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Leo and His Custom Cadillac Toy Car

I have two kids. When the older one started school at 5, I found myself pushing a stroller with the younger one (9 months) while I walked her to school. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool car person. This simply wouldn’t do.

By jeff mason

February 19, 2021

My Best Man’s Cadillac

One of my wonderful car friends has a 1958 Cadillac. He’s had one since he was 16. I came to know him and his car during our time together at McPherson College, where I teach automotive restoration. James and I bonded quickly over the shared passions of music, cars, history, and culinary delights. As we did, his Cadillac came along for many adventures and more than a few lengthy evenings diagnosing, repairing, and sometimes fixing things on the car. Eventually, he was the best man in my wedding and commissioned a piece of music for the ceremony.

After a lengthy session of work with the car, James took a long trip to a conference in the Cadillac. The car was running well, he was enjoying it, and so he decided to extend his trip farther. I can still picture him cruising along happily on the Great Plains. Unfortunately, the exhaust of the car was also cruising along into the cabin of the car, and James passed out from carbon monoxide poisoning. The car burned in a cornfield, and James fought for several days in the burn ward of a Nebraska hospital for his life. Fortunately, he survived.

Later, he found a second Cadillac, and I again helped him with the car, doing a bunch of mechanical work and installing new floor pans for him. The second car is still with him, a reminder not only of the past but also of the durability of life and the ability of people to resurrect themselves.

A Custom Cadillac Toy Car For My Son

So, when the stroller problem confronted me, I thought about what I could build my son to both indulge my creative side and also to make something cool. Looking around, I found a bunch of options, but the one that stood out was the body for a 1958 Cadillac convertible.

Over a few weeks in November, I put the car together with the help of a paint and body man I know. I built a wagon running gear for it, stuck a handle on, found various bits and pieces that made it all “pop.” Another friend inclined towards upholstery made me a beautiful seat for him to sit on.

The Cadillac toy car ready for final paint.

Consulting with James, I picked out his favorite 1958 color, a teal metallic that is both dignified and also a bit unusual. With some taping, spraying, and a little bit of clear, it all came together.

The custom Cadillac toy car fully painted.

On Christmas Eve 2018, the Cadillac took its first journey from the shops into our living room. It wouldn’t fit under the tree. The minute my then 15-month-old son saw it, he immediately crawled over to it, climbed in, and virtually demanded a ride. All other Christmas activity stopped, and we walked in the cold Kansas morning around the neighborhood.

The car has become a staple of his now almost 3-year-old life. We go to the park, sometimes load it in the back of the truck for excursions to see other machines. He loves cars, tractors, trucks, anything with wheels.

Cars are more than just objects. They connect us together in a web, the web of enthusiasm. The brilliant part is that the web can always grow, can form new links and chains. It is only limited by our imaginations.

Luke Chennell is an Associate Professor of Automotive Restoration at McPherson College in McPherson, Kansas. He specializes in chassis, drive train restoration and materials science. Mr. Chennell was recently named one of Sports Car Market’s “40 Under 40: Key Players to Watch in the Collector Car Market.” He recently completed a partnership with the American Bugatti Club to produce, with students, a user manual for Type 57 Bugattis as well as one for Grand Prix Bugattis. He holds a master’s degree in Public History from Wichita State University and a bachelor’s from McPherson College.

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