Add another award to “America’s All-Time Award Winning Historical Custom Car”. The car is Carl Casper’s 1951 “Empress” and the award was the Detroit Autorama Preservation Award. The Crowned Head of Cool sat pretty at the 2019 Detroit Autorama looking as beautiful as it did in 1960 when it won the first ever Best in Show at the Cobo Center, the award that preceded the Ridler. When the “Empress” won the Best in Show, Carl was hooked. From this early success sprung a string of show cars, race cars, and TV and movie cars that continues to this day.
The “Empress” was Mr. Casper’s “teenage cruiser”. You see, not many people have built a national champion show car in their teens. Then again, Carl Casper wasn’t your average 19-year-old. This 1951 Chevrolet was his first set of wheels. He purchased the Chevy for $300 in 1956 when he was 15. He began making modifications before he had license to drive. While building it, he drove it to school year round in the rather inclement Michigan weather. He use the inevitable fender bender as an opportunity to hone his skills and in developing what would become this radical Custom “The Empress”.
This ride is as unique under the hood as it is on the outside. Lucky for Carl, he was able to procure one of the first dual injection Corvette engines GM put out. To be exact it’s a 1957 “283” Corvette special HP/FI with 6 Stromberg 97 Carbs. A 4 speed Corvette Muncie trans and a ’57 Corvette reared round out the drivetrain.
Mr. Casper expertly modified a 1951 2 door sedan into a hardtop. He then chopped that top 3 inches, custom fabricated the grille and taillights. The ’58 Lincoln headlights were canted and louvers upon louvers were added to the hood. This ride is as pretty going as it is coming. Carl completely reworked the reared adding sculptural pieces to the trunk and roof.
Taught to sew upholstery when he was just twelve years old, Carl Casper is one of the top custom interior designers in hot rod history and those skills clearly shine in the interior of this classic custom.
The “Empress” is as real deal as you can get, lead sled all the way. Every radical alteration was done the old school way, body lead and cold rolled steel.
This Custom has stood the test of time and according to Mr. Casper, the “Empress” is the premier car in his extensive collection and one of his favorites. Who doesn’t love their first ride? If only we were all smart enough to hold on to them.
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