Dare to be Different
By Drew Hardin
Photograph Courtesy Gray Baskerville, Petersen Publishing Company Archive
In the November 1988 issue of Hot Rod, Editor Jeff Smith called on car builders to “shake things up in the street machine world a little bit” when it came to considering cars for build-up projects. Rather than the same-old, same-old Camaros, “why not consider something completely different—such as a ’53 Studebaker Commander or a ’49 Ford—as Pro Street candidates?” Enough people listened that it became a movement in car building that the magazine called Dare to be Different.
The pinnacle Dare to be Different car was a creation called CadZZilla, named by its owner, guitarist Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. As Gray Baskerville explained in his July 1989 Hot Rod feature “Pro-Creation,” the idea for the car came during a bench-racing session between Gibbons and automotive designer Larry Erickson. Gibbons was looking for “a ‘certain type of car,’ one that would reflect the ’50s but still contain the technologies of the late ’80s—a four wheel reflection of the group’s music that is now using ’50s technologies (pre-transistor electronics) combined with current recording techniques to produce a richer sound.” Ultimately, Baskerville wrote, “Gibbons and Erickson settled on one of Cadillac’s more obscure postwar offerings, a ’48 Series-62 Sedanette that was the first to embody Caddy’s distinctive tailfins.”
A likely candidate was found in Arizona and transported to the shop run by Boyd Coddington, who was hitting his creative stride in the late ’80s as a builder of high-end, high-concept, smoothly styled hot rods. Erickson drafted several renderings to show to Gibbons, but they initially weren’t “wild enough,” Baskerville recounted. When Coddington assured Erickson that he could build whatever the designer could envision, Erickson went, literally, back to the drawing board and crafted “an overpowering piece of automotive sculpture,” Baskerville said.
The drawings were sized up to full scale, attached to the walls at Coddington’s shop, and work on the Cadillac began. Baskerville shot this photo of the Sedanette prior to surgery, with an Erickson drawing behind it to illustrate just how different the finished product would be.
As remarkable as the transformation itself is the fact that Coddington and his crew completed CadZZilla in just six months. It appeared on the cover of Hot Rod’s July 1989 issue under the Dare to be Different banner. Inside was Baskerville’s feature, complete with an eight-page fold-out poster of the car, Gibbons and his band mates. The whole package—the car, the theme, the poster, the band—proved so compelling that the July
1989 issue became, and remains, the best-selling issue of Hot Rod, with some 1.16 million copies sold.