My friend Ron Rothstein started telling me about this ’58 Cadillac three or four years ago. He knows ’50s-’60s vintage Cadillacs. So he was going on and on about this was done to it and that was done to it–all sorts of minute details. Then I saw it a couple years ago. I must admit right here that I’m no Cadillac expert, by any means. And they can be rather confusing, especially in the mid-’50s. For instance, in ’55-’56 the regular Cads had the classic fishtails, while the new El Dorados had jet-age tail fins with two small round taillights below each. By ’58, the regular Cad looked like the ’56 El Dorado (but with quad headlights), and there were three different new El Dorados. The super rare (and expensive) Brougham was the one with the stainless steel hardtop, semi-suicide four doors, and dagmar grille. The Seville (coupe) and Biarritz (convertible) had the standard grille, but unique more-rounded rear end with the fins moved inward and single small round taillights below. This one is a ’58 El Dorado Seville hardtop. And at first look, I could tell it was bagged and dropped like most everything these days, and that it had about a 2-inch, sneaky top chop.
One modification I spied was the ’58 Impala roof vent (actually ’58 Pontiac Bonneville–different?), but I didn’t know the brushed stainless-appearing roof didn’t come on these. Cad aficionados will see much more. But little did I know.
I saw the car at several events, and I could tell it was a work in progress. Things kept changing, sort of subtly, but I couldn’t tell exactly what. Nor could I ever find the owner. I thought maybe he was some aloof elitist (like original Cad Eldo owners?). But at this year’s GNRS I saw it parked outside the Suede building with a sheet of paper in the front seat titled “The Concept.” It listed the owner/designer/builder as Charles Jacobsson and it stated, “I call my 1958 El Dorado ‘The Concept.’ I’ve tried to build it like GM in 1955 wanted the future car to be.” In other words a one-off GM Design Concept Car for what the El Dorado maybe should have been.
The only problem was I still couldn’t find Charles. It took a few phone calls, but I finally contacted him on vacation in Hawaii. He had a strong accent, and our conversation was brief, but I got a phone number to call when he got home. That took a few more weeks, but I did, and found out he was going to the Antique Nationals. So that’s where I finally met him a few days ago, learned who he was, and got more photos of the car’s details as he pointed them out and explained what they were.
The first thing I’ll say is that Charles is neither aloof nor elitist. He’s a true enthusiast, and he’s incredibly talented. That pertains to both his design eye and metalworking skill, plus the fact that he drives this car everywhere, even while it’s in progress. A highly commendable combination. He grew up in Sweden, where his dad was a bodyman and where rust never sleeps. So Chuck learned to gas weld at a young age, and as he watched his father paddle lead, he was fascinated. He said it was a beautiful, artistic process when done well. So he learned to do it very well, and sparingly.
The second thing I’ll say is that Charles has done everything on this car himself. Typical of Swedish car builders and restorers, he is not only multi-talented, but also very resourceful and undaunted. So let’s get to what he’s done to this Cad–so far. There’s a lot to show and tell.
Let’s start at the rear. First off, he says he extended the quarter panel wings three inches. I assume that means just the fins. Then he points out that there was a large, square gas door in the rounded body just above the bumper. Plus there was about a 1-inch gap between the bumper and the chrome panel behind the wheel. So he smoothly eliminated the gap, and he filled in the ugly gas door.
But he didn’t want to have to open the trunk to pump gas into a filler neck moved there, as many early customs did. So he made this part of the bumper smoothly swing out at the touch of a button, and hid the gas filler behind it.
You’d never know this part could move just by looking at it, and I didn’t even see where he pushed the button. It moves smoothly in and out with some sort of electric servo motor. But you’re just starting to get an idea of the subtle, creative, and beautifully crafted details on this car.
The small, single round taillight looks decidedly anemic on these large cars,so Charles simply eliminated it, adding a nice rib in its place. What was the large back-up light is now back-up, brake, and taillight combined.
He obviously had to modify the chrome trim on the fin, as he has to most on the car. He says he learned to gas-weld pot-metal, similar to silver-soldering. He also moved the V and name tag a few inches to the left to make room for the two trunk spears, which he ingeniously fabricated by slicing a piece of round tubing into quarters, then inverting two of the quarters and welding them together to make a peaked spear. He said the really hard part was finding anyone with a large machine that could then bend this tubing to the correct curve to fit the trunk. But as I said, Charles is resourceful.
At the front, you of course notice the Cad-defining ’55 dagmar bumpers, which Charles had to add. Then he made the grille from two ’58 pieces. More subtle (but more work) was removing the stock peak in the center of the hood, and then making the two small chrome strips out of hand-formed brass-another of Chuck’s talents.
To add the wide chrome louvers at the back of the hood, Charles first cut them in a large square of sheetmetal using custom dies on a beadroller. Then he had the whole piece chromed. Next he ground the chrome off around the edges, cut the hood to the same size, hammer-welded the piece into the hood, and metal-finished the area. I assume that’s gray primer he added after taping off each louver. He says the car will eventually be painted silver-gray “like a concept car.” Note how the brass (and chromed) hood strips curve onto the filled cowl.
Charles originally made chrome grilles to fit in the cowl below the wipers, but then changed it to this smoother and sneakier design by adding extensions to the hood with rounded corners. Matching openings in the cowl form scoops. Given that this is a high-pressure area, both the scoops and the rear-facing louvers feed fresh air to the carbs.
And under the hood is the all-rebuilt but all-original 365-inch tri-power Cad engine and hydro trans. He made the air cleaner out of exhaust tubing U-bends, and reworked the hood bracing to feed fresh air to it. He says this car sat in someone’s backyard about 25 years before he got it in 2010. It was fully optioned with power everything. That’s the A/C pump on the far side. The 2-cylinder air pump feeds a factory-original pressure tank, which in turn feeds air bags at all four corners. Called “Level Air,” this believe it or not is all factory original ’58 Cadillac. All Charles did was rebuild the pump and lines, add new Firestone air bags, and convert it to manual operation. Did you know ’50s Cads had this? Chuck says one of his final tasks is to make this engine compartment spotless.
I mentioned the ’58 Bonneville roof scoop that Chuck hammer-welded into the roof and then finished in thin lead. I think he also converted it to a third brake light. You’ll notice the thin chrome strips, which follows this design element from front to rear. And, although you can’t really tell in these photos, what appears to be a brushed stainless roof is actually a vinyl wrap that Chuck located somewhere and added. As I said, he is resourceful. It fooled me.
And here’s the truly amazing deception. While you (and I) thought that was a 2-inch chopped stainless steel hardtop, with mostly hand-formed brass/chromed beltline moldings, this is actually a lift-off top, like a similar-vintage Corvette. It attaches with typical convertible top latches at the windshield; I’m not sure how at the rear. But when it’s on, you can’t tell it comes off. I’m speechless.
So I’ll mention that those 3-stripe whitewalls “Like you used to see in the ’50s J.C. Whitney catalog,” Charles got custom-made after much research. And those are ’59 El Dorado wheels, in which he made the center emblems stay vertical while the wheels turn. I’d explain how (differently front and rear), but I’m more speechless. Oh, but I have to mention, even though you can’t really see them, that the wheelwells front and rear are chromed steel combined with polished stainless, hand-formed by Chuck of course.
So the removable top gives a great look at the interior, where you of course expect plenty of custom details. The seats are “60 Special” optional original, but this is Chuck’s second try at upholstery. I doubt this surprises you. It’s now silver gray and black leather, with hard-to-find ’58 Cad black cloth.
Equally hard to find (and to see here) is the ’58 Pontiac Bonneville black carpet with silver thread flecks. And you might recognize the distinctive package tray as ’58 Bonneville as well (similar to Chev Impala).
More? Sure there’s more. Chuck made the 2-inch smaller steering wheel, forming the rim out of steel rod, then having it chromed before his friend Kris added the clear and silver plastic molding. I forget what he said the smaller horn ring is from, and it mounts on a later Cad tilt column. The molded housing with a chrome grille on the trans tunnel is a larger speaker for the original Wonder Bar radio. Chuck found it in a later Cad or Pontiac. I should have taken better notes.
Finally, how’d you like to restore just these door panels? Charles says that the black cloth is basically unobtainium these days. But also notice all those buttons? They include power door locks, windows, vent windows(!), 6-way seat, antenna, and trunk. Besides the Wonder Bar radio and factory A/C, it of course has power steering and brakes, not to mention the “electric eye” headlight dimmer on the dash. And it all works.
It’s obvious that this car is still not finished. But besides paint, what’s left? We’ll just have to wait and see. Charles says “It’s far from done. I have more ideas to achieve the dream car look from the ’50s. I’ll continue doing it ‘One Piece at a Time’ like Johnny Cash sang it.” And we’ll keep watching to see how that dream ends…if it ever does.