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.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
Dick & Cindy Long
'50 Oldsmobile Futuramic 88 Deluxe Club Coupe
Consistent with the whole style of the car, the chassis starts with a good old '50 Oldsmobile frame, kicked up and in at the rear, and upgraded with high-end suspension parts. The 'rails were narrowed in the rear, where Barry and Dick at Dick's Rod Shop added 32-inch ladder bars, a Panhard bar, and quadruple VariShock QuickSet coilover air shocks-fore and aft of the Chris Alston Chassisworks FAB9 9-inch rear. The rear brakes are 12-inch Wilwood discs, with 11-inch Chevy discs in front; the master cylinder is from Wilwood with a Hydroboost assist. The front end is a Fat Man Mustang II set-up combined with Heidts two-inch dropped axles and coil-over springs, and an anti-roll bar. An ididit steering column runs into a power rack and pinion system.
Instead of the original 2-barrel Rocket 88 303, Dick's '50 is now powered by a aluminum-head, 532-horse, fuel-injected 502, assembled by Hoffman Enterprises in Richmond California, and disguised by a pair of valve covers airbrushed by Eric Sedletzky. The electronic fuel injection is from Hilborn; Cotati Speed Shop modified the stacks and created domed screens to provide filtration. The ignition is from MSD, and the alternator from Street & Performance.
Three-inch collectors funnel the Sanderson headers into 2 1/2-inch pipes built at Cotati Speed Shop, with Flowmaster 70 Series mufflers. A Be Cool aluminum radiator, with dual Spal electric fans, and an Edelbrock reverse rotation water pump keep the engine cool. Hughes Performance in Phoenix built the 4L80E electronic automatic transmission, operated by a Lokar shifter. An Inland Empire driveshaft spins the Auburn Gear limited slip 3.00:1 gears in the Alston 9-inch rearend.
Wheels & Tires
Wide-whites and sombrero caps on the forefather of the musclecar?! No way. Performance radials and 10-inch chrome reverse rims fit the bill a whole lot better. Pete Paulsen at Paulsen Motorsports in French Camp, California, builds wheels for a lot of top-level customs. The rears measure 15x10 with 5 inches of backspacing, wrapped up in 275/60R15 BFGoodrich Radial T/A meat. The front wheels are 15x7 with 4 1/2 inches of backspacing, rolling on 215/70R15 BFGs.
Body & Paint
We would swear that the top had been chopped a tastefully minimal amount, the hood slightly nosed, and the sides sectioned at least a little bit, but everyone involved told us no, the body lines are stock. Even so, Zane and the Cotati crew put an amazing amount of metalwork into the Olds-"trying to make it look like we were never there," as Zane put it.
In front, new inner fenderwells were scratchbuilt and a smooth firewall created to replace the factory sheetmetal. The hood was beefed up with an inner superstructure. Lower door skins and rockers were rebuilt, and numerous cases of rust, holes, and what Zane calls "Frankenstein welds" had to be repaired. Will Raff handled the glass, and Sherm's Custom Plating took care of the chrome. Two non-original exterior accessories are the Yankee "rocket" side mirror and the '49 front gravel shields.
The entire right rear quarter panel was removed and replaced. The rear wheelwells were widened to accommodate those fat tires, and radius reworked to eliminate the factory sheetmetal step originally added to fit fender skirts. Every seam was gapped and every piece of chrome and stainless trim was straightened and massaged to fit "ten times better than factory," according to Zane. Even the rear quarters were imperceptibly stretched to improve the posture of the taillight spears. The finish had to be flawless before Cotati Speed could shoot the monochrome black paint, using Sikkens waterborne paint to finish the Olds.
Dick insisted on maintaining the original look of the dash, although a few modifications are evident here too, if you look close enough. The knobs have been modified and retrofitted to operate the 2-speed electric windshield wipers and Vintage Air heater/air conditioning. A secondary glovebox was installed in the center of the dash. A Moon tach replaces the chronometer in the clock housing and the radio face was reworked into an LED gearshift indicator. The rest of the gauges maintain their original location and appearance, but have been converted from 6-volt mechanical into state-of-the-art electronic by Classic Instruments. Quality Restorations reduced the diameter of the original steering wheel by two inches for proportion and compatibility with the power rack; the tilt column is from ididit. Howdy Ledbetter at Howdy's in Fremont, California, came onboard to cover the stock Olds benches and door panels in black and red leather, keeping the factory design in the process. Other modern amenities include cruise control and a six-speaker sound system with Infinity speakers and an Alpine head unit.