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One-off supercharged Eldorado to appear at Cadillac & LaSalle Club Grand National

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Photo by Aaron Summerfield, courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.

It apparently paid to know people who worked at Cadillac during the Fifties. Call ’em up, and whango tango, custom Cadillac delivered to your door. Or, at least, such was the case for a World War I pilot who wanted a little more oopmh from his Eldorado and got this supercharged one-off that will appear at this summer’s Cadillac & LaSalle Club’s Grand National.

A scion of the paper mill company that build Port Edwards, Wisconsin, John Edwards Alexander certainly had the wherewithal to buy a 1953 Eldorado, Cadillac’s sportiest and most expensive offering. But, as the story goes, the World War I Navy pilot who worked his way up through the ranks of his family’s company to become president and general manager had a speed demon sitting on his shoulder, one that compelled him to fly the fastest planes and drive the fastest cars.

Fortunately for Alexander, he had a contact at Cadillac: Frank Burrell, a test engineer who got his mechanical engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin. Burrell, according to an account his son wrote for the Allard Register, started at Cadillac in 1942, assigned to wringing more power out of the Cadillac-built tank engines. He then went on to designing high-performance intake manifolds for the overhead-valve Cadillac V-8 and, later, to acting as a liaison for high-profile racers and other individuals – including General Curtis LeMay, Sydney Allard, and Briggs Cunningham – interested in obtaining factory-engineered high-performance Cadillac V-8s.

Alexander, who at one point owned a supercharged Cord 812, wanted an Eldorado, but he wanted Burrell to supercharge it. And he wanted visible exhaust pipes to dump out ahead of the doors. Burrell got to work, starting with the 4-71 Roots-type supercharger lifted from a GM diesel engine and a fortified Hydra-Matic transmisison. Then came the pipes. According to RM Sotheby’s description of the Cadillac:

Burrell knew that the left or right bank of a V-8, by itself, produced an inharmonious, unpleasant noise, so simply channeling four exhaust ports out the nearest fender would not please Alexander. Fabricating the system from 3/16-inch steel pipes, Burrell synchronized the exhaust pulses by having two left-bank ports channel under the engine  and out the right fender and vice versa for the right-bank ports. The creation of this manifold and crossover pipes allowed both sides of the car to broadcast the proper V-8 tempo from their Buick-like portholes when the driver demanded; otherwise, a bypass valve closed, allowing the exhaust to flow the length of the car and exit through stock outlets in the rear bumper.

Wisconsin Rapids-based Jack O’Day cut the hood and fenders to accommodate the Cord-like exhaust pipes. In addition, Alexander stipulated Borrani knock-off wire wheels and a brace of Stewart-Warner instruments, including a self-winding clock mounted to the steering wheel.

Alexander died in 1963, and the Cadillac eventually made its way through collectors in Ohio and California, before Georgia-based collector Milton Robson bought it and offered it for sale with the rest of his collection in 2010. Though a pre-auction estimate valued the Cadillac between $450,000 and $650,000, final sale price came to $385,000.

These days, the Cadillac rests in the same D.C.-area collection as one of the 1953 Cadillac Le Mans Motorama cars and will appropriately make an appearance at the Cadillac & LaSalle Club’s 2017 Grand National, which will take place in nearby McLean, Virginia. Also slated to appear at the Grand National are a 1977 Cadillac Seville owned by Betty White, the aforementioned Le Mans (one of four built and two remaining), and Cadillac President Johan de Nyssche.

The 2017 Grand National will take place July 31 to August 5. For more information, visit