Mike and Diana Sterling's car isn't your run-of-the-mill street machine. It's black, it's a fastback, it rolls on real wire wheels and — oh, yeah — it's a Cadillac.
To be specific, it's a 1949 Model 61 club coupe, also known as a "sedanette" and it was a ground-breaking, trend-setting car when it was brand new.
"It was the first year for Cadillac overhead valve V-8 motors and it was the second year for fins," said Mike Sterling. "The design guy came up with those based on World War II fighter planes," he said.
Having just sold their vintage 1955 Cadillac to a collector in Michigan, Mike said, "I wanted to get into something different. My dad always had Cadillacs."
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The Sterlings had also owned a '47 Caddy convertible and a '61 Cadillac, as well as a Downs-bodied Ford street rod. So when his friend Tim Hatfield called from the Kansas City Good Guys show to tell him that he had found a nice '49 coupe, Sterling admits, "I never followed up on it."
Hatfield later called again from the Des Moines Good Guys event. "He said 'the guy's still got the car and he's ready to move it,' " Sterling recalled.
He was pleased with what he saw when he and Hatfield drove to Olathe to look at the Cadillac. "There was not a ripple in it. It was originally a Texas car... it had the original floor boards and trunk in it and they had never been rusted."
Before the deal was worked out, Sterling specified that the "gangster wall" wide whitewalls would have to go, but the beautiful Dunlop wire wheels needed to stay. With new Goodyear blackwalls in place, the Cadillac, complete with its shiny '49 Kansas license plate, was headed to Wichita.
"It already had this motor and tranny in it," Sterling said. The original early model OHV V-8 had been supplanted by a more modern 425-cubic-inch Cadillac V-8 mated to a Turbo 400 automatic.
"But it needed a lot of TLC," he said. Wiring issues had to be addressed, the Vintage Air air conditioning system and windshield wipers repaired. "We buffed and restored the paint in lots and lots of places," Sterling said.
The car also tended to run hot in parades, so Hatfield designed a clever 4-quart secondary radiator tucked into the passenger side inner fender well to help the car keep its cool. Sterling also added a set of dual Flowmaster mufflers and pipes to the setup.
The interior features a pair of 6-way power seats and center armrest out of a 1968 Olds Toronado upholstered in red velour, with a matching back seat. It all got a thorough cleaning. Burled wood trim dresses up the classic steel dashboard and door panels and a Sony stereo sound head was slipped into the existing radio slot in the dash.
A front sub-frame from a '78 Cadillac improves the suspension and handling, with power steering and power disc brakes part of the package. A set of air bags in the rear gives the car a bit of a forward rake. "It really is a good road car," said Mike, who subscribes to the theory that to get the best out of a collector car, you have to spend some time behind the wheel, even if it means an occasional paint chip.
"We think it's the only one like it in Wichita," said Diana said proudly. "We haven't showed it an awful lot yet, but we do enjoy going to shows," Mike added. So that may be about to change.