Rudy Makela’s 1950 WOW Cadillac – One of America’s Earliest Custom Cadillacs

This Streamlined Style Was The Rage in the late 1940s. The Kurtis Sports Car Also Used This Styling.

Hi Gang…

The story below was written by my good friend Rik Hoving who runs the Custom Car Chronicle.  Rik and I share a great appreciation for both custom cars and sport customs.  Those of you interested in these kinds of cars should visit his website via the link below:

Click Here To Visit Rik Hoving’s Custom Car Chronicle

For me this story goes back to 2010 when I was well into my research into Sport Custom Cars in America.  As I dug into this subject, I was surprised and impressed to see a wider variety of designs being built in the late 1940s and early 1950s than I had ever seen before.  What I was witnessing during my readings was a consolidation of designs – agreements in styling methods and other types of convergence on “what” would be a “custom car” and “what” would be a “sports car.”  Rudy Makella’s WOW Cadillac jumped out from the pages of magazines when I first saw it.

As you’ll learn in Rik’s story below, Rudy’s and his family owned a power hammer company – what we know call a metal shaping company.  They were located in Indianapolis, Indiana and built custom ordered/modified ambulances, hearses, limousines and more.  Rudy was a young man at the time working for his father’s company when he decided he wanted to create a custom car of his own design.  Starting with an early 1940s Cadillac convertible, Rudy created an entirely new body for it – one in which the entire front clip rolled forward to reveal the engine when needed.  A unique design and a unique car.  Worthy of attention the first time I saw it in the magazines.  Then I found the real deal.

In 2010, Stephen Lisak had posted photos of the car he had found nearly two decades before and saved from a junkyard.  With a bit of research, I confirmed what the car was and shared it Stephen and his wife Mary – the nicest folks you’d ever hope to meet.  Over the years we became fast friends and late in 2018 I bought the car.

Back in 2014, Rik Hoving worked with Stephen Lisak to create a story about Stephen’s car – the WOW Cadillac.  Recently I asked Rik if we could share his story of this car with our readers here at Undiscovered Classics and today’s story is the result of Rik saying “yes.”  Thanks Rik!  So away we go.

The Rudy Makela Cadillac
Custom Car Chronicle: April 29, 2014

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, a lot of Sport Custom cars were built.  Some in back yards and home garages, others by professional shops.  Very popular at the time they received a fair amount of exposure.

The first time I saw this car, the “WOW” Cadillac, was when I found a copy of the 1951 Trend book #101 Custom Cars. Two photos of the car appeared in this booklet, one showing the hood /front fender section sliding forward and the other was a front 3/4 view of the car. Both with the dark covered soft top up. Later I found out that the same photos had also been used in the August 1950 issue of Motor Trend magazine. The car was a a typical Sports Custom styled creation, but unlike most of these which were shaped from existing body parts, this Cadillac had an all custom created body.

In early 2014 the Custom Car Chronicle received an email from Stephen Lisak. Stephan had viewed the articles on the CCC with great pleasure and was wondering if we would be interested in doing an article on the Sports Custom he had acquired in 1983. It turned out to be the Cadillac I remembered from the 1951 Custom Cars booklet. Stephan offered to write the story on the car and supply the photos. Let’s let Stephen tell the story on this Cadillac Sports Custom.

1951 Trend Books “Custom Cars” #101

The “WOW” Cadillac
By Stephen P. Lisak(with special thanks to Geoff Hacker)

In 1983, while living in the Chicago area, I was looking for some parts for my 1941 Buick Model 56C. A friend of mine mentioned that he heard of a 41 Cadillac which had the same C body so I phoned the truck yard near South Bend, Indiana where it was stored. The previous owner had it for about 5 years and planned to restore it. The truck yard said the owner told him it was for sale and he would give him permission to release it. He told me that it had a 1950s custom modification so I said this was OK because in my mind back in the 1950s customizing meant taking off chrome and changing door handles which was common. I purchased this car in 1983 sight unseen since he said it had the parts I needed.

In March of 1983, I went to see the car at the truck yard and realized that what I bought was not what I thought it was, but decided to buy it anyway. What I found was a radical custom car with weeds and small trees growing through it. The car was last licensed in Indiana with a 1958 plate number: DK-6237. The car has a brass nameplate beneath the license indicating “Designed and Built by Indianapolis Power Hammer Works, Indianapolis, Indiana”.

The set in license plate at the back with the brass hand engraved nameplate below it.

The side panels have been slab sided and the original doors have been skinned with aluminum panels making the doors about one foot thick 4. The whole body and trunk deck lid was customized with the exhaust outlets through the rear panel. The missing front clip was latched at the firewall and the front bumper guards were hinged down to clear it for the forward sliding hood for access to the engine compartment with latches operated from inside the vehicle. There is a custom made aluminum grille that holds the dual air ducts and stays fixed with the radiator. I have the original radiator and mounting. The air cleaner and accessory engine parts were left with the car which I believe were original Cadillac parts. The engine block and sliding hood were missing but I do have one of the rear fender skirt.

This photo shows the original passenger side location of the teardrop shaped taillights was welded shut and new round taillights were added on molded in round pods.

The original drivers side location of the teardrop shaped taillights was used in the later version as gas filler.

The custom made aluminum grille holding the dual air ducts.

The latch at the firewall to open the forward sliding hood/front fender section was operated from inside the vehicle.

The Cadillac script is located on the rear quarter panels, just behind the doors. It was added after 1952, since it does not show up in the earlier photos.

