Think for a moment about the terminology you hear when discussing custom cars. The hobby has, in a way, been upgraded, to borrow a buzzword. Builders used to talk about making parts; now those components are custom fabricated. Paint was mixed years ago, but now it's blended. Those of us who chronicle this hobby gladly employ such words and phrases to add color and spice to stories.
Newstalgia is the term Jan and Tom Stepp use to describe their '59 Cadillac Series 62 four-door. The car is long, low, and wide; it has smooth, graceful lines, wears plenty of chrome, and has those well-known symbols of '50s flamboyance: high-in-the-sky tailfins. Yet underneath that classic, elegant skin is a surprisingly modern means of motivation.
Tom bought the car for Jan on Valentine's Day in 1994 and drove it to their home in Lake Orion, Michigan. For her it was a welcome change to have a roomy hobby car, since previous family rides included a T-bucket, Model A, Corvette, and motorcycle-vehicles that tend to require riders to travel lightly.
The biggest challenge was installing the '94 Caddy Northstar V-8, an engine normally mounted transversely in front-drive cars. Slim's fabricated a new front crossmember to help it fit, while Wayne Bloomfield took care of alterations like relocating the oil filters, power steering pump, air conditioning compressor, alternator, and cooling lines. Once the 300hp, 4.6-liter engine was in the chassis, the crew at Slim's built custom headers and a stainless exhaust employing Borla mufflers and Stainless Specialties resonators. An aluminum radiator was added for cooling, and a custom air intake built using dual K&N filters.
Tom, who works as an engineering manager, designed an aluminum adapter to mate the Northstar mill to a 700-R4 overdrive automatic, which Bloomfield beefed up with a custom converter and heavy-duty clutches and bands. A custom two-piece driveshaft linked it to the 3.75:1-geared Currie rearend.
To achieve a low, smooth ride height, the guys at Slim's installed Air Ride Technologies air springs with Accu Air controls and Lincoln Navigator sensors at each corner. The front lower control arms were shortened, and a disc brake setup assembled using Pontiac 11-inch rotors and early '70s Chevy truck calipers. A four-bar rear suspension was fashioned using Pete & Jake's components, while the rear discs came from a '78 Trans-Am and also employed Chevy truck calipers. Steering was handled using a GM 700 power box and an ididit tilt column, and heavy-duty sway bars were added fore and aft. Wheel selection consisted of 18x7- and 18x8-inch Budnik Murocs skinned in Nitto 245/40R18 and 295/45R18 tires.
With the mechanicals in order, the Slim's staff could address the gargantuan body. They first excised rust by replacing the rocker panels and floors, then shaved the door handles, filled body seams, and recessed an antenna for a smoother appearance. Al Bergler made the custom panels to dress up the engine compartment. Slim's Dan Armstrong painted the wide sheetmetal expanses using a PPG Candy Tangerine tri-coat finish over a silver base. Tom feels the color really shows off the car's lines, particularly when the sun is beaming down on it. The restored original chrome and stainless serves to accentuate the brilliant finish.
C.H. Schultz & Sons Upholstery in Flint, Michigan, tended to the cavernous cabin in this more-door machine. The crew cleaned up the stock dashboard, wrapped it in leather, and fitted Westach auxiliary instruments in the original housings. Then the modified original bench seat was fitted with seat warmers (for those chilly Michigan mornings) before all interior soft parts were covered with crème- and saddle-colored Caprone leather. Embroidered Cadillac emblems add a special touch to each seat.
Topping off the interior comforts are a Vintage Air heat and cooling system, cruise control, and an Alpine stereo with XM satellite capabilities pushing sounds through power amps and a subwoofer. The Budnik wheel matches those on the outside. M&R Electronics in Saginaw, Michigan, redid all the wiring.
Tom says the car's appearance blends themes from several eras: custom candy paint from the '50s; a hot rod attitude with nose-down stance, braided stainless lines, throaty exhaust, and performance-style wheels; plus modern technology in the drivetrain. He believes they combine well, resulting in a ride that is subtle, not gaudy, and classic with hot rod flair.
As for Jan, she's thrilled by the Caddy's huge trunk, because she now has something to pack. It's her car, and she can take along whatever she desires-in style!