The goal behind building a custom, some people say, is to attract attention. The history of customs is full of cars that get-or got-a lot of attention with retina-searing paint schemes, impossibly radical chops, insanely slammed stances, and elaborate interiors stuffed with more gauges than the USS Alabama-the kind of razzle-dazzle show-car stuff that stops you in your tracks for a second or two, maybe three.
Then there are customs like this one. "At first glance, one might think that Dick and Cindy Long's 1950 Oldsmobile was just another Olds with shiny black paint," said Barry Gates from Dick's Rod Shop, who played a major role in the creation of this very un-razzle-dazzle custom. "You really had to be there during the build to understand and appreciate the thousands of hours that went into the fabrication, metal, and paint work."
Dick has been interested in cars since he was in the eighth grade. When he was old enough to buy his first car, his first choice was a '50 Oldsmobile. Not hard to understand. The Olds 88, when it appeared in 1949, was a great looking design, made all the more appealing by the Rocket 88 engine-the first modern mass-produced OHV V-8 engine. With that much engine in the intermediate body style, these are considered by many to be the first musclecars. Chevys however, were cheaper, and Dick's first car was a '50 Chevy. In between that Chevy and this Olds came a wife, career, kids, mortgage, and a lot of life. Then, a few years ago, one of Dick's friends located this '50 Olds in Washington state. The owner had collected Oldsmobiles and parts for years so, in addition to the car, he was able to provide quite a few of the NOS '49 and '50 parts Dick needed.
The goal, after all, was to keep the coupe's classic stock appearance while, at the same time, modifying virtually every single component. It's something of an oxymoron-changing everything while making it look like you've changed nothing-and it's the opposite philosophy from the kind of clown-car customizing we were talking about at the beginning of this article. Meeting that goal became a complete and total collaborative effort between Dick's Rod Shop in Napa, California, and Zane Cullen at Cotati Speed Shop in Santa Rosa, California. Zane has built several cars for Dick in the past and applied the extensive sheetmetal modifications, along with paint, to the Olds. "There's not a square inch on the car that wasn't hand molested," Zane promises.
Even though the modifications are inconspicuous, they aren't invisible. Chrome reverse steelies with some substantial tires fill the wheelwells and provide some Sixties flavor to the car, which sits low over the stock frame, modified with up-to-date chassis components. Under the hood, where a 303ci Rocket 88 engine once lived, is a new 502 with electronic Hilborn injection, disguised (not so much) with airbrushed valve covers paying homage to the original mill. On the inside, tuck 'n' roll upholstery keeps the appearance of a period custom without making it a museum piece. On the outside, the stock sheetmetal is unchopped, unsectioned, un-nosed, and undecked, but has nevertheless received a phenomenal amount of work.
The Oldsmobile was ready in time for the Grand National Roadster Show in January-where its deceptive subtlety may have fooled some people, but not many. For every person who walked right by, there were many who recognized the extensive work that makes it look so simple, and who gave the Olds the second, third, and fourth looks it deserves.
Of course, ready for a show and ready for the road are two different things. When we called in May, the Oldsmobile was being road-tested. Hopefully, the next stop for Dick's not-so-simple custom will be the street.