With the sound of wedding bells approaching and plans underway, we had 8 months to find and complete a car restoration before the big day. It was an ingenious idea to get a 50’s hot rod for our 50’s theme hot rod wedding. Not to worry, we can handle the wedding plans and expenses alongside finishing a restoration project! It would be an experience of a lifetime to cherish forever.
The excitement begins on November 16th, 2012. After months of searching online and on local classifieds the hot rod project has been found! We follow our truck driver (now my father in law) three hours downstate to pick up our win from the Ebay Auction site. Excitement turns into nervousness once we pull into the seller’s driveway. Several old cars were deteriorating into the Michigan soil, always a sad sight to see. Our 1952 Ford Crestline Victoria was sitting beside a barn, thankfully no longer in the woods under the pine trees. At first glance we could tell this car is definitely a project, but we can handle it right? It’s too late to turn back now. The auction was ended and paid for. First step: load it on the trailer. No problem, we can just roll her to the trailer. We pushed with all our might to no avail. She wouldn’t roll. On to plan B: We hooked up the tow strap and pulled her out. This is when we discovered the rear driver’s side drum brakes were locked up. It’s always a bad sign when a wheel is dragging. It took 20 minutes of pounding to get one wheel off, and another 20 to dislodge the drum brakes. She was free at last! Shivering with snot dripping down our faces, we hooked up the trailer strap and secured her onto the trailer. It was time to hit the road.
The journey home was not uneventful. Trunk hoods flew up and hubcaps flew off, causing several delays involving bungee cords and running up and down the freeway in search of lost hubcaps. The weather remained rainy and cold. Thankfully everything was found and no damage was done. Compliments from passerby’s at the gas station gave us much reassurance as we approached the last leg of the adventure home.
The moment we arrived home we backed our new addition off of the trailer to give her another look over. The amount of rust was slightly nerve wracking. We could see the rocker panels were no good. The fender skirts and lower rear panel needed to be redone completely. The important pieces of glass were good. Most of the chrome was still there although it wasn’t exactly chrome any longer. The upholstery was shot. The floorboards were patched but seemed to be ok. We were told the engine turned over and ran. Upon our inspection of the interior, we found several cans of starter fluid. Yes, it ran alright… No time to start the tear down now. The cold and rain had us exhausted. We backed her into the garage to wait for a nicer day.
If you are familiar with late November in Michigan, you are already thinking to yourself “wait for a nicer day? Ha!”. Well your thoughts prove true. A couple days after parking the car, snow began to fall. I failed to factor in time to rearrange the entire garage into our car restoration schedule. Once snow began falling it was urgent to get my 2004 Mazdaspeed out of the weather. During our first opportunity to work on the car we couldn’t work on it at all! Two days were spent re arranging our seemingly small two car garage. We managed to cram the Ford, my Mazdaspeed Miata, and our abundance of tools into the small space. This left us only a foot of space to work with over the winter. It was quite the sight to see.
Our lack of a garage heater and my dislike for the cold prevented us from getting very far during the winter months. Once in a while my anxiousness would get the best of me so I could suck it up and head out into the garage. I spent one night in the cold ripping out the headliner. The deteriorated fabric came down easily on my head. I had wondered where the strong stench of mildew and rodent was coming from. The first mystery was solved! Wait a minute here—I thought men were supposed to do all of the dirty work? My future husband was smarter than I had anticipated. So far, so good. I have learned I enjoy getting dirty in order to see some progress.
Winter became colder and the lonely car sat. We purchased a small propane powered heater in a sad attempt to work through it. Here the disassembly began. Headlights and taillights were removed along with all of the chrome. Over a couple weeks I proceeded to sand the driver’s side of the car. What was uncovered shouldn’t have been a surprise. Shady patch panels, rust, and bondo galore! It looked like a dust storm passed through our garage. After a severe sinus infection (yes I was wearing a face mask) I decided the sanding must wait until we can pull her out outside. Our garage setup was less than satisfactory. With the sanding on hold we proceeded to tear up the patch panels in the floor in fear of what was underneath. This is where we officially confirmed our simple little hot rod restoration is turning into a little more than a frame-up restoration. The frame was so rotted it was no longer attached to the body. It was now mid- February of 2013. The completion date was to be before our wedding date on July 20th, 2013. Due to the limited garage space we were unable to continue our work until spring. Perhaps we would be blessed with a short winter this year.
Winter dragged on longer than usual. In early April we were able to open up the garage doors, but the snow mounds and salt were still lingering. Very little was done until we could pull the car out late in the month. We now had 3 months to get our Ford prepared for our wedding. I attempted to con everyone I could to come over and help me sand this baby down. The only trooper that arrived to help was my brother. In his words, “sanding sucks”. I couldn’t have said it better. Fifty sanding pads later, all of the Ford’s secrets were revealed. It was time to start repairing the panels the right way. While my fiancé worked on shaping and welding the metal I commenced disassembly of the interior. Seats were stashed away to send to out for re-upholstery later (exit the remaining rodent stink). All interior trim was taken out and repainted, along with the dash. A layer of primer/sealer was sprayed under the dash and inside the roof to prevent any future rust. I do not want to have to take this car apart again!
It is now June and the engine is being pulled. We barrow a cherry picker from a fellow co-worker and invited a couple friends over for help. With the car already on jack stands, my friend and I sit on milk crates in the front of the car for added weight, making “Vrooom, vrrrrooooommm” noises for entertainment. Outside in the heat the men carefully lift the engine out. Just like anything else, it was all trial and error with a few scary moments in between. I considered it my time to get even after the mouse poop in my hair and living through bondo dust storms. With the engine pulled and on the stand we get it cleaned up and painted.
The wedding is in two weeks and the Ford is completely disassembled, holes through the floorboards and all. It was safe to say the car would not be running in time for the wedding. Heck, it wouldn’t even be on the road or off of the jack stands for that matter. Towing it there wasn’t an option. We were disappointed. It meant a lot to us to have our hot rod at our wedding.
An idea occurred to me; why not find another car that is ready to go? I began searching without my fiancé’s permission. I had a plan: Since we would not be able to take a vacation this winter and we were not traveling for a honeymoon I would purchase another car instead. I searched nonstop for a week for the perfect car and stumbled upon an auction on Ebay for a 1961 Cadillac Series 62. My fiancé loves Cadillac’s and has spoken about wanting one again “someday”. Although I could not see the car in person, this car spoke to me. I had to bring her home. With wedding planning at top speed I was now arranging a collector car purchase. Even through the chaos I couldn’t help but smile. We were getting a Cadillac! After some disagreements I told my fiancé not to worry about the finances, I was purchasing the car as a wedding gift to him. Sure we were getting married, but he has no choice in the matter. Of course the car was really for me (the cat is out of the bag since the date of this writing). The sale finalized on the 19th, the day before our party. It was due to arrive during our week off. It would not be there for the wedding but I didn’t care. I owned a ’61 Cadillac! Better yet, it has no rust and runs like a dream—and the fins, oh the fins!
It is a week after the wedding. Life feels no different as a married woman. We were married already. However life is so much sweeter with a Cadillac in our garage. Our work will continue on the Ford. I refuse to give up! To be able to complete it together means more to me than anything. The ford is our first real restoration project, and even while we grind through rust and shovel through rodent feces we both agree it will not be our last! Nothing can be more rewarding than working to save the rotting cars in the Michigan back woods, one bolt at a time.