1955 Chevrolet Limousine On loan from Paul Hoffman, Latham, NY
Residents of Saratoga Springs are used to seeing a wide variety of heavy-duty vehicles converted to limousines cruising around their city. But even there, Paul Hoffman’s vintage Chevrolet stands out, with most observers wondering just where it came from.
“My unique automobile was remade about eight years ago after I saw a similar car while on active duty with the New York Air National Guard,” explains Hoffman. “I’ve used the car for my children’s weddings and rent it out for others. I'm often asked if it is original, but my ‘idea’ to build the limo wasn’t exactly original. While building this car, I heard of similar ones in San Diego, Michigan, New Hampshire and even Catskill.
“The history of ‘stretch’ vehicles mostly comes from an Ohio company, Stageway, which called them airport transporters. But mine is a little more ornate, so I call it a limousine.”
Hoffman’s saga began when he heard of a stretched ’55 Chevy while on National Guard duty in Christchurch, New Zealand. It took weeks to meet the owner, but Paul finally saw the car. “I took several pictures and briefly talked to the owner. He’d built his car out of remnants of a dragster and said it took him 18 weeks, which seemed like a reasonable time, so when we got back home another Guardsman and I decided to become partners in a Limo business and began looking at vintage Chevrolets. Somewhere along the way he dropped out due to marital problems, but I finally found an unfinished ’55 Chevy four-door ‘project car’ in Texas on eBay.”
Some spirited bidding eventually led to a sale, with the owner delivering the car to Latham on his way to buying a Nomad in Pennsylvania. The car had disc brakes, a fresh engine, a rebuilt transmission, power steering and an air conditioning unit ready for installation. The frame had been bead blasted and coated and the body blasted and painted.
“I quickly starting taking the car apart, thinking I was going to do it in eighteen weeks,” recalls Hoffman. “I was in a barn with no heat in Colonie, but managed to get the frame pulled out. I quickly realized I didn’t have a level surface to extend the frame, so I took it to a welding shop. Within a week, they’d cut and welded the frame perfectly with a 48” stretch, which was the width of a two-door’s door. They also added a split driveshaft with carrier from a Chevy Suburban.”
From there, Hoffman cut the body in half and began the arduous process of putting it back together with a 48” insert.
“Floors were not a problem, any monkey can do those,” he declares. “The sides were just a door that my friend donated from his parts car with new door skins. But now I had a big hole in the roof that I had to fill. Luckily, my son was living in the Syracuse area at the time and had met a guy named Gary Buttons who sold Chevy parts. I purchased a roof from Gary and he delivered it to the barn.
“I had purchased some Air Bag shocks and was having difficulty installing the cross bar and went back to my friendly frame guy. When I explained I was also having difficulty with the roof, he introduced me to his neighbor, who was trying to establish a body shop business. He needed to grow his reputation and quoted me $8,000 for body work and paint. In one month the bodywork was complete and the car was painted.”
Recalling that the New Zealand car that inspired him had a split front seat from a two-door to allow storage between it and the middle seat, Paul started another quest.
“While purchasing my air shocks from a local vender, I saw one in his office. Normally, just the frames for these seats go for $1000, so a complete seat would be even more expensive. He quoted a price of $300, so I added that to the price of the shocks and no longer had to drive the car on a milk crate.”
Hoffman then turned his attention to the wiring and electric windows, using his electronics degree to the fullest, before moving on to the upholstery and a new headliner. After much searching, he finally found someone in his car club willing to tackle the interior. Once he’d worked his magic, the car was finally ready for passengers.
“I thought everyone in the world would be interested in it but it turned out to be only car people,” Hoffman says wistfully. “But with those guys, everyone has a ’55 Chevy story. They love it!
“When I started driving it, I realized that everyone back in 1955 drove more slowly. The Thruway was just opening and 55 mph was the norm everywhere else. I’ve improved the ride with new shocks, extra seat padding and a new AC unit for the back, because the front unit just wasn’t enough, and now it’s great.
“I call it a ‘second take car’ and just love watching people look back after what they’ve just seen sinks in.”