To the eyes of the uninitiated, this 1939 Cadillac may appear to simply be a stock restored vehicle. Nothing could be further from the truth. Owner and automotive dreamer Wes Rydell intended for this one-of-a-kind custom Cadillac to look like an original restoration, but you’d be amazed at what it took to create this masterpiece.
The story of this custom starts in 1935 with Art Ross, who had recently joined the General Motors Art and Color Studio as a creative designer on Harley Earl’s team. His primary job was designing Buicks, Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles (Ross would become the lead designer at Cadillac after WWII). Among Ross’s first designs in 1935 was the soon-to-be 60 Special, new for the 1938 year. Ross’s design was a two-door convertible. It was stunning, but it was not to be. The 60 Special models were never intended to be offered as two doors or convertibles – that is until now, 82 years after that initial rendering.
Being a connoisseur of fine GM vehicles – and a patron of tasteful coach-built rods and customs – Wes Rydell was just the man to see Ross’s rendering turned into reality. On top of the list to help him accomplish this was Marcel’s Custom Metal Shaping in Corona, California, along with designer and builder Chip Foose. The team started with a four-door 1939 Cadillac 60 Special and the custom coachwork transformation began. Marcel and Luc Delay took on the monumental task of forming and creating new metal panels based on Foose’s illustrations. With the skill and bravado of a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, the metal was stretched, pinched and tucked into a seamless Art Deco design, with a new removable top being built and the rear doors getting lost along the way.
From there the Cadillac, now dubbed Madam X, was handed off to Foose and his crew for final bodywork and myriad other details. This included fabricating more than 300 pieces of trim to complete the combined visions of Ross and Foose. For example, the Series 60 rocker trim was extended to run along the fenders, while new beltline trim extends from front to rear. The team also re-imagined the car’s original hoodside louvers, designing and fabricating new (and functional) examples that fit on the side of the cowl.
While Madam X may look 1939 on the outside, she’s all modern under her skirts. The Foose team utilized a Morrison front clip while custom building the chassis, which employs a Corvette C6 suspension and a Camaro ZL1 differential. The power plant is a direct-injected C7 LT1 V8 backed with an 8-speed 8L90 from a Cadillac Escalade. Foose’s creative team cleverly camouflaged the modern engine as to not compromise Madam X’s vintage charm, and custom-designed wheels were machined in a style emulating classic hubcaps.
There’s more classic elegance inside Madam X, with a streamlined wood grain dash and a gorgeous center waterfall-style heater grille concealing the modern climate controls and audio equipment. Brown leather upholstery in a simple pattern adds to the sense of luxury.
More than eight decades after the design that inspired it was originally penned, Madam X made a major splash when it debuted at the 2016 SEMA Show. It has continued to impress and amaze since then, going on to become a Goodguys Street Rod d’Elegance finalist at the 2017 Del Mar Nationals. It may be mistaken as a restoration by some, but true enthusiasts recognize it as a stunning automotive masterpiece built in the timeless tradition of custom coachwork.