Street Racers' Reunion - Milan Dragway

Don Sherman
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Bad Cad Zeus

Detroit celebrity "Top Hat" John Jendza is a collector-car authority, part-time journalist, and full-time guardian of Bad Cad Zeus. Jendza's 1949 Cadillac coupe is a classic sleeper: a hell-raiser masquerading as a low and slow cruiser.

"Gary Ellinger of Hazel Park, Michigan, built this car in 1964," Jendza explains. "A number of engines have powered Zeus, including a 390-cubic-inch Cadillac V-8 with three carburetors as well as various big-block Chevy V-8s. Ellinger had excellent racing luck before selling the car in the early 1970s. Three owners later, a full body-off restoration and a major investment in chrome plating brought Zeus back to pristine condition. I bought it in 2006."

"I intend to return Zeus to its mid-'60s configuration and have a hotter engine. It's currently powered by a Chevy big-block V-8 bored out to 410 cubic inches and equipped with a roller-lifter camshaft."

Breathing through a Holley four-barrel carburetor, three-inch headers, and Flowmaster mufflers, this engine makes about 500 hp in Jendza's estimation. In its salad days, Zeus was a lion off the line thanks to its high-stall-speed torque converter and 4.56:1 locking differential. The original '57 Oldsmobile rear end fitted with slapper bars and custom axle shafts and lashed down with heavy-duty springs is still in place and provides superb traction.

Zeus currently has a tighter torque converter driving its Turbo-Hydramatic transmission, which is programmed to shift at a modest 5000 rpm. A 3.23:1 open differential brings up the rear.

Zeus's old bones were evident on the roads around Milan. My arms and elbows were a blur wheeling the huge steering wheel around 90-degree corners, because there's no power assist and the ratio is slow. Even though the front dampers are the ancient lever type and the springs are soft in the interest of transferring load to the rear tires during acceleration, this veteran didn't bounce or wallow over washboard roads. The split windshield and the liberally chromed dash are standard Cadillac features, but the tuck-and-roll trim and four Eldorado bucket seats are custom touches added by Jendza. A period Sun tachometer attached to the steering column keeps track of rpm.

A gear-driven camshaft whirs nervously, and sewer-sized pipes rumble with good exhaust reverberations. When nailing the throttle off the mark, the 1-2 shift felt like a pickup truck had slammed into the rear bumper. Lightly pedaling the gas evoked the Cadillac side of Zeus's split personality: gentle gear changes and smooth sailing.

BAD CAD ZEUS
Born as: 1949 Cadillac Series 62 Club Coupe
Engine: 6.7L (410 cu in) OHV Chevrolet V-8, Holley 4-barrel carburetor
Power: 500 hp (owner's est.)
Driveline: Turbo-Hydramatic 400 3-speed automatic, 3.23:1 final drive
Tires front, rear: Mastercraft 235/75SR-15, BFGoodrich 255/70SR-15
Weight: 4300 lb

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