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Big Time - 48 Cadillac Convertible
Chris Ryan's '48 Cadillac Convertible
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This car project began by accident. After surviving intact for some 50-plus years, this 1948 Cadillac convertible was being delivered to a restorer for a complete ground-up rebuild. Firmly secured to a flatbed truck, it was well on its way. Unfortunately, the flatbed lost an engine belt, and the driver chose to park the truck and unload another vehicle being hauled to pick up a replacement. All was going well, until the parking brake failed; the flatbed rolled away on its own, and ended up falling over a cliff. 

This not-so-graceful beginning made the car affordable enough for body and paint maestro Chris Ryan of Ninety Six, SC, to afford it. He’d been contemplating a big, cozy convertible as a project for his wife Lori and border collie Skip to enjoy, and the Caddy would fit the bill. Upon delivery to his home shop, the car proved why it had been so affordable! “What wasn’t rusted was bent. But, the chassis was rebuildable, so I jumped in,” Ryan explained. 

Jumping in meant the body was lifted off the frame and the surgery began. Chris grafted a new Fat Man front suspension stub into place with some help from John and Jay Pruitt of John’s Rod Shop in Abbeville, SC. This new suspension would provide comfortable modern performance for the ’48, and this theme would continue throughout the car. 

The chosen powerplant would be GM’s LS1, an ’02 version to be exact. The engine would be dressed up with appearance goodies from Street and Performance and backed with a silky-smooth 4L60E four-speed automatic with overdrive. Power is fed aft to a GM 12-bolt rear axle with 3.73:1 cogs, which help the heavy Caddy get rolling from a standing start, but still deliver 19 mpg when cruising down the freeway in overdrive. The rear axle is located by a stainless four-bar setup, which was also installed by Chris.

The job of suspending the car is left to a quartet of Air Ride Technologies ShockWave bags. This flexible system allows for a comfortable ride and an ultra-low stance when parked. It was a perfect choice for this car.

With the chassis and suspension sorted, it was time for Ryan to showcase his talents as a bodyman. Ryan told us there are over 20 subtle body mods, including nosing, decking, shaved door handles, and molding the rear fenders into the body. The hood was sectioned for a better profile, and the firewall was smoothed and modified to accommodate the modern air conditioning system while keeping it out of sight. The inner fenderwells were custom-crafted for the car, and are molded to gently transition to the firewall. 

Some of Chris’ chosen mods are hard to spot, even when they’re pointed out. The front turn signal housings are a good example. They look like they belong there, but what you’re seeing are ’67-’72 Chevy pickup backup light housings that have been gently frenched into place. The front fenders have been extended and the headlight housings are ’52 Mercury units. These have also been frenched in. 

Considering the car’s humble and ‘twisted’ beginnings, we’d have to say Chris certainly did his job as the bodyman. He’s also a talented painter, and there are some 18 coats of PPG basecoat, pearl, and clear covering his handiwork. Chris is quick to credit Bob Strazella for his guidance with the paint, and the Tangerine Pearl looks truly dazzling in the sunlight. Did we mention how all of the paintwork was completed in Chris’ drive-in basement? It’s true! He had to modify the access door to drive the car out after it was assembled. 

The interior offers a respectful re-do for fans of the Cadillac marque. Credit goes to Darrell Pressley at Hot Rod Interiors of Mooresville, SC, for the cool leather and ostrich upholstery. The gauges have been completely rebuilt by D&M Restorations of Greenville, SC, and there’s a twist to be found. The speedometer goes all the way up to 160, and it’s a factory Cadillac part. The trick is that it’s a Canadian part, and was originally configured to read in kilometers per hour. It’s been recalibrated to accurately read miles per hour now, but it’s a cool fact to know. The interior is also equipped with a complete JL Audio stereo system, which is hidden from view. The car’s convertible top is made from Mercedes material, with custom aluminum accents. 

The final product has proven to be a capable road car in addition to being a true eye-catcher. After being completed in April of ’07, Chris, Lori, and Skip managed to put almost 10,000 miles on the car before the season’s end! Chris says the performance and comfort of the final package exceeded his own expectations. The LS1 pulls the heavyweight Caddy around easily, while a quartet of Wilwood disc brakes make stopping the car a non-issue.

The future for this amazing creation holds more long trips and memories to be made. The only changes Chris is even considering are adding a second set of wheels and tires to change the car’s look and attitude. While the existing 18x7-inch Intro wheels and Nitto NT555 tires (measuring 225/45-18 on all four corners) nail the modern custom look Ryan was after, he feels having a set of traditional wide whitewalls on steel wheels with Caddy “sombrero” hub caps will also look really cool. He’s right, of course, and with the completion of this ’48, Chris Ryan has really hit the big time now.

Photos by Matt Sprouse

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