Custom Car Chronicle
custom carsEarly Custom Cars

Rudy Makela Cadillac




In the late 1950’s and early 1950’s a lot of so called Sports Customs were built. Some in back yards and home garages, others by professional shops. Very popular at the time they received a fair amount of magazine exposure.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he first time I saw this car, the “WOW” Cadillac, was when I found a copy of the 1951 Trend book #101 Custom Cars. Two photos of the car appeared in this booklet, one showing the hood /front fender section sliding forward and the other was a front 3/4 view of the car. Both with the dark covered soft top up. Later I found out that the same photos had also been used in the August 1950 issue of Motor Trend magazine. The car was a a typical Sports Custom styled creation, but unlike most of these which were shaped from exciting body parts, this Cadillac had an all custom created body.

In early 2014 the Custom Car Chronicle received an email from Stephen Lisak. Stephan had viewed the articles on the CCC with great pleasure and was wondering if we would be interested in doing an article on the Sports Custom he had acquired in 1983. It turned out to be the Cadillac I remembered from the 1951 Custom Cars booklet. Stephan offered to write the story on the car and supply the photos.
Lets Stephan tell the story on this Cadillac Sports Custom.

CCC-rudy-makela-caddy-20-W1951 Trend Books Custom Cars #101.


The “WOW” Cadillac

By Stephen P. Lisak (with special thanks to Geoff Hacker)

In 1983, while living in the Chicago area, I was looking for some parts for my 1941 Buick Model 56C. A friend of mine mentioned that he heard of a 41 Cadillac which had the same C body so I phoned the truck yard near South Bend, Indiana where it was stored. The previous owner had it for about 5 years and planned to restore it. The truck yard said the owner told him it was for sale and he would give him permission to release it. He told me that it had a 1950s custom modification so I said this was OK because in my mind back in the 1950s customizing meant taking off chrome and changing door handles which was common. I purchased this car in 1983 sight unseen since he said it had the parts I needed.

In March of 1983, I went to see the car at the truck yard and realized that what I bought was not what I thought it was, but decided to buy it anyway. What I found was a radical custom car with weeds and small trees growing through it. The car was last licensed in Indiana with a 1958 plate number: DK-6237. The car has a brass nameplate beneath the license indicating “Designed and Built by Indianapolis Power Hammer Works, Indianapolis, Indiana”.

The set in license plate at the back with the brass hand engraved nameplate below it.


The side panels have been slab sided and the original doors have been skinned with aluminum panels making the doors about one foot thick 4. The whole body and trunk deck lid was customized with the exhaust outlets through the rear panel. The missing front clip was latched at the firewall and the front bumper guards were hinged down to clear it for the forward sliding hood for access to the engine compartment with latches operated from inside the vehicle. There is a custom made aluminum grille that holds the dual air ducts and stays fixed with the radiator. I have the original radiator and mounting. The air cleaner and accessory engine parts were left with the car which I believe were original Cadillac parts. The engine block and sliding hood were missing but I do have one of the rear fender skirt.


CCC-rudy-makela-caddy-12-WThis photo shows the original passenger side location of the teardrop shaped taillights was welded shut and new round taillights were added on molded in round pods.

The original drivers side location of the teardrop shaped taillights was used in the later version as gas filler.

CCC-rudy-makela-caddy-17-WThe custom made aluminum grille holding the dual air ducts.

CCC-rudy-makela-caddy-15-WThe latch at the firewall to open the forward sliding hood/front fender section was operated from inside the vehicle.

CCC-rudy-makela-caddy-19-WThe Cadillac script is located on the rear quarter panels, just behind the doors. It was added after 1952, since it does not show up in the earlier photos.

The instrument panel was radically customized. The car was stored outside for several years with the floor boards rusted out. The chrome nameplates on both sides of the rear quarter panels are “Cadillac” script. The car is about 80 inches wide. I did not realize how wide the car was so after completing the sale, I rented a normal car hauling trailer and hauled it to South Bend. When I tried to load it onto the trailer, it was too wide to pull through the fender well space. I had to go back home with an empty trailer and later send a flatbed truck to haul it back to Bensenville, Illinois.


CCC-rudy-makela-caddy-13-WThe interior and floor suffered from being stored outside in the elements for several years. The floors are rusted thru and the upholstery is mostly gone.


There was no internet to check out the history of this car so I had to make many phone calls and write letters to get information. I wrote to the Secretary of State in Indiana for license plate information and found out they have no records prior to 1972. I wrote to magazines, car enthusiasts in Indianapolis, museums, etc.

June, 2007, I did get one referral from Mr. Tardy to contact Mr. Beuford Hall in Clermont, Indiana and he replied in June, 2007 with a copy of the Indianapolis Yellow Pages from early 1950’s and it listed “INDIANAPOLIS POWER HAMMER WORKS”, and two individuals as officers named “Makela” indicating they were Sheet Metal Specialists, Custom Auto Body Panels, Welding, Specializing in Special Body Works”. But the address had a different business and he could not find any information on them beyond this.
In September 2010, Mr. Geoff Hacker of Florida was doing some investigations of Custom Cars as a hobby and called me with great information and pictures from the Custom Cars Trend Book No. 101 and the 1952 New York, International Motor Sports Show program, which showed how my car looked in 1951 and 1952.
On November 4, 2011 my nephew also emailed me that he obtained information that the Makela car listed in Popular Mechanics may have been built in the 1940s for $30,000.00 and that there may be relatives now living in Switzerland.

