Cadillac engines in hot rodding
Everyone on the racing/street performance front in the early '50s recognized the big Cad motors for their potential, yet the price kept these engines out of the hands of tinkerers until enough of the big cars found their way into wrecking yards. When these engines showed up, hot rodders were right there. They were still more expensive than an Olds or Buick and more costly than a Flathead by a big margin, but the Cad motors represented a major power source without requiring much hop-up equipment beyond dual exhausts. The adapter companies jumped right in and the Cads became one of the most swapped brands. The Ford shoeboxes were a very popular receptacle and complete kits for Cad to early '50s Fords were available from Detroit Racing Equipment, who also offered dual-quad manifolds.

Cadillac engines soon found their way into numerous racing boats and more than a few sports car specials. In fact, most of the popular British Allard K-3 roadsters sold without engines and designed for '50s road racing were fitted by their American importers with Cadillac engines.

Wealthy racing enthusiast Briggs Cunningham made two entries at the '50 24 Hours De Le Mans with two cars, a stock '49 Coupe de Ville, and another new Cad stripped to the chassis and drivetrain and fitted with a hand-fabbed sports body. The car was unattractive (the French called it "le monstre"), but the stocker came in 10th and the special right behind it. He later installed 331s in a team of Austin-Healey Silverstone sports cars for next year's race. The practice of stuffing hopped-up Cads in specials went on until after 1955 when the smaller, lighter Chevy small-block V-8s were proving their worth.

The Cad as "sleeper" swap material became something of a cottage industry, with the Fordillac and Studillac being the most well-known. Bill Frick had a speed shop and conversion center in New York, and dropped a 331 into his new '49 Ford for towing his race cars. The response from other racers, rodders, and eventually the general public was so strong he started doing this full time. Partnering with racer Phil Walters (aka Ted Tappet), they built and sold at least 200 of these Fordillac conversions, calling the shop Frick-Tappet Motors. When industrialist Briggs Cunningham bought out the shop and took Walters to build his Cad-powered race cars for LeMans, Frick started again alone and specialized this time in installing Cadillac engines into the Loewy-aero Studebakers, which of course he called Studillacs. The Studebaker V-8s shared some dimensions and design features of the Cads, but were only 289 ci and didn't come close to providing the performance that matched the swoopy hardtop and coupe Studebaker bodies. This was no chainfall-from-an-oak-tree operation; Frick had a list of options you could order with your Fordillac or Studillac such as bigger brakes, 12V electrical upgrade, and Hydra-Matic transmission. Despite the three-day conversion costing $1,000-$1,500, Frick sold several hundred Studillacs before Studebaker improved their engine's performance and there was less customer interest.

Were they sleepers, you bet! All that Cadillac power under the hood of a "common" car, like a Ford or Studebaker made for a perfect medium for shaming stuffy luxury car owners on an on-ramp, even those with Caddy emblems on their hoods. The production swap cars from Frick-Tappet were offered with chrome Fordillac or Studillac emblems for non-street-racing customers who didn't care about who knew what was under their hood.