Cadillac Pickup Truck was Custom Bike Hauler

Cadillac Pickup Truck was Custom Bike Hauler

By John Gunnell

When Horace Greeley wrote “Go West, young man, Go West” he was talking about taking advantage of the nation’s westward expansion for farming and getting away from Eastern poverty and unemployment. He wasn’t talking about hunting for Ol’ Skool cars—like Richie Clyne’s custom motorcycle hauler—but maybe he should have been. Only in the dry, sunny west would you find an authentic custom “Cadillac pickup truck” – originally built in 1952 — still sitting by the side of the road.

Clyne was heading through the desert, back to his office at the Auto Collections in Las Vegas, when the ’49 Caddy “roadside attraction” stopped him in his tracks. It belonged to a local man who was a big fish in his little pond; it was for sale and Clyne wanted it. When he tried to bargain on the price, the man said he had been “insulted” and started to walk away. Then, Richie said he’s pay the price, but asked if the car was a genuine relic from the old days.

“You just insulted me again,” was the reaction. So, it took a little more talking to put the deal together. When it was done, Clyne asked for the keys. “You can’t have it today,” the seller informed him. “It has to be in the parade on Saturday.”

After a bit more bargaining, Clyne found out the two men shared a mutual friend who was a car collector. The friend promised the seller a Model T Ford for the parade on Saturday, so the papers were signed and the Caddy lit out for Las Vegas.

The new acquisition wasn’t just any 1949 Caddy. It was a Cadillac pickup truck that Jack Warner and Walt Ball built. They were BSA motorcycle dealers from Portland, Oregon, and they wanted something cool to haul their bikes to various racing meets throughout the country.

Standard trucks of the day weren’t very good for moving motorcycles around, so the dealers wanted something that was heavy enough to handle the bikes, but also smoother riding so the fork tubes of the bike wouldn’t spring as much and bounce the BSAs around. They knew it wouldn’t hurt sales to have something that was different to attract attention.

Warner and Ball found a wrecked 1949 Series 62 Cadillac sedan to buy. They removed unneeded body panels and stretched the chassis 12 inches. Then, they put the Cadillac front end sheet metal back on and mated the cab of a contemporary GMC pickup with the Cadillac hood, front fenders, cowl  and grille. According to Clyne, an early custom car shop did the actual work.

It turned out that Oldsmobile doors worked perfectly after the customizer made a 1-1/2 inch cut in them. The doors were lettered with “American-British Cycles: BSA Motorcycles” and carry the names of Warner and Ball and phone number of their Portland business. (This was in pre-Internet days of course, so there was no Website, You Tube or Facebook information). A GMC pickup—probably the same one the panels came from—donated its cargo bed.

Since there was some open space between the Cadillac rear fenders and the truck bed, the fabricators added a “side-mounted” spare tire on each side. These sat on small running boards. The Caddy rear bumper guards were modified to fold down, as was the license plate holder. With these parts in their lowered position, the tailgate of the Caddy pickup could be lowered flat.

The low height of the Caddy made for a low riding truck, which eased the job of loading and unloading motorcycles. Three British-made BSAs could be carried in the bed in a pinch, with the centre one facing the opposite direction from the other two. British bikes aren’t Harleys, but to carry the weight of as many as three machines, the Caddy’s rear leaf springs had to be beefed by adding two additional leaves on each side.

Naturally, a “full race” rebuild was done to the Caddy V8, which has finned Offenhauser chrome valve covers, an Edelbrock tri-power manifold and triple Rayfield two-barrel carburetors. A set of Smitty mufflers gives the Caddy engine a sweet sound when its cruising through the desert.

Clyne had the car refinished in a colour that closely matches the vintage Oldsmobile Chariot Red lacquer that the custom shop squirted on it over 60 years ago. And as was the case following the original rework, the Caddy wears six “gangster whitewall” tires with big white stripes.

The Caddy’s interior features a Chariot Red steering wheel and dash (with burled wood trim), Hydra-Matic Drive, a black leather bench seat and matching carpets. The 110-mph ‘49 Caddy speedometer and all of the other gauges are the originals. Naturally, the Caddy carries a vintage BSA motorcycle strapped to the bed for authenticity.

In the day, the custom pickup generated much-needed publicity for the two motorcycle dealers, who were trying to push British bikes in a market dominated by Indians and Harleys. It made the pages of the June 1952 issue of Hop Up magazine which revealed that the original custom fabrication work on the Caddy took eight months and cost $5,000. The magazine said that the car was a “Highway Jewel” and an “Eye-Popper.” It still is today!

Categories: Features, Muscle Car Plus