This '63 Oldsmobile made its public debut at the Grand National Roadster Show in 2007. All weekend long, the area around it was clogged with spectators eager to see the amazingly finished Olds-not to mention a handful of not-so-happy show-car exhibitors, annoyed that the crowd was rushing past their high-buck rides for a closer look at the owner-built custom with the crazy paint. Twenty feet away, Donnie Baird was watching the whole thing from the vendor booth promoting his paint shop, Imperial Customs.
As you might remember from painting stories in R&C in recent years, Donnie has the taste and talent for the kind of elaborate paint techniques you don't see much anymore outside of the lowrider world, but that were emerging on customs 40 years ago. Some of the guys who had cruised Bellflower, Downey, and other L.A.-area spots in those days have told him a custom like his would've drawn a crowd under the neon lights at the legendary Johnie's Broiler on Firestone Boulevard. In fact, it probably would have been a "front-row car," indicating the prime parking lot spots reserved for the best local customs.
Donnie started out with a nice, straight, totally stock car, not unlike '60s customizers, except he found his on eBay. He originally intended to flip the car for a quick profit, but his mind changed even quicker.
"The longer I had it, the more I thought it would make a great custom," Donnie said. "It was originally a light-gold metallic color with black interior. I shot a silver 'flake top on it and threw on a set of Astro Supreme wheels with pinner whites. As soon as I lowered it and changed the wheels, I knew I was onto something. Even the friends who 'couldn't see custom material in it' when I had offered it to them originally now wanted it. But, it was too late. I had a plan."
The plan was to build a front-row custom in tribute to the customizers who introduced the style. "That was the true era of class, elegance, and flash all at the same time. A lot of the late-'50s customs had departed from taste," he said. "Changes were made just for the sake of making changes in order to win show points. The customs that followed were extremely impressive and beautiful, but didn't have a lot of body modifications-the effect was accomplished with paint and wheels."
The hardest part of the job was picking the right color. Donnie changed his mind almost every day, finally settling on a custom shade of House of Kolor Lavender Pearl and a custom mix of lilac, seamlessly blended in the style of Gene Winfield. He added pearl-white highlights along the peaks, fins, and other major body lines, and faded the lower portions with a darker, bluish-purple shade to provide shadow. The lower, darker fade makes the rockers visually blend with the pavement, so the long, low Olds looks even longer and lower. Had the car been painted by an amateur, the technique would be as obvious as a rash. It involves some serious skill to make the effect look so natural that it's almost imperceptible.
It's a different story altogether on the top, where Donnie added some flash with panels of lace painting shot in two shades of purple laid over silver metalflake, with charcoal fade bordering the panels. He finished the C-pillars with purple sunrays, which required masking, spraying, and pulling the tape for each separate panel, creating a fan effect when he was done. A final cloud of ice pearl brings the paintjob to life.
With lots of help from Scotty Goddard, Donnie got the Olds built in 10 months. He finished it at 5 a.m. on setup day of the Grand National Roadster Show and had it parked across from his booth-ready to cause a commotion-hours later. For the rest of the weekend, he had a front-row seat as people squeezed around the impressive Olds to snap pictures and grab a look at a real front-row custom.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
1963 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88
Donnie's Dynamic 88 rides on a mostly stock chassis, from the factory Pivot-Poise front suspension to the four-link rear. The springs and shocks have been replaced, using Doetsch Tech shocks, and Firestone airbags set up by Rick Bentley.
It was a running car when he bought it, but Donnie transplanted a '77 four-bolt main Chevy 350 into the engine compartment in place of the tired Rocket. The Holley 650 four-barrel was topped with a retro chrome air cleaner that suits the theme of the custom. The same goes for the Bellflower tips at the end of the exhaust, with 12-inch glasspacks announcing the custom's coming. With the 700-R4 trans installed, Cannon Engineering (North Hollywood, California) shortened the Olds driveshaft running to the stock rearend.
Wheels & Tires
After the paint, the wheels were the most important part of a late-'60s custom. A front-row car most likely would've had wires, which were typically more expensive, and prestigious, than Cragar SS wheels or Astro Supremes. These vintage 30-spoke Cragar Star Wires are out of production, but Donnie searched eBay and finally found a clean set of 14x7s with 3 inches of backspacing. He matched them with P195/75R14 pinner whitewalls from Kumho Tires.
Body & Paint
While other enthusiasts were moving toward ponycars and musclecars, the '60s custom guys were going bigger, wider, longer, and lower. The Olds Dynamic 88 two-door hardtop is a body style right out of that tradition, and most of the bodywork was done by Donnie at his shop, Imperial Customs, in Pacoima, California. "The key to success is letting the car dictate the modifications," he believes. In this case, the car was dictating low-key sleek, and the owner obeyed with shaved doors and quarters, nosed hood, decked trunk lid, and front fenders molded into one piece. The headlights were recessed behind the custom tube grille created by Jay at BYC Choppers in Pacoima and Jimmy White at Circle City Hot Rods in Orange. The side mirror is from a '60s Thunderbird. The paint, described in the main story, is a combination of pearls and 'flakes, shot by the owner in styles popularized in the 1960s.
Donnie wanted to have the black upholstery redone at a pro interior shop, but he blew his budget before he got that far and ended up doing it himself-and it's not a bad job, either. He kept things stock and understated, so it didn't pull attention away from the elaborate paint on the outside. The factory bench was covered with white pleated vinyl, along with the door panels and steel dash. The carpet was kept black to let the vinyl stand out and to match the style of the era. Finally, a few Auto Meter gauges were added below the dash.