CCC-rudy-makela-caddy-16-WIndianapolis Yellow Pages from the early 1950’s list the Indianapolis Power Hammer Works Inc.

CCC-rudy-makela-caddy-01-WThe July 1950 issue of Popular Mechanics showed the car as an 1942 Cadillac.

CCC-rudy-makela-caddy-02-WThe August issue of Motor Trend magazine used the photos that were later also used in the Custom Cars #101 booklet. This article also descriped the “WOW” Cadillac as being a 1941 Cadillac.

CCC-rudy-makela-caddy-03-WThe 1951 International Motor Sports show program showed the car with a new front which included a huge hood scoop/grille and cut out front fender wheel openings.

In November 2012, I received an email from Mr. R. Ritenour, in Indianapolis who reported that he saw my pictures on the Cadillac LaSallle Club website and believes he looked at my aluminum Cadillac in the 70s when a discouraged restorer decided he was in over his head and didn’t know where to start. It still had the aluminum one piece sliding/hood/fenders in place, although his memory doesn’t recall the nose looking quite like the New York Custom Car picture. He did remember the swing down bumper set up and a complete Cadillac v8 engine as well as a set of rusted Cadillac wire wheels with matching center caps. The front valance had damage from a wrecker hook. The seller was around Ft. Wayne area. Mr. Ritenauer was ready to buy it and was very excited about the car but his much more grounded father discouraged the project as being too much for his skill set at the time. He often wondered what happened to it. He was sure this was it, based on my brief description and picture with same ice-green paint.

CCC-rudy-makela-caddy-04-WSports Custom enthusiast Geoff Hacker provided the Custom Car Chronicle with three great photos taken at the 1951 and 1952 Indianapolis Custom Car show. The one above and below show the early version of the car.


CCC-rudy-makela-caddy-05-WThis photo from the 1952 Indianapolis Custom Car show shows the later version of the car. Possible engine cooling problems had the owner redesign the front of the car with a new large hood scoop/grille. Also the front now has the wheel opening cut out, possibly to fix a wheel turning problem caused by the fully skirted first version. Notice the addition of the 3 chrome stars on the lower rear 3/4 panel. Later these were replaced with a Cadillac script.

I believe the Rudy Makela car shown in Popular Mechanics was misrepresented as a 1942 Custom Cadillac. It definitely shows a curved windshield so it was probably a 1948 model and an early version with a rounded front end like the model I made in March 1983 before I saw later pictures. It also had no wheel cutouts in front and would have been necessary to make large turns. In later pictures, the cutouts were added and the front end was visually redesigned to a more pleasing shape and look. The license plate was lowered because I believe it was too far up on the deck lid and was not adequately viewable from behind the car. The tail lamps were also modified to tube type possibly to comply to rear lighting requirements so they could make it road worthy.

CCC-rudy-makela-caddy-14-WA foam model of how the car had looked was constructed by Stephen in 1983.

New Home

In June, 2018, the car finds a new home when the great people behind the Undiscovered Classics group, including Geoff Hacker acquire the car and plan for a full restoration. Looking forward to see the restoration started in time.





(This article is made possible by)




Rik Hoving

Rik is the CCC editor in chief. As a custom car historian he is researching custom car history for many years. In 2004 he started the Custom Car Photo Archive that has become a place of joy for many custom car enthousiasts. Here at CCC Rik will bring you inspiring articles on the history of custom cars and builders. Like a true photo detective he will show us what's going on in all those amazing photos. He will write stories about everything you want to know in the realm of customizing. In daily life Rik is a Graphic Designer. He is married to the CCC webmaster and the father of a 10 year old son (they are both very happy with his excellent cooking skills)

8 thoughts on “Rudy Makela Cadillac

  • Don’t know if I’d call it ugly pretty or pretty ugly. But one thing is for sure is that it deserves to be restored. One thing is for sure is that it its unique and you can only imagine the looks it would get on the road.
    I like the first version best. ….hey and there is that sunken number plate detail I was looking for.

  • This is a neat car. Like some of the other early customs, it reminds me of a diecast Midgetoy or Tootsietoy car. I hope it gets restored!


  • Hi Guys…I like the first style as well. This would be an amazing car to restore – it would take untold $$$ to do so, especially since you have to recreate the front end, but what an impression this would make on any show field. Glad you shared the story Rik….wish I could have the car 😉


    Geoff Hacker
    Forgotten Fiberglass / Sport Custom

  • Ugly cars like this one should stay buried in the past, only customs that are designed well should be restored.

  • Roger H Smith

    Saw this car on an episode of “American Pickers” which brought me here. I prefer the second look but that’s just me. Would LOVE to see it restored! ?

  • Ok gang….I bought the WOW Cadillac. Let’s see what we can do with this over the next few years. Still working on restoring more cars now so we’ll have to put it in the cue.

    Thanks for the support Rik 🙂


    • Personal story: We moved to Indy in May of 1953, to 79th & Barlum Drive. I was in the back yard in perhaps 1954 or 1955, and saw the Makela Cadillac turn onto 79th. As it passed by, I ye;;ed “Is that the Makela Cadillac?”, and the driver answered “Yes!”, and drove on.

      I’d been an avid Hot Rod reader since maybe 1950, so recognized it immediately. I’m 83 now, and that still stands out in my memory!

      Incidentally, it was the original upside down bathtub design, bot the ugly grille version.

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