The instrument panel was radically customized. The car was stored outside for several years with the floor boards rusted out. The chrome nameplates on both sides of the rear quarter panels are “Cadillac” script. The car is about 80 inches wide. I did not realize how wide the car was so after completing the sale, I rented a normal car hauling trailer and hauled it to South Bend. When I tried to load it onto the trailer, it was too wide to pull through the fender well space. I had to go back home with an empty trailer and later send a flatbed truck to haul it back to Bensenville, Illinois.

The interior and floor suffered from being stored outside in the elements for several years. The floors are rusted thru and the upholstery is mostly gone.

There was no internet to check out the history of this car so I had to make many phone calls and write letters to get information. I wrote to the Secretary of State in Indiana for license plate information and found out they have no records prior to 1972. I wrote to magazines, car enthusiasts in Indianapolis, museums, etc.

June, 2007, I did get one referral from Mr. Tardy to contact Mr. Beuford Hall in Clermont, Indiana and he replied in June, 2007 with a copy of the Indianapolis Yellow Pages from early 1950’s and it listed “INDIANAPOLIS POWER HAMMER WORKS”, and two individuals as officers named “Makela” indicating they were Sheet Metal Specialists, Custom Auto Body Panels, Welding, Specializing in Special Body Works”. But the address had a different business and he could not find any information on them beyond this.

In September 2010, Mr. Geoff Hacker of Florida was doing some investigations of Custom Cars as a hobby and called me with great information and pictures from the Custom Cars Trend Book No. 101 and the 1952 New York, International Motor Sports Show program, which showed how my car looked in 1951 and 1952.

On November 4, 2011 my nephew also emailed me that he obtained information that the Makela car listed in Popular Mechanics may have been built in the 1940s for $30,000.00 and that there may be relatives now living in Switzerland.

The July 1950 issue of Popular Mechanics showed the car as an 1942 Cadillac.

The August issue of Motor Trend magazine used the photos that were later also used in the Custom Cars #101 booklet. This article also descriped the “WOW” Cadillac as being a 1941 Cadillac.

The 1951 International Motor Sports show program showed the car with a new front which included a huge hood scoop/grille and cut out front fender wheel openings.

In November 2012, I received an email from Mr. R. Ritenour, in Indianapolis who reported that he saw my pictures on the Cadillac LaSallle Club website and believes he looked at my aluminum Cadillac in the 70s when a discouraged restorer decided he was in over his head and didn’t know where to start. It still had the aluminum one piece sliding/hood/fenders in place, although his memory doesn’t recall the nose looking quite like the New York Custom Car picture. He did remember the swing down bumper set up and a complete Cadillac v8 engine as well as a set of rusted Cadillac wire wheels with matching center caps. The front valance had damage from a wrecker hook. The seller was around Ft. Wayne area. Mr. Ritenauer was ready to buy it and was very excited about the car but his much more grounded father discouraged the project as being too much for his skill set at the time. He often wondered what happened to it. He was sure this was it, based on my brief description and picture with same ice-green paint.

Sports Custom enthusiast Geoff Hacker provided the Custom Car Chronicle with three great photos taken at the 1951 and 1952 Indianapolis Custom Car show. The one above and below show the early version of the car.

This photo from the 1952 Indianapolis Custom Car show shows the later version of the car. Possible engine cooling problems had the owner redesign the front of the car with a new large hood scoop/grille. Also the front now has the wheel opening cut out, possibly to fix a wheel turning problem caused by the fully skirted first version. Notice the addition of the 3 chrome stars on the lower rear 3/4 panel. Later these were replaced with a Cadillac script.

I believe the Rudy Makela car shown in Popular Mechanics was misrepresented as a 1942 Custom Cadillac. It definitely shows a curved windshield so it was probably a 1948 model and an early version with a rounded front end like the model I made in March 1983 before I saw later pictures. It also had no wheel cutouts in front and would have been necessary to make large turns. In later pictures, the cutouts were added and the front end was visually redesigned to a more pleasing shape and look. The license plate was lowered because I believe it was too far up on the deck lid and was not adequately viewable from behind the car. The tail lamps were also modified to tube type possibly to comply to rear lighting requirements so they could make it road worthy.

New Home

In June, 2018, the car finds a new home when the great people behind the Undiscovered Classics group, including Geoff Hacker acquire the car and plan for a full restoration. Looking forward to see the restoration started in time.


So the first step in the restoration of a car like this is “saving” the car, and it is now safely in Tampa, Florida.  We’ve certainly got our hands full on this one, and time will tell.  Will we be able to start the restoration soon?  If we do, you can be sure we’ll cover it here on our website.

Great thanks to Rik Hoving for letting us share his story here at Undiscovered Classics.  For those of you who want to read the original story on his Custom Car Chronicle website, click on the link below:

Click Here To Read Rik’s Story on the WOW Cadillac on Custom Car Chronicle

Hope you enjoyed the story, and remember…

The adventure continues here at Undiscovered Classics.



Rudy Makela’s 1950 WOW Cadillac – One of America’s Earliest Custom Cadillacs — 4 Comments

  1. I wonder if the original builder saw photos of Cadillac prototypes for post war Cad’s, they look very similar to the first version except it had a low egg crate grille and a wide chrome band around the car.

  2. Geoff. That looks like one MAJOR restoration job to me. I did a similar resto on an ex UK 1959 Ford Zephyr Six convertible and it took me 9 years! O.K. I’m not a professional restorer but I can do my bit, and the end result turned out to be a real head turner. One unrelated question Geoff. Is it possible to include photos with the comments? Good luck with the WOW! Looking forward to seeing the progress being made.

  3. Oh, brother, it is going to take a lot of patience and time for this project it is just a good thing that y’all are a bunch of young guys.

  4. Some states have maximum and minimum height requirements for headlights, tail lights and license plates. Also visibility requirements for license plates are required in some states.

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