Dale McBain represents the eclectic car builder in all of us. When you were a kid, how many Rat Fink-esque cars did you glue together that were a bit off center? Most gearheads started with model cars and eventually moved up to the fullsize toys when plastic became boring. True to form, this isn't Dale's first attempt at something different. Before the Skylark, he wrangled a '46 Chevy pickup, a '37 Plymouth sedan, and even a '50 Pro Street Studebaker. Based on that diverse collection, it would be hard to call Dale anything more specific than "a car guy.
But that doesn't mean there's no style inherent in Dale's little Buick. It's just all hidden under the hood. The recurring theme that seems to accompany any oddball engine swap is the combining of two completely oddball bedfellows. "Well, I had this car, and I had this engine, and I decided they could go together," Dale says.
See, he had discovered a minty little Skylark suffering from a missing engine and trans, which instantly reminded him of his aunt in Stillwater, Minnesota. She had planted two Cadillac Eldorados on her property but had only succeeded in growing spicy weeds. The combination of those two wholly unrelated situations led to Dale's creating his own musclecar version of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup TV commercial. "Hey, you got peanut butter in my chocolate." While the commercial may be cheesy, the sugary result is plenty tasty. Dale's mix of sweet and sour, however, took a little more time and engineering than just a quick dip in chocolate.
The swap seemed easy enough in the beginning. Both car and engine were of GM origin, so how tough could it be? The reality started to sink in with the first test fit. It seems that Cadillac engines are pretty fat, both internally and externally. Dale discovered that the 500-incher is a full 2 inches wider and 2 inches longer than a typical Buick, Olds, or Chevy big-block. Where lesser car crafters would have folded and settled for "just" a 455 Buick motor, Dale decided to press on. Eventually, the swap necessitated a Cadillac-sized crater in the firewall resulting in the stainless steel sheet directly behind the engine. He also had to relocate the heater box. Neither of these moves was all that difficult compared with the engineering exercise it took to relocate the steering column a couple of inches to the left to clear the headers. That required more than a few head-scratching sessions and resulted in a new steering-column support. The move affected driver ergonomics as well, since now the steering column is angled slightly outboard, which Dale admits took some seat time before it became acceptable. Even then, with the engine in place, Dale faced further sheetmetal surgery when he discovered the TH400 would not clear the older A-body's rather tight floorpan.
Once all the squeezing and stuffing work had been completed, the rest of the buildup went much more smoothly. The whole idea of the Cadillark was to simply build something no one else had tried. That concept fits a lot of different definitions, but in this case, it was more an exercise in engineering effort than visual impact. In many ways, that attracts the car crafter more than perhaps the Sunday afternoon car-show wannabes. That's as it should be. The true car crafter appreciates the effort, perhaps even more so when it doesn't look any different to the casual observer. Dale knows-and now, so do you.