A Cruiser’s Paradise

A sagging carriage house is transformed into an automotive showpiece.
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Syd Ross (above) with his restored carriage house and his 1962 Cadillac Eldorado convertible. Photograph by David Lewinski

As Syd Ross began the restoration of his two-story, white clapboard carriage house, built in 1917, the removal of a staircase and the replacement of the concrete floor seriously diminished the structural integrity of the building and the foundation had to be reworked.

“Sometime in the 1940s the garage was renovated and a stairway was added, along with a double-sized garage door,” says Ross, co-owner of Great Lakes Wine & Spirits in Highland Park. “It was like a house of cards at first, but it was one of those projects — no matter the unknowns — that you had to carry through. It was about perseverance.”

The carriage house and a nearby four-bedroom home are part of a three-acre estate in Bloomfield Township that, in the middle of the last century, was owned by philanthropists Robert and Rose Skillman. Once occupying more than 40 acres, the estate was subdivided several years ago and developed into private residences.

Following eight months of work, the restored carriage house offers a mix of modern and historic touches, such as a second-floor chauffer’s apartment that was renovated into a guest suite. Bead board has been stained to look like mahogany, and a radiant steam heating system was deconstructed, sanded, painted flat black, and reassembled.

A storage room, meanwhile, was converted into a tool room and a potting room (for Ross’ wife, Elizabeth). “When we started poking through the ceiling, we saw a second-floor window, so we took (the ceiling) out to open the rooms up,” he says.

Other features include a “man cave” carved from a former laundry room. Complete with a leather sofa and armchairs, stained wood, a flat-panel TV, and a humidor, the space also offers a hidden refrigerator and ice machine. “We didn’t want it to look like a kitchen, so I found a carriage door (that rides on an elevated rail) to cover up some of the kitchen features,” says Michael J. Yager, the project designer at C-Arc Design Group in Macomb who oversaw the complete renovation.

To fill out the three-bay garage, Yager secured two historic gas pumps — one says “Sinclair Dino Gasoline” and has a picture of a green dinosaur (the company’s mascot) — as well as several neon automotive signs. For his part, Ross purchased several classic cars to complete the vision for the project: a 1917 Ford Model T, a 1940 Ford Coupe, and a 1962 Cadillac Eldorado convertible.

“The guy who I bought the Cadillac from wouldn’t sell it to me unless he saw where I was going to store it,” Ross says. “Once I got his permission, I prayed it would fit. The car is 19 feet, six inches long, and luckily we had six inches to spare — three inches in the front, and three inches in the rear.”

Ross started acquiring cars a dozen years ago. His collection includes a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 LS5 convertible and a 2009 Chevrolet ZR-1 (VIN 11). “The Model T is pretty slow; I think a golf cart could beat it,” Ross says. “We put a 302 Cobra Jet engine in the Ford Coupe, so you could take it to California and back, no problem. It even has air conditioning and a stereo radio, so it’s my main cruising car.” db

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