He was on the road, southbound on Highway 61 through northeastern Missouri when he spotted it. The Cadillac was sitting in the front of a rural used-car yard . It wasn’t prettyin fact, it was kind of rough, with an out-of-commission motor and a critter-infested interior. With its black and white paintjob, it looked like a ’50s police car, if cops in Lewis County had been driving Cadillacs back then. But it also looked like something that would make a unique project, so Bill Kullbom pulled off the highway, parked, and found the owner of the place. The price on the Cadillac, a ’56 Series 62 hardtop coupe, was high, but after three weeks of back and forth negotiation, a deal was struck and Bill called a wrecker service to haul the car back to Burlington, Iowa. Fifteen hundred dollars did the trick, he told us.
You already know about Bill from the April ’09 issue of this magazine, which featured his old-time traditional, Nailhead-powered ’30 sedan. This mild custom Cadillac is different in every way from that hot rod Model A, except in the areas of quality and coolness. Taste and talent is not limited by type of car or build style, evidently.
Bill did a lot of this buildup at home in the garage, especially impressive considering that his garage is 19-feet long and the car is 18-1/2. Whenever he was working, summer or winter, the garage door stayed open.
One of the first milestones in this project was hoisting the body off the frame. With the chassis out for sandblasting, and the body riding on farm wagon running gear, Bill started salvaging sheetmetal, with help from Jim Newberry, who repaired floorpans and installed motor mounts. Bill shaved the emblems from the hood and decklid, and removed the side medallions and script, door handles, and side mirror. He retained the hood ornament, louvers, and vents, and the shiny trim pieces that are part of the car’s class. Ball’s Rod & Kustom provided a power window system for the replacement glass from Auto Glass Masters. A Cadillac requires more paint than a Corolla, but Toyota Red Mica never looked better than it does here, shot by Wyatt’s Body & Frame.
When the chassis came back, it was rebuilt with stock suspension components. The car was lowered just enough by cutting a coil from the front springs and adding Eaton Detroit 3-inch drop springs in the rear. Bendix 12-inch drum brakes at all wheels, equipped with a Godman Hi-Performance booster, stop the 4,500-pound car.
It’s hard to find a ’56 Cadillac not wearing ’56 Cadillac wheel covers (unless they’re wearing ’57s) so it’s almost startling to see this mildly modified car rolling on something as far from ordinary as 17-inch Boulder solids from Colorado Custom. That choice eliminated the typical wide white tire option in favor of 255/50R17 Nitto NT450 radials. The combination gives the car an edge that sets it apart.
The original 365 engine suffered from a cracked head and a busted piston. Bill found its 500ci replacement in a ’76 Fleetwood, purchased for $400. The donor car had retired from the demolition derby circuit, but the motor had plenty of life left. It was machined at Olson Brothers Custom Shop in Burlington, where the Nailhead from his sedan was built. The Buick isn’t what you’d call dressed up. The Cadillac is, with chrome valve covers from MTS Cadillac Parts and a Caddy air cleaner, flamed by Justin Reighard. The carburetor and intake are from Edelbrock. Flowmaster mufflers were added to the stock exhaust system. The Turbo 400 automatic from the same car was rebuilt at Sunset Transmission in West Burlington. The stock rearend has 3.36:1 gears.
The interior keeps the mild custom theme alive. Jerry Kensinger at A-1 Auto Upholstery in Bartonville, Illinois, who had worked with Bill on the hot rod, covered the Cadillac four-way power bench in two-tone vinyl. Instrument Services in Roscoe, Illinois, restored the factory gauges and a Sun tach was added to the column, with temperature, oil, and fuel gauges mounted below the dash. The steering wheel is a LeCarra Mark 9 and ididit mounts support the ’76 Cadillac tilt column. A driver needs A/C, and you’ll notice Vintage Air controls at the far right end of the dash. It needs tunes too, and a Custom Autosound system plus MTX Audio and Pioneer speakers provides them.
According to Bill, one of his most useful tools when building this car was the 400-page ’56 Cadillac shop manual published by GM, which was especially helpful when disassembling the car and removing chrome and trim pieces. Another was a cherry picker engine hoist, and he said next time he’ll buy one instead of renting one 12 times.
The Cadillac’s first national event was the 2009 Goodguys show in Des Moines, Iowa, followed by Indy and Kansas City in 2010it won awards at all three. Very rewarding for a low-cost build, Bill says. When he was going to shows with the Model A, people who didn’t look closely often mistook it for a low-buck ride. The opposite occurs with the Cadillac. It may look high-dollar, but by taking his time and doing much of the work himself, Bill was able to buy and build this beautiful car without spending a fortunewhich is one more thing to like about it.