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updated: 8/11/2014 6:15 AM

Rebuilt 1970 Cadillac ambulance revives memories

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  • 1970 Cadillac ambulance

      1970 Cadillac ambulance
    Courtesy of Prestige MotorCar Photography

  • Bruce Biancalana, a retired police officer, restored a 1970 Cadillac ambulance that once belonged to the Romeoville Fire Department.

      Bruce Biancalana, a retired police officer, restored a 1970 Cadillac ambulance that once belonged to the Romeoville Fire Department.

  • The ambulance was recovered from a dusty grave after being abandoned by leaders of an American Indian reservation.

      The ambulance was recovered from a dusty grave after being abandoned by leaders of an American Indian reservation.

  • A peek inside the Cadillac, with its sparse equipment and accommodations, reveals how times have changed since 1970.

      A peek inside the Cadillac, with its sparse equipment and accommodations, reveals how times have changed since 1970.

  • Theses Will County Sheriff's Department vehicles were on display at the 15th annual Chicagoland Emergency Vehicle Show.

      Theses Will County Sheriff's Department vehicles were on display at the 15th annual Chicagoland Emergency Vehicle Show.

  • In addition to vintage vehicles, modern machines like a Hummer and Kane County Emergency Department's mobile command center, were on display.

      In addition to vintage vehicles, modern machines like a Hummer and Kane County Emergency Department's mobile command center, were on display.

  • Vintage police cars and fire department vehicles, lovingly restored by auto enthusiasts, were gathered at the annual Chicagoland Emergency Vehicle Show Aug. 2.

      Vintage police cars and fire department vehicles, lovingly restored by auto enthusiasts, were gathered at the annual Chicagoland Emergency Vehicle Show Aug. 2.

 
 

Wailing sirens, flashing lights and cool vintage iron could be seen and heard recently in North Aurora, signaling the return of the annual Chicagoland Emergency Vehicle Show.

This event is now in its 17th year and is the largest of its type in the Midwest. Vintage emergency vehicles came from as far away as Florida, Georgia and Minnesota on Aug. 2 to participate, while area departments displayed their more modern police and fire equipment and tactics.

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One such demonstration involved officers from the Kane County SWAT team and the North Aurora Police Department. As spectators watched from a safe distance, the lawmen simulated a high-risk entry into an office trailer.

Other activities for enthusiasts included a Friday night parade, swap meet and vintage fire truck water pumping display. A Lifestar medevac helicopter was on site for viewing.

Longtime show organizer Dave Weaver is motivated to return year after year because of an inner childhood connection.

"I keep wanting to gather what I would consider the coolest Matchbox collection of all time -- but here at this show, they're 1:1 scale," Weaver said.

One such sweet full-size ride is retired police officer Bruce Biancalana's 1970 Cadillac ambulance. The vehicle was originally ordered new through Midwest Professional Cars of Chicago and put to use by the fire department in Romeoville.

The Cadillac ambulance was retired in 1978 but then went to work at an Oglala American Indian reservation in South Dakota. But when a cylinder head needed replacement on its 472-cubic-inch V-8 engine, the decision was made to put the chiseled Cadillac out to pasture, literally.

It ended up in a dusty gulch where the years of abandonment took its toll.

"All the glass was smashed, the lights had been kicked off and the hood had been jumped on and severely dented," Biancalana said.

The ambulance was headed for the scrap yard when Biancalana made the purchase in 2008. The Caddy returned to the Midwest and was brought back to life through a multiyear restoration. Other than installing a new headliner, the hands-on enthusiast performed all the work himself.

The project was completed in December.

"It's a tight, smooth riding car. It rides just like a Cadillac with loads of power," Biancalana said.

He's put all those horses to good use, motoring to places such as Milwaukee and Minneapolis in the Bolero Red and black behemoth.

"It's more fun driving than a muscle car or sports car," Biancalana said. "Anywhere I go, people are just attracted to it and want to know more."

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