Dick Shappy rubs elbows with the likes of Jay Leno, and, like Leno, he rolls up
his sleeves and gets his hands dirty restoring his collection of classic
Most of his fleet of some 40 cars are Cadillacs, but there are notable
exceptions, plus 17 motorcycles, pedal cars, and other memorabilia that is the
result of 35 years in the hobby/business. "I've always had the bug," he
He is known nationally and can be found at the most prestigious auctions and
shows. His extensive collection of Cadillac parts makes him the go-to guy for
many restorers worldwide, and he has the uncanny ability to identify antique
parts at a glance. Museum directors and car club members hold him in high
regard for the sad body shells that he has restored to concours specifications.
"You have to see his collection," they say.
Not bad for a guy from South Providence who started out with a 1931 Model A
Now Shappy, 61, has eight garage bays at his house on Warwick Neck, where much
of the restoration takes place, plus three more cars in a tent and one in a
trailer. A warehouse in Providence houses the rest of his collection.
He treats it as a hobby but runs it like a business, paying taxes on his
profits. "You gotta show uncle," he says. But there are no regular office
hours, and don't call demanding parts. "I tell people, look, I'm doing this to
help you out."
So, why Cadillacs?
"At one time, I was into Jaguars," Shappy explains. "If you've ever been into
them for a while you can understand why you'd get into something else. And I
had 15 fire trucks, and then I got into Cadillacs and found my niche. I've
probably got 30 of them now."
He loves the rare 16-cylinder prewar models, and the fascination is so great
that, one Sunday morning, he drove to southern New Jersey just to hear a 16-
cylinder engine run. "I never thought I'd own so many of them," he says. "I
have three now but I had seven or eight at one time."
The Cadillacs from 1929-1933 are the "height of excellence," Shappy says. "They
were all hand-built, before Fleetwood [the coach maker] was bought out by
Cadillac in 1931." A 1930 V16 all weather Phaeton
(related article) is at the top
of his list right now, but it's in danger of being displaced by the 1934
Duesenberg convertible sedan that is in the final stages of restoration.
"No one else in Rhode Island has a Duesenberg," Shappy says. There are
only 450 or so that survived." He found his Model J, with body by Derham, in
2004, part of an estate sale in Winchester, Mass. He had always aspired to own
a "Doozie," and he bought it on the spot. At about the same time, Leno, who
grew up in Andover, Mass., not far from Winchester, found a rare Model X
Duesenberg near his Southern California home, and he and Shappy were the
subject of a story about fantastic "barn finds" in Old Cars Weekly last
Shappy has been to Leno's car barn - a couple of airport hangars, really - and
swapped stories. Leno is reluctant to reveal how many cars he owns, but Shappy
puts the figure at about 120.
This month, Aug. 5 and 6, Shappy took two cars to the auction at the
prestigious Meadow Brook Concours outside Detroit, a 1916 Crane Simplex torpedo
speedster and a 1930 LaSalle five-passenger sport phaeton that he brought back
from the dead. The LaSalle, an entry-level Cadillac in the '30s, came from a
junkyard in Canada and had been chopped off behind the front seat for a
platform that carried firefighters.
Another chopped-up Cadillac he restored is a 1928 convertible used as a rum-
runner in the Catskills. "They cut out the whole back section and stored the
alcohol in there," he said. "And it had a smokescreen built in. You pull the
handle on the dash and it sends oil into the carburetor and drives smoke out
the back." The restoration put the rumble seat back but the smokescreen device
remains in place. The car also came with bottles of "moonshine" - boxes of it.
But Shappy hasn't dared to try any. "It'll probably kill you," he said.
Shappy calls these projects "resurrections" and tells the story of the ultimate
scrap heap, a pile of Cadillac parts advertised in Hemmings Motor News. "It was
being sold by a bunch of skinheads in Oregon," he said. "It came from the lot
of 20th Century Fox studios, which cut up the cars after they were done with
them. They stacked them up and used it on Let's Make a Deal - behind door
number 3, you've won this pile of junk!" He paid $2,000 for the pile, and came
up with the makings of two cars, and put a 1918 Cadillac Type 57 laundry truck
on one chassis.
"It was on a Model A chassis, and it didn't fit," he says. "Now it's
Besides being able to identify nearly any Cadillac part, Shappy knows exactly
what he has and can put his hands on it. Anthony Broccoli, owner of Brock's
Collision Center in Warwick, recalls the time they were getting a 1915 Cadillac
ready for the Portsmouth Abbey show. "Sean [Brayton, of Red Star Auto] was here
and we had been working for two days. It was 6 o'clock Saturday the night
before the show, and Sean jumps in the car. It starts right up, and then he
goes, awwwww, and holds up his hand with the entire shift lever in it. The
amazing part is, Shappy had the part in stock."
Broccoli and Brayton do restoration work and get together with Shappy on
Wednesday nights, along with Brayton's father, Chris, and Bobby Sullivan, for
work sessions, pizza and beer. Shappy figures he has about 20 projects ongoing,
plus the 1911 Osgood Bradley Trolley car being restored in Providence.
Despite his affection for his collection, Shappy says everything is for sale,
for a price. "I never thought I would sell my 1933 convertible coupe, the only
one made by Fisher Body," he said. "I had just finished a 10-year restoration
when a guy called and offered me $300,000 for it. I said, no way, but he bid it
up to $400,000 and I said sold.
"It's the ultimate Cadillac and I feel it will be a million-dollar car some
day. But it paid off all my bills."
With all these Cadillacs at his disposal, Shappy's daily driver is a Mercedes
SL 65, the V12 hardtop convertible. "You can't compare a modern Cadillac with
one from the '30s," he says. "Today it's a glorified Chevrolet or Pontiac. But
I did have an Allante [Cadillac's Pininfarina-bodied front-drive roadster made
from 1987 to 1993] until they discontinued it." Shappy's Web site lists the
cars in his collection and has reprints of stories about his Duesenberg and a
video of his appearance on Boston TV. Go to classiccars.ws