If you're any kind of fan of Gene Winfield and the style of customs he developed-a look that inspired many customizers who followed-you may recognize that style in Robert Bennett's '54 Oldsmobile.
Robert says that he was one of those many customizers influenced by Winfield's smooth and clean body mods. When he began making plans for his own project, he knew he wanted to build "a fun, late-Fifties traditional custom" that would be "fast, loud, and dependable."
Robert is a GM guy, but he didn't want anything earlier than 1954 because he liked the longer-looking lines of the later models. And he didn't want a '55-57 Chevy because he'd seen plenty already. The search didn't take long or lead too far. A friend's dad had purchased this completely stock, but really rough, '54 Oldsmobile Holiday 88 hardtop, which had previously been sitting forgotten for decades. After extracting the engine, transmission, rearend, and steeringwheel, the man had no further need for the car-but Robert did.
Although the complete build took 10 years, Robert wasted no time getting started on the Olds, driving and showing it in the meantime. He said the car evolved though three phases during that decade. The first stage saw the top removed as the hardtop made its transformation toward becoming a roadster, some trim stripped, and the headlights frenched. During the second stage, the cowl area was smoothed and filled, the basecoat was sprayed, and the car picked up a few dings and even some bullet holes. It went back into the shop for the third stage, where the interior was finished and fresh paint and clear were added.
During those years, Robert was constantly on the lookout for the pieces he needed to build the car. He found them the hard way, spending years hitting swap meets from San Diego to Sacramento. It wasn't always quick or convenient (the steering wheel and the horn ring were two years apart), but it fits his traditional philosophy: "If all you do is open a catalog, you're not really customizing."
He also got a lot of items, and a lot of information, from Fusick Automotive Products in East Windsor, Connecticut, which specializes in OEM parts for muscle car-era and earlier Oldsmobiles. And he got encouragement from his fellow members of the Lifters car club as well as the Illegales car club.
When he was ready to recover the interior, Robert insisted on "real" tuck 'n' roll-the kind you could only get in Tijuana back in the day. But a trip south of the border revealed that the old shops were gone; however, he was able to locate a retired Mexican upholsterer in his own area who was willing to do the job. To do it any other way just wouldn't have been right. That uncompromising approach was applied to every corner of the Oldsmobile. "If I couldn't get it done, or they didn't do it, I found a guy who could do it," Robert said.
Probably the most amazing part of this custom is the part that isn't there. It took some serious ambition to want to turn a Holiday 88 hardtop into a genuine roadster, and some serious skills to pull it off this well. Robert performed the preliminary surgery on the top, and professional builder Jeff Dodge did the windshield chop and handled the sheetmetal work to complete the transition.
Since it's been done, Robert has continued to drive the Olds as much as he did when it was in progress-and participates in a lot of car shows, providing spectators with a look at a remarkable custom that carries on the traditional tradition.