Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Ride in a Time Machine: the 54 Oldsmobile Super 88

by Stogie Jr.

I arrived at Hinton’s Chevrolet in Lynden, WA this morning about 11 am. I could see the 54 Oldsmobile Super 88 sitting under the awning beside the entrance to the repair shop. She was dusty and covered in bugs from the truck ride from California. Her rich light yellow and dark metallic green could still be seen despite the road dust and dead bugs.  Her chrome still lit up when the sun shone on her.  I parked our shop truck, “Shorty” behind the building and walked up to the repair shop.  I spoke with a nice young lady and she sent me to the owner’s office to pick up the keys to the 54. I then picked up a couple of nuts and bolts from the repair shop and put the dealer plate on the rear bumper. I jumped in and started her up.

I walked around the car while it warmed, curious to look at all the damage. I must tell you first that this was not some half baked, “My kid and I restored it in the garage!" type of car. This is a numbers matching, Super Rocket 88 V8 Holiday Special Coupe, and was a frame off restoration by professionals. EVERY thing on this car is new or has been totally refurbished. I mean it even has the original glass bowl fuel filter on it. This car looks liked it just rolled off the assembly line. Right down to the authentic white wall tires and battery. I must tell you this so that you will understand how devastating the damage is.

The car was originally to be sold at the Russo Steel auction last month in Southern California. The night before the sale, a bad wind storm came through and knocked down the large canvas circus-like tent that all the cars sat under. When the tent went so did all the poles tied to it, and many a hot rod was lost. The 54, as you can see in the picture above, was damaged by such a pole. It looks like it hit and then the pole was dragged by the canvas tent across the top of the roof. There are a few other small dents in the fenders and hood, but nothing as heartbreaking as the roof.

This is not the story I want to tell you, though. I am giving you a little background on this car in order to tell you my encounter with the Scarred Beauty Queen, and how it turned out.

After I let her get nice and warm I pulled her around the corner and pumped in 20 bucks of Premium. Just looking at that car reminded me of the scene in that old Burt Reynolds movie. “Take Ethyl? Sure! What time does she get off work?” What a beauty queen this car is! That creamy yellow and dark green, big whitewalls and the rear tire skirts……….boys this car is PURE Class!!!

I got her back on the road and she stumbled a bit. Her tranny stuck some and she felt plain tired. I knew it was the crappy gas left in the line and that premium would works its way up to the engine in no time. It took me a good 10 minutes of the whole me-getting-to-know-her and her-getting-to-know-me thing, but getting used to a car like that is very easy to do. I had a few miles left on a country road before I hit the freeway, so I rolled down my window and turned the radio on. I tuned it to the local classic rock station and just cruised.

The sun was shining and staring at the chrome dash was just hard to do. The speedometer and all the gauges were original and totally refurbished. The black backgrounds in the gauges were perfect. The glass showed no signs of tint or age. The orange needles were straight and they moved without hesitation. The numbers and indicators were all perfect bone white. It was like driving a part of history, a self contained time machine.

I thought to myself, “I could die today in this car and it would be OK!” It would be better then dying in some bed alone in some hospital. You would be known as the guy that died in a 54 Olds! …Not today!

I pulled her on to the freeway and headed south on I5 to Mt Vernon. Speed Limit was 70 but I kept her at 65 or so at first. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to have any issues. So for the first few miles we just bobbed on down the road. By the time I got to Bellingham, north of Mt Vernon, I could tell the car was back to normal. This old Dog wanted to run.

I thought a lot about the life of this car when I was back on that Country Road. The odometer reads 48,889 miles. Was this car a cream Puff before the resto or was it a pile that was driven years before the resto? That I didn’t know. I did know this. She was like new and she had been that way for many years. She had been returned to all of her glory only to be pinned to some wall like a wild butterfly on display. Her life consisted of sitting under covers in dark garages, or in a trailer from one show to the next, a commodity to be bought and sold, or pranced around a show ring like some overpriced pony. Never again to be what she was assembled for, to be just a car.

As that thought raced in my head I let go of the leash on the 88. She chomped down hard on the bit and dug in her heels. The secondary kicked in and she took a long deep breath.  I moved her into the fast lane and past slower trucks and cars. The old girl was stretching her legs and people moved aside when they saw her coming. She seemed to do all right on the newer highway, but when we would hit a dip her frame would drop down and flex the suspension and she would float. Whenever this happened I would let off the gas and when she bottomed out I would jab her in the ribs and she would stay down low grabbing the asphalt with her rear tires, and the steering wheel would snap straight like a rattlesnake on the strike.  She was a thing of beauty and grace. 4000 pounds of rolling American cold steel, boys…ain’t nothing like it!

I eased her off the freeway in Mount Vernon and drove her to my buddy's shop. I parked her in the wash bay and gunned the engine one more time. She roared right back at me and I swear I could hear her say, “Thank you!” as the engine dropped to idle. I reached up and patted her dash, “My pleasure ol’ Girl, if not again for the rest of your time, at least today you got to be a rocket!”

Photos:  Top - The Super 88
              Bottom - Stogie Jr, author of this article and eldest son of Stogie

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