the huge Cadillac has received. That’s one more reason bigger is better—the Cadillac’s massive trunk will come in handy for hauling home all those trophies.