The style and caliber of a build are just as important in the automotive world as what records a car breaks on the track, or how many show trophies it has won. The essence of the build, to some, is even considered superior to anything else in the custom world.
For our latest “Hot Rods You Should Know” feature vehicle, this is especially true, as its unique design, quality finish, and big names behind the build made it an instant icon of the industry — one that has sparked interest in the hot rod and custom worlds spanning a number of generations since its debut in 1989.
The car is CadZZilla — the fully-custom 1948 Cadillac Sedanette owned by Billy Gibbons, lead vocalist and guitar player for the band ZZ Top, and built by the late, great Boyd Coddington. While the cars’ famous rock legend owner and premier hot rod builder, to boot, certainly thrust the car into the spotlight like few other vehicles, it is the pure allure of the uniquely modified lead sled body and superior build quality that caused it to remain in the minds of hot rodders and rock fans alike for so many years.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the car has appeared alongside Gibbons at a number of affairs, as well as starred in a couple of television show appearances dedicated to his great enthusiasm for the hot rod industry.
Rendered by one of the head designers for Cadillac back in the 1980s, Larry Erickson, CadZZilla is a car like no other. Based on the 1948 Series 62 Cadillac — a car of relative rarity and one that boasts the claim to the first appearance of Cadillac’s iconic tailfins — CadZZilla is a mix of early post-WWII Cadillac design and artistic customization at the hands of both Erickson and Coddington’s metal artisan at the time of the build, Craig Naff.
As the story goes, the car was initially set to be a fairly “simple” custom based on the rare 1940s Cadillac, with a classic body shape atop a modified frame with a big engine under the hood and modern suspension components underneath. However, that wasn’t quite radical enough for ZZ Top’s front man and the design was altered to include even more profound customizations to parallel his unique style, resulting in a car that could fittingly follow Gibbons’ other famous hot rod — the 1933 Ford known as Eliminator. This car included a custom roofline so unique that the windshield for the finished car had to be specially made to fit, and massive suicide doors that open at the push of a button.
Ironically, the first renderings of the car were done on a bar napkin at a place along the Mexican border by Erickson and Gibbons. The ZZ Top front man has been known to make comments about the best cars starting out as drawings on bar napkins ever since!
Working for the one and only Coddington in the ’80s, Naff took Erickson’s revised car design and got to work, shaping new and old sheetmetal alike into the aesthetically pleasing custom lead sled you see here.
Featuring a chopped roofline, fully welded front clip with a sectioned hood and front fender combination that tilts open in one fell swoop, Frenched headlights, and custom tapering along the sides of the car that flows effortlessly into the lowered and fully blended rear quarters. CadZZilla is simply like no other custom build out there. Just one look, and you know you’re looking at an icon.
Add the initial shock value of the build to that sweet custom House of Color’s deep purple paint scheme and a one-of-a-kind interior, and you’ve got yourself a hell of a legend, with or without a rock star owner. And to think, this was a car that debuted not in the 2010s, but in the 1980s!
CadZZilla’s good looks aren’t the only thing the custom ’48 Caddy has going for it, either. Under the hood sits a massive 500ci Cadillac V8 with a custom Holley fuel injection system and headers — perfect for the horsepower-loving, V8-rumbling seeker that Gibbons is.
Underneath, the car boasts a custom steel frame and suspension system featuring Koni coilovers, 1985 Corvette steering components, a Currie 9-inch rearend, and front disc brakes. All of this is capped off with 22-inch, two-piece billet aluminum wheels made to look like classic Caddy wheel covers up front, and fully skirted 22s in the rear. This baby is meant to drive!
A real looker, CadZZilla has certainly been a trendsetter in the custom world, but it’s not just a mobile piece of art moved around in a protective bubble only to be seen sedentary at shows. In fact, what puts this car over the top is that it is driven, and not just around the block. CadZZilla has seen its fair share of road trips, including a 2,200-mile trip from Boyd Coddington’s Garage to the Ohio Hot Rod Super Nationals at one point in its life.
A truly remarkable custom, CadZZilla continues to set the precedent for custom builds. And with a look that good and a name so recognizable, you know it will be that way for generations to come!
Stay tuned next month as we take a look at another iconic hot rod owned by Gibbons – his famous ’33 Ford, the Eliminator!