- - Thursday, October 6, 2011

Engine tuneup led to frame-off restoration

1936 Cadillac V-12 Convertible Sedan now sparkles

Automobiles of any kind that were built in 1936 were considered merely old used cars in 1958, the year that Byron Alsop first became involved in the old-car hobby.

That was the year he took the plunge and bought a bonifide antique car, a 1930 Model A Ford, from the original owner.

The Ford was in desperate need of all sorts of work that Mr. Alsop glady performed or paid to have done. During the next 15 years - because Mr. Alsop is a firm believer in actually driving his antique cars - the car was driven to various antique car shows in the metropolitan area.

In the early 1970s, the car was sold but Mr. Alsop’s interest in and affection for antique cars never waned. During the next 30 years, Mr. Alsop visited countless antique auto museums as well as antique car shows throughout Europe and the United States, always taking mental notes on the cars he saw.

After honing his appreciation for automotive excellence, he saw an ad offering a car for sale that interested him - a 1936 Cadillac V-12 Fleetwood-bodied Convertible Sedan.

The Cadillac was part of an estate in California and it was parked on display in a museum in Ventura.

Pictures and information were transmitted and when Mr. Alsop, at his convenience, made a trip to California, he stopped by to inspect the 1936 Series 85 Cadillac.

He observed that the outstanding car was equipped with an Imperial division window separating the front and rear seats with a hand crank in the rear compartment to raise and lower the glass. The 17.5-foot-long luxury car was upholstered in maroon leather and fitted with maroon carpentry. To Mr. Alsop, it looked like a million dollars.

Mr. Alsop learned that the car with a 138-inch wheelbase had been restored in Saskatoon in Canada in the late 1980s. It was one of 44 such models built in 1936 and one of 12 that were specially ordered. A total of 651 Cadillac Series 85 in 10 different models were built during that year in the Great Depression.

In May 2005 Mr. Alsop had it trucked to his rural Virginia home.

The engine needed a tuneup but beyond that he saw impressive details such as the Fleetwood clock in the back of the front seat, the three-spoke banjo steering wheel and the chrome defroster vents and he thought all was well with the world. In 1936 the optional banjo steering wheel added $15 to the price of the car.

Then he took his car to a show in the autumn of 2005 where his Cadillac was positioned next to another 1930s-era Cadillac whose V-16 engine sounded like a Swiss timepiece.

“I was invited to bring my car over to his shop so that he could check it out,” Mr. Alsop says.

In addition to the anomalies in the engine that could be corrected, the Cadillac mechanic found other deficiencies that, Mr. Alsop says, “led to a full frame-off restoration which has brought it as close as possible to its original condition when first built.”

What eventually became a full-blown restoration began in late autumn of 2005 and was completed in late summer 2006.

Research indicates that the basic price of the Cadillac when new during the economic woes of the era was $4,095 but because practically nobody orders a Cadillac with no optional extras, we can assume the original owner spent well over $5,000 for the 5,230-pound Convertible Sedan.

The 368-cubic-inch V-12 engine develops 150 horsepower, which is delivered smoothly to the rear drive wheels through a three-speed manual transmission. The gear shift lever sprouts from the floor.

Parts of the upholstery were not up to the standards of the rest of the car so they were sent off to a shop in Ohio to be redone. They were returned ready to install, according to Mr. Alsop.

Attention to detail is what makes anything a success. In this case it amounts to the ribbed bumpers on either end of the car and the autumn maple used to form the window sills. That’s not to mention the authentic spotlight, dual side-mounted spare tires, each of which cost $20 extra in 1936, and the AM radio with a cowl-mounted antenna.

All of the instruments, encircled with chrome-plated trim rings, on the maroon dashboard were sent off for restoration in Uxbridge, Mass.

From the authentic tan fabric convertible top supported by the chrome-plated bows on down to the chrome-plated wheel covers that cost $4 each back in 1936, the Cadillac’s V-12 engine now purrs at least as well, if not better, than when it was new 70 years ago.

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