Mad about the Caddy: Attorney rebuilds 1949 gem to suit modern sensibilities

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Thirty-five years ago, Don Walker’s father purchased a 1957 Chevrolet convertible on a whim. In his early teens and among his most cherished memories, Walker spent many hours working with his dad on the car, including engine rehabilitation and multiple new paint jobs.

“I’ve been purchasing, restoring and otherwise playing with antique vehicles since I was 14,” says Walker, an equity partner and intellectual property law attorney at Harness Dickey & Pierce in Troy. Focused on the mechanical and electro-mechanical industries, Walker has been exposed to the full array of technological innovations in the automotive field.

Walker, who has spent nearly two decades immersed in patent law with HDP, earned his BSME degree with a specialty in machine design from GMI Engineering and Management Institute (now Kettering University) in Flint. While at GMI, he designed and fabricated a functioning continuously variable transmission for a bicycle. 

He then spent more than a decade as a Senior Project Engineer at Rockwell International, designing, analyzing and testing automotive components and systems including brakes, pneumatic systems, wheel ends, trailer axle assemblies and drive axle assemblies. He was awarded four U.S. patents relating to his inventions.

Deciding on a career in law, Walker received his J.D., cum laude, from Wayne State University Law School before joining Harness Dickey. He specializes in intellectual property portfolio management, client counseling and opinion preparation, as well as the preparation and prosecution of patents.

Given his passion for everything about cars, it’s no surprise that many of his clients concentrate in technologies relating to the automotive industry, such as power transfer mechanisms, vehicle emissions control, air intake heaters, metallurgy, internal combustion engines, control systems for mechanical and electro-mechanical systems, hybrid vehicles, sheet metal stamping, casting, forging, fluid pumping technology, brakes, winches, and suspensions.

It’s the perfect niche for a car buff like Walker, who over the years has owned several antique vehicles and restored them to their original specifications. He has owned, worked on and enjoyed a multitude of Corvettes, including the ’54, ’59, ’60, ’62, ’63, ’64, ’66, ’69, ’70 and ’72 models. 

In addition, he became interested in the Cadillac brand and has owned a 1955 Eldorado, a 1957 convertible, a 1947 convertible and his current “baby”, a 1949 Cadillac convertible.

“Several Porsche 911s, Tri-Five Chevys, and a GTO were also in the mix in years past,” he says. “Today, I particularly enjoy the styling of ’40s and ’50s vehicles.”
Until recently, Walker was somewhat content operating the old cars with the original technology, until this started causing issues. 

“I not only work on the cars, but also use them. My cars have overheated, stopped running due to vapor lock, and become nearly unusable due to the content of today’s gasoline,” he explains.

“With over 60 years of technology evolving since the manufacture of my 1949 Cadillac, I came to the realization that I didn’t like the poor road handling, smell of gasoline, long stopping distances, unreliability, and lack of air conditioning I’d been tolerating for so long.”

As a result, Walker — who also currently leases a new Cadillac CTS — decided to build a vehicle that looks substantially original, but that handles and performs like new, a decision made easier with the wide variety of OEM crate engines now accessible by private purchase. Walker discovered a brand new supercharged LSA engine was available, an engine found in the new Cadillac CTS V and the Camaro ZL1. 

“The engine I purchased produced 630 hp on the dynamometer,” he notes.

His goal was to maintain the outward appearance of the vehicle in order to honor the majestic and dignified quality of its 1949 vintage. The remaining portions of the vehicle — including the engine, transmission, suspension, brakes, steering, HVAC and other systems — are updated to today’s standards.

After more than three years of effort, the car is finished. Walker has driven it more than 800 miles, as well as cruised in the stop-and-go traffic of Woodward Avenue without issue. 

“I think I successfully blended the old and the new into a novel and non-obvious combination — if you’ll excuse the patent law joke,” he says. “I couldn’t ignore the presently available automotive technology any longer, yet I was unable to let go of the historical beauty and history of such an elegant machine.”

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