Very few of us are lucky enough to still own our first car, or one that we have fond memories of from our youth. We're car guys and gals (why would you be reading Rod & Custom if you weren't?!) and that means we probably buy and sell more cars than most people, as there's always something else we want to own. While this provides us with countless "the one that got away" stories and a good many other tales to tell of the great cars we had and times we had with them, it can often lead us to wishing we still had one or two of them now.
Walter "Quince" Arnold knows this feeling all too well. To his mind, the best car he ever owned was a '57 Olds back in the year it was sold new. "It cost $4,500, and gas was 20 cents a gallon," he remembers. Back in the late '70s he tried hard to find his old '57, finally confirming it had been sold for scrap. In 1979, he found this Rocket 88 two-door hardtop parked on the side of the road in Lexington, Kentucky, with a "for sale" sign in the window, and he realized this was his chance at owning, not his old car, but one very similar. "It had 55,000 miles on it, and cost $795. I drove it the 36 miles home."
The following year he undertook a partial restoration and continued enjoying the Olds for the next 26 years. In 2006, he decided the Olds deserved a frame-off restoration. "The project started in August and was finished by November of the same year," he says. "The body was perfect with no rust or dents, though the chrome was pitted." It helped that he selected a group of professionals who knew what they were doing, and admits finding Kirby Stafford was a boon, as it was he who headed up the project, oversaw the daily progress, and scheduled the ordering of parts so as not to have any downtime. "The project took 17 weeks, with two men working 40-hour weeks most of the time; the car was in the upholstery shop for four of those weeks."
The only thing that could have caused a hiccup in the progress was sourcing a replacement centersection of the three-piece rear window. According to Walter, there are three or four versions for the '57 Olds, and lengthy investigations led him to John Kinsey, an advisor for the Oldsmobile Club of America's journal. Kinsey put him in contact with a collector in Tennessee who had what he was looking for, but insisted Walter come collect it rather than risk shipping. "So I had a seven-hour roundtrip to pick up the glass," he says.
Meanwhile, Stafford and Scotty Shelton handled the body and paintwork, panel alignment, installing the chrome trim, A/C system, and wiring. Stuart Cocanoughel handled all the fabrication and running gear modifications at his shop in Danville, Kentucky, before Billy Scott Jr. took care of the upholstery at Scott's Rod Shop in Louisville, Kentucky. Walter greatly enjoyed watching his Olds transform from a drab, white enamel painted car into the outstanding bright red version you see here. In fact, he enjoyed it so much he's about to do it all again, as not 48 hours after we shot the Olds at the Goodguys show in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Walter spied a same-year Super 88 two-door hardtop while driving home. He now owns the Super 88, and will be using the same team to tackle that project as he did with this one. Hey, why mess with a good thing?
Rod & Custom Feature Car
Walter "Quince" Arnold
1957 Oldsmobile Rocket 88
Though the hardtop body was removed from the frame, it's still the original GM chassis and suspension, albeit rebuilt and lowered 3 inches. The original steering box was rebuilt, a plastic fuel tank resides under the trunk floor where the stock one once lived, and there are new motor and trans mounts to accept the updated running gear. Other than that, the chassis received more of a restoration than modification job.
A '95 Chevy short-block forms the basis of the 355ci motor now under the Olds' hood. Parker Speed Shop in La Grange, KY, handled the machining, balancing, and assembly. The motor is now enhanced by a Crane Energizer cam, Edelbrock Performer intake and carburetor, and Alan Grove accessory brackets. Patriot headers take care of spent gases, Billet Specialties products dress up the engine, and in a nod to the car's heritage, Olds-style valve covers are used. A rebuilt TH350 bolts to the rear of the small-block, connected to the Olds column shifter, while the stock two-piece driveshaft was retained.
Wheels & Tires
American Classic 205/75R14 radials with 2 3/8-inch whitewalls are mounted on the original steel wheels, providing a slightly more sure-footed driving experience than Walter's first bias-ply shod Olds.
Body & Paint
While the body has been nosed and decked, and factory fender skirts fitted, the remainder of the exterior is as it left the factory. It does, however, now have much-improved panel gaps and perfectly fitting chrome trim. The firewall was smoothed before being painted by Scotty at Kirby's Rod Shop in Danville, KY. John Wright's Custom Chrome Plating in Grafton, OH, tackled the flawless chrome on the original bumpers, all of which shows what little needs to be done to these cars to produce a stunning mild custom.
With all the stock items on this Olds, it's somewhat of a surprise to find an ididit column topped by a Grant metal flake three-spoke wheel. White-faced Dolphin gauges fill the dash pod, while the stock seats and door panels are trimmed in red and white leather, matched with red carpet, and the same materials extend into the trunk area. Red seatbelts are used front and rear, something that wouldn't have been considered back in 1957.