1949 Cadillac Convertible – A 900hp Classic Cruiser from Texas
If there is one word that could sum up Tracy Chapman’s 1949 Cadillac convertible, it would be commitment. From the seller’s demands in the very beginning to a 3600-mile shakedown road trip and over 12,000 miles since, this car has been “all in or nothing” the whole way.
Tracy and Harold were at a Goodguys event in Fort Worth, Texas when Tracy first laid eyes on a white 1949 Cadillac convertible and instantly fell in love with the lines and curves. The bling of the 1949 Cadillac convertible had spoken and she wanted one of her own.
Harold knew she was serious, so he went on the hunt for a suitable car to build. His search led him to a black lacquer Model 62 in North Carolina. It had been stored for ten years before a man bought it and let it sit another ten years. Sadly, he passed away without restoring it, and when his wife finally decided to sell, it was under the condition that the buyer “drive it away.” She wanted to see the car leave under its own power. The buyer was committed and spent several days going through the brakes, engine, and fuel system before driving it out of the barn as she had requested.The man sold the car to Harold in running condition. Harold blasted from his shop in Andice, Texas to South Carolina and back in a three-day blitz to scoop it up.
“The interior looked like a cotton ball,” Harold said. “The black lacquer was badly cracked and the roof was a mess, but it was complete and a great candidate for what we wanted to do.” He also adds that the car’s original OHV engine is slated to power an early ‘30s hot rod in the future.
While gathering inspiration, Tracy fell in love with another Cadillac dash. After poking around they discovered it was a one-year-only version from 1948. This simple request snowballed quickly. “In the end, that dash cost me the most,” Harold says. “The only ’48 Cadillac I found was actually a pair of limousines – one good car and a parts car – and they were only available as a set. I ended up finding this dash buried in the parts car, and now we are doing a full build on the good car for a customer.”
The Chapman’s run Customs and Hot Rods of Andice, located just outside of Austin, TX. It’s a shop with a very reasonable rate and the ability to build everything from daily driver street rods to the 2016 Ridler-winning ’39 Olds. One common aspect about every car they build, in any budget, is that they will run well and be dependable. This Cadillac was to be no exception.
The body was stripped down to bare metal and hundreds of hours were spent on gaps, panel alignment and blocking to perfection. They even cut the flanges off between the rear quarter panels and tig-welded new ones to delete the welting and tighten the gap.
“Most people eliminate the welting by welding the fenders to the car,” he says. “We love Harley Earl’s design, we just wanted to fine tune it and make it look like they were just going to build one. We put more time into perfecting the stock body than most would to radically modify it.”
The factory chassis was stretched three inches to sit right in the wheel wells and re-contoured in sheet metal. With the details worked out, Roadster Shop made them a new chassis to their specs. It was finished off with 14-inch Wilwood brakes and 18-inch triple-cross Dayton wire wheels.
Harold says when he began building the 1949 Cadillac convertible, he added RideTech Shockwaves to achieve Tracy’s request for “low and white over blue.” He says he recently upgraded to RideTech’s latest versions after re-scaling the 1949 Cadillac convertible and the ride is ten times better. “I was a fan of their stuff before,” he says, “and they rode okay, but the new shocks are a world of difference. It literally rides like a brand-new Cadillac.”
The body was left mostly stock, with the majority of the work going into narrowing and tucking the bumpers. They also relocated the exhaust through the rear bumper and moved the license plate down under the trunk. The results look factory to the untrained eye.
Under the hood was a different story. The firewall and inner fenders were all handmade to showcase a 950hp LSX built by Don Hardy with a Magnuson 2300 supercharger. It’s topped with one-off valve covers from Greening Auto and an LS9 ignition tuned by The Car Shop. It’s connected to a Bowler 4L80E with an SFI-approved flexplate and exhausts through a polished stainless system with two sets of mufflers. Cadillacs should be seen and not heard.
The one-year dash was modified with a custom 160mph speedometer and a motorized speaker grille that hides controls for the heated seats, Vintage Air, and Alpine head unit. The steering wheel and shift knob were re-done in pearl white.
Tracy wanted a pearl white car with a distressed dark blue interior. When they couldn’t find the right shade of dark blue, they settled on a lighter shade of Italian furniture leather. “I learned a very expensive lesson,” says Harold. “Apparently when they distress furniture leather it destroys the outer layer so badly that it faded within a few days in the sunshine. We finally found another source, this time in a dark blue Relicate, and had it re-done.” In the end, Tracy got the dark blue interior she originally envisioned.
The couple had driven their ’33 Ford roadster on a previous Goodguys Hall of Fame Tour and wanted to break the Cadillac in on another. In 2015 the Goodguys HOF Tour was slated to run 1800 miles from Colorado to Bowling Green. Their plans for an 8am departure were delayed until 1pm as the shop readied the car and double-checked their work. They headed out and blasted the 950 miles to Colorado with little more time on the car than a lap around the block.
With 950 miles of shakedown in the rearview, Tracy took the wheel of her new car, wielding the 950hp convertible for the first time and driving the 1800 miles over five days to Bowling Green without a hitch. They left again on Monday and drove the Cadillac another 900 miles home, for a total of 3600 miles right out of the box.
Since that tour, the car has racked up 12,000 miles and counting. The Chapman’s never hesitate to bring it out for drives long and short. It’s a testament to the build quality of CHRA and the commitment of everyone involved to enjoy this fine 1949 Cadillac Convertible to the fullest.