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The bad and the ugly: get a double dose of Cadillac

17 June 2016


The only thing cooler than a matte black late-1940s roof-chopped Cadillac, is another one

John and Robyn Dellamura are familiar names on these pages, and in the V8 scene in general. They spend their days doing what most of us can only dream about – sourcing cool old cars from the States, importing them into New Zealand, tidying them up and getting them legal before selling them on. Of course, while they’ve got those cool cars in their possession, they may as well use them too, right? And they do.

After years of visiting all sorts of American hot rod events and owning numerous cool cars, it takes something pretty special to get the Dellamuras really excited these days, but that was what happened back in 2008 when they saw a photo of a roof-chopped ’49 Cadillac on a workshop wall.

A month after seeing the small photo of what looked to be a well-executed chop on a very rare car, John managed to track the vehicle down. It was in bits in a car sales yard, and no-one seemed to care, the cash-strapped owner included. John did, though, and he wasn’t going to let the opportunity to grab such a cool car pass him by, even if it was in bits.

Thanks to some ex-pat Kiwis, John and Robyn were granted use of a workshop to try and mock the car up and work out exactly what was missing, before shipping it home. After all, ’49 Cadi parts are hard to find at the best of times, but the hunt was going to be easiest while they were Stateside. A business card in the boot was the only lead required to track down the interior, which was missing. As it turned out, it had been re-trimmed, paid for and not collected… 

Fast-forward to 2010, and a similar situation played out when the pair stumbled upon yet another chopped Cadi, this time, a ’47. By this time, it was decided that the ’49 was definitely a keeper, despite most of the cars the pair own having some form of price tag on them. The ’47, however, would be the perfect thing for those who were lining up to buy the ’49… or so the pair thought.

In typical American-built fashion, the cars required a fair bit of work to get them up to scratch at this end, both in terms of legality, and to be up to John and Robyn’s standards. Thankfully both cars’ bodywork had been done well, and could be left completely alone, matte black paint and pinstriping included. 

The 4-inch chop on the ’49 had involved the rear screen being tilted forward as well as the boot lid reshaped, and the hood being decked. It’s this lower bonnet and boot-line that makes a huge difference to the overall look of the car. Of course, it’s not till you compare the two that you notice just how much the bonnet of the ’47 protrudes.

“That’s why we’ve never had the cars out together, BADKAD (’49) just makes the ’47 look ugly, hence, it’s become known as Ugly Cad,” John says. “Yet if you hadn’t seen them together, Ugly Cad is seriously cool on its own.” And we completely agree. 
Both cars run Chev Chevelle front clips, the ’49’s was re-engineered in New Zealand by Tony Henwood in Whangarei. As with all cars the couple import, John stripped it back to a bare shell, so the engineering could be taken care of correctly. 

“People underestimate how much time and money it takes to get cars like these on the road here. It’s not a quick and easy job,” John says. 
Included in the tidy up was sorting out the engine bay. The injected 454 that came with the ’49 is still fitted, but it now runs as it should, and looks a whole lot tidier. With a 700R4 trans, it’s a pleasure to drive, even if having a narrow field of vision takes a bit of getting used to. The interior, which was recovered before the car’s purchase, was deemed up to scratch. However, the material used was horrible, and has been re-done locally in bright red, and a tilt/telescopic steering column has been fitted. 

After years of importing wheels, generally large, shiny ones, it was a step away from John’s usual style when he decided to add the 15-inch steelies and wide whites. Some custom hubcaps were all that was required to complete the look.
The amount of attention BADKAD gets out on the road is amazing. Not just due to its wild low-slung looks and perfectly executed chop, but also because it’s a rare car on its own. The same goes for the ’47, and just like the ’49, getting it completed to a satisfactory standard wasn’t a small job.

Again, the bodywork had been done well (which makes a change), and left untouched, and the engine that came with the car – this time an Oldsmobile 350 – is still fitted. As with the ’49 though, John removed it and re-engineered many aspects of the vehicle for legality, safety and quality reasons. As it is less powerful the stock drum brakes were retained and rebuilt, and like BADKAD, lowering blocks and custom front springs were added to get the ride height down to where it should be. 

Inside the flat black cabin, you’ll now find an electric bench seat from an Oldsmobile, which John had retrimmed by Abacus Upholstery in Whangarei. Along with this a Lokar shifter and tilt column have been fitted to ensure a comfortable driving position should you ever find yourself at the wheel. And with this car currently being up for sale, that’s a distinct possibility. 
Of course, you wouldn’t want to be too much of the shy type, as although the car may have been nick-named the ugly one of the two, it still takes centre stage every time it’s taken out. Assuming its younger sibling isn’t following too closely. 
Then again, you could deck the hood, fit some airbags and chances are you’d soon own the baddest Cad in town. 

1949 Cadillac Coupe (BADKAD)

  • Engine: 454ci big block Chev, carb injected, Hugger headers, alloy radiator, electric fans
  • Driveline: 700R4 trans, Chev diff, heavy-duty driveshaft
  • Suspension: Chevelle front clip, lowering block, custom coils
  • Brakes: Chevelle front, stock rear
  • Wheels/tyres: 15×7-inch steelies, 225/70R15 Coker wide whites, custom hubcaps
  • Exterior: 4-inch roof chop, pancaked hood, panned trunk, matte black paint, custom pinstriping
  • Interior: Stock retrimmed, tilt column, billet steering wheel
  • Performance: Head-turning

1947 Cadillac Coupe

  • Engine: 350ci Oldsmobile
  • Driveline: GM 400 trans
  • Suspension: Chevelle front clip, custom coils, lowering blocks
  • Brakes: Drum front and rear
  • Wheels/tyres: 15×7-inch steelies, narrow whites
  • Exterior: 4-inch roof chop, matte black paint
  • Interior: Oldsmobile electric seat, full retrim
  • Performance: Enough, but not too much

Driver profile

  • Drivers: John and Robyn Dellamura
  • Occupation: Importers
  • Previously owned cars: Too many to list … seriously
  • Length of Ownership: 2.5 years (BADKAD), 1.5 years Ugly Cad

This article originally featured in NZV8 Issue No. 72. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below: