For Dale Warrington and his team, pushing out a dozen perfectly restored classic cars every year from Warrington’s Custom Paint and Body auto restoration shop is just business-as-usual, but now he has a real challenge on his hands that will draw the attention of thousands of music fans: restoring Elvis Presley’s 1957 Cadillac Sedan Deville.
Warrington was a mechanic in the US Navy who went straight into auto repair after completing his tour in 1969. In 1972, he switched his career focus to automotive bodywork and two years later, he decided to strike out on his own, starting a business that took advantage of his acquired knowledge.
“I started doing full-blown frame-off Corvette restorations,” he explains. “I’d strip the car down to the bare chassis and put it back together again.”
In 1990, Warrington and his brother opened a new shop in Charleston, SC.
“We did everything there,” he recalls, “frame-offs, stripping and painting, engine swaps – you name it – we did it.”
But the brothers hadn’t anticipated a complete shutdown of the city’s lifeblood. After the Clinton administration’s 1993 Base Realignment and Closure Commission named the Charleston Naval Shipyard as one of the 33 bases that would be shuttered in 1996, Dale pulled up his roots and moved to Florida.
“We saw the writing on the wall, so we got outta Dodge before the closure decimated the Charleston economy,” Dale explained. “In 1992, I opened a shop in Ft. Pierce and by chance, I received an unexpected boost from a local car collector. I met a guy with eleven classic cars in his barn. He wanted them all restored, so I started doing them one at a time. From that, word-of-mouth kept me busy for years – that, plus taking the restorations to local car shows.”
In the years that followed, Warrington would complete the final bodywork and paint on the George Barris 1955 Chevy Bel Air car dubbed the “Aztec,” currently valued at close to $1 million. He also restored a 1963 Chevrolet Corvette split-window coupe – originally purchased by famed NY mobster, John Gotti.
Over the past few years, Dale’s son, Brian has joined the team while attending some of the best metal shaping trade schools in the US.
“I sent Brian to Connecticut and Massachusetts to learn metal shaping and stamping,” Warrington explains, “Then he went to Green Bay to learn even more. We can now have the knowledge and equipment to create any metal body piece, vent louvers or do custom body repairs. Nobody in Florida offers what we can.”
A Significant Restoration
In 2014, Warrington and crew began cranking out quality restorations and repaints from a new, 10,000 square foot shop and earlier this year, he accepted what could well be his greatest challenge yet: the restoration of Elvis Presley’s 1957 Cadillac Sedan Deville.
This valuable piece of automotive pop culture history is owned by Florida resident, Bill Kinard and is now undergoing a complete, bolt-by-bolt, frame-off restoration at Warrington’s shop.
Kinard and his wife, Linda, inherited the car from the Professional Sports Hall of Fame Museum in Oregon. Former Los Angeles Dodger and museum founder, Bruce Buseman, died in 2004, leaving the Kinards as the museum’s only legal board members.
“I’d never met Bruce Buseman in person,” Kinard admits. “My wife and I talked to him over the phone many times. He asked us to become board members in 2003 and we were honored.”
Jump to 2004, when Buseman passed away, his wife of only a short time, Judith, attempted to remove Bill and Linda Kinard from the museum board and take possession of all the museum’s assets, which included one of Presley’s tour buses.
“After some legal wrangling, the judge ruled that the bus and the car belonged to us,” Kinard explained. “The IRS had paperwork showing the museum’s 501C status for Bruce with Linda and myself listed as the only board members. It was witnessed by Judith Buseman with her own signature, so the judge recognized some deception was underway and handed the properties over to us as legal owners.”
The judgement also included cars that were featured in Hollywood movies like, the “Wayne’s World” AMC Pacer, a police car from “The Blues Brothers’, a “Megaforce” movie dune buggy, as well as other Presley memorabilia. Much of that memorabilia was stolen from the Kinards during the process of moving the items from Oregon to Tupelo, Mississippi.
Presley’s 1957 Sedan Deville is now in safe hands at Warrington’s Fort Pierce restoration shop and is currently being pieced back together after being stripped down to its frame. The car’s body was mounted on a rotisserie so every inch of the car could be inspected, media blasted down to the bare metal, and then repaired as needed.
“Once the car was stripped, we replaced any rusted metal, primed it, and began the rebuilding process,” explains Warrington. “The process is moving along with steady progress with final coats of pink paint to the body and black on the roof.”
Dale Warrington expects to see the car completed by late-January of 2016 and there’s been a discussion about hauling the car 70 miles south to Palm Beach for the annual Barrett-Jackson Auction extravaganza in April.
RacingJunk.com will have the second chapter of his classic Cadillac restoration story for you Cadillac junkies and Elvis fans in late January, so stay tuned!