“Big Daddy” Don Garlits is 100% Roadkill. He likes burnouts, he builds things for fun, he has engines lying around just awaiting projects and, he recently discovered, he doesn’t really like things to be too modern, or too nice. We are honored here at Roadkill.com that Garlits is willing to share his projects with us on a semi-regular basis. Last time it was the restoration of a dragster that nearly cost him his life. This build was a little less dangerous, but a lot more annoying, as Big Daddy dealt with Craigslist tire kickers and electrical gremlins. From it we learn an important lesson. Just put a Hemi in it and be done. Take it away, Gar.
I never knew a ’48 Ford limo even existed until 1998, when a fellow I know named George Albright III informed me that he had one in storage in Ocklawaha, Florida, and if I wanted the car, go and get it! Of course I wanted it. I figured it had to be rare, as I had never seen one, ever! I did some research and found that the vehicle had been built by the Seibert Limousine Company in Toledo, Ohio. Seibert built three of these unusual cars in 1948 by cutting two Fords in half and welding them together with a lot of custom body work. Seibert used the front half of the Ford convertible and the rear half of the Tudor sedan and built a custom door for entry into the passenger section of the limo. The rear side window of the Tudor sedan was shortened considerably. Seibert also modified the rear trunk lid to include the Ford’s rear window, making a large area for flowers as these three vehicles were build as “Flower Cars” which were used in funerals to transport mourners and floral tribute. All these modifications made for a very long , sleek and heavy car that was terribly underpowered. The finished vehicle very expensive and heavy; the 100 hp Flathead engine struggled to power the resulting monster.
In December of 1999, I drove over to Ocklawaha and picked up the old Ford limo with my car hauler trailer and brought it home to the Garlits Museum. I stored it in the cabin garage, located on the museum grounds and it sat there for nearly five years. At one time I considered selling it, as I determined it would take too much time and money to restore the car to my standards, so I put an ad in Hemmings Motor News. I offered the car for $7,500.00, but only got one phone call and that was from a guy who said he had one, and I never heard back from him since. There’s always that guy who just wants to call on your ad to talk.
Then in 2004, I met Richard Brandl of Superior Custom Classics Inc. at a car show with one of his restoration/resto rod creations. I told him about the limo and he got real excited. He said he would love to restore the vehicle and make it into a modern street rod with all the whistles and bells! Translate that to: a modern engine/drive train, suspension, power windows, power steering, disk brakes, 12 volts, bigger tires, stainless steel roof insert and of course a fine shiny black paint job. I delivered the car to his shop in Largo Florida. In 2007, three years later and with more than 100K spent, he delivered the finished vehicle to us here in Ocala. The vehicle was stunning and the 500 HP Lightening Ford truck engine was fast enough to make you think you were in a drag car!
The supercharged, 500hp V8 was coupled to a Ford computer controlled automatic tranny, along with computer-controlled Air Ride kit on all four wheels. At first all this high tech worked just fine, but we didn’t use the car very much and eventually the computer controlled equipment began to give us trouble. Richard and his son, Richard Jr., visited us on many occasions, adjusting the computers but finally said they just couldn’t keep traveling to Ocala to make the necessary repairs, we would have to be on our own. I didn’t do well with the complicated arrangement and soon had more trouble than I could handle.
I wanted to use the vehicle for weddings and graduations and finally in 2010, after I had to limp home with the AC not working and the transmission locked in low gear, I decided that was my last trip. The vehicle sat for almost for almost five years in the Antique building of the museum until 2015, when my friend Chris Bumpus said to me, “What do you intend to do with the Ford Limo? I jokingly said, “Let’s put an early Hemi in it with a 727 Torqueflite tranny and real springs in for suspension, instead of the Air Ride kit!” Chris said, “I will get on it as soon as possible.” He was finishing up the 1927 Ford T Roadster at the time.
While Chris was winding up the old “T” Roadster, I selected a very nice 1956 Chrysler Hemi from my collection, this one was .060 overbore, but otherwise stock, including the camshaft. We used Iskenderian adjustable pushrods so we could get the pushrod length right, as this engine had been decked and the heads surfaced. I used a stock 4-barrel manifold with an Edelbrock 750 CFM carburetor and a stock distributer. I found an old 727 Torqueflite in the storage hut and took it to Corky’s Muscle Cars shop for rebuild. Corky happens to be Chris’ dad. I also ordered a new Painless wiring kit as we wanted to start from scratch on all the electrical parts. Chris used Fatman suspension parts for the rebuild.
While all this was going on, Chris noticed that March Performance in Naples Florida was just introducing a complete serpentine belt system for the early Chrysler Hemi that would drive the water pump, AC compressor, alternator, power steering pump and the fan if you needed one. I ordered the kit and was very pleased with what I got.
In January 2017, we moved the limo into the work area of the museum shop. Chris ripped out everything, engine, tranny, all wiring, dash, suspension, seats and we started from scratch. Even though Superior’s work was good, we wanted the job to look like a “Garlits” creation. Four months later, as of April 2017, we were driving the “Old Girl” on a daily basis, no problems and it is now truly a Garlits Resto Rod!
For a car that is only used occasionally, in my opinion, two things are important, no computers and never use gasoline with ethanol. Neither one of these two things like non-use and damp climate!
The old Ford Limo is not on display in the Antique building at this time, as I am having too much fun driving it around town every day! I keep it parked in the “Don’s Garage” so if you take one of my “Private Tours” you will get a chance to take a good look.”
Don says that now that the limo is running, he’s back offering it up for weddings and graduations, so maybe it’s time to plan to get hitched at the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing.