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Digital Subscriptions >  Blog > Labour of Love: 1957 Oldsmobile 88

Labour of Love: 1957 Oldsmobile 88
Classic American Magazine

Labour of Love: 1957 Oldsmobile 88

Posted March 19, 2019   |   103 views   |   Aviation & Transport   |   Comments (0) Looking at Paul Wells’ 1957 Oldsmobile 88 convertible today, it’s hard to believe he bought the car as a rusted-out wreck.

There’s no denying that Paul Wells is an Oldsmobile enthusiast. It takes certain dedication to own four of them! Although, if anything could have put him off, it would have been his six-year nut and bolt, frame-off restoration on this 1957 Oldsmobile 88 convertible. Paul first dipped his toe into the waters of American car ownership with a Chrysler Cordoba. 

“I don’t remember anything about that,” smiles Paul, “I bought it sometime in the Nineties and it must have been cheap…” Otherwise he’s had mainly sports cars; a Healey Sprite, MGC, Austin Healey 3000 and a rare Renault Alpine A110, “until a mate at a local garage had a 1957 Olds Golden 88 four-door sedan for sale on behalf of a customer. He needed to sell in a hurry so I gave him £3000 and my Volvo 240.”

LovePaul found a 1957 Holiday coupe online and had that shipped over; it was featured in our August 2009 issue. “Then I bought a second ’57 Holiday, this one a four-door, with its headlining signed by Bill Haley’s Comets during a UK tour. There was another buyer, Ken, interested and the seller mentioned I had owned Oldsmobiles. Ken ended up buying my original sedan and became a good friend.

“I sold that ‘Comets’ Olds around 2012 to fund restoring this convertible – it went up north somewhere, then turned up again at a cruise 10 miles from where I live! Then I saw a 1957 Olds wagon I couldn’t resist.” Paul wasn’t finished yet. “I saw a fire-damaged 1958 Oldsmobile 98 coupe on eBay in 2014 and shipped it over. I’m currently restoring that and then the wagon.” If you’ve managed to keep up, you’ll realise Paul currently has three ’57s. The convertible you see here was bought sight unseen from eBay. “A mate in California offered to collect it – which was about a thousand-mile drive. It turned out to be an absolute basket case. He explained I’d need a parts car if it was ever going back on the road. So I bought a ’57 two-door hardtop - back then the pound to dollar exchange rate was really good.” The cars went to a California bodyshop to get made into one good one, but progress ground to a halt.

“I was getting worried since no one could tell me what was happening,” remembers Paul. “Over three years passed so I decided to get the convertible shipped to the UK.” In 2010 Paul and mate Steve collected it from Chatham Docks. “We were walking into the warehouse when Steve said, ‘how bad can it be…?’ Then we saw the car. Steve just walked away. I looked at the state of my Oldsmobile and wondered if I could push it off the dock into the water and walk away too…”

Longer, lower, wider

Paul’s convertible came with no previous history. We know from the VIN that it was built at the Lansing, Michigan plant and after that was obviously parked somewhere very wet for many years. Introduced November 9, 1956, the 1957 Oldsmobiles got a complete redesign, yet still strongly resembled the 1956 cars; this was deliberate since previous Olds had been great sellers in the mid-price market, meaning General Motors saw little need to alter a successful recipe. Yet, they were billed as “the most changed Oldsmobiles in 20 years”. 

Wheelbases remained the same at 122-inches for the 88 and Super 88, 126 for the 98-series, but those cleanly-styled bodies were longer, wider and lower - the latter helped by switching from 15 to 14-inch wheels. Underneath, was a new cow-belly frame and Olds’ first ball-joint suspension. The extra weight of 300lb which the ’57s now had, was hauled up by a 277bhp, 371cu in Rocket V8. Internal framework was shared with Buick and begat Oldsmobile’s first wagons since 1950. Badged Fiesta, they were all four-doors and even available as a stylish pillar-less model.

Sedans, coupes and, for the first time on an 88, convertibles, were available in base 88, mid-range Super 88 - both known as Golden Rocket – or, top model, Starfire 98s. It wasn’t Olds’ best year for production; 384,390 cars built was more than 25% lower than 1956, but enough to retain Olds’ fifth place overall; a 6.2% market share. For the first time ever, the cheaper 88 outsold the Super, and by better than 40,000 cars.

It wasn’t all bad news; a rare J-2 triple carburettor performance package could be optioned for any model. For just $83 it slashed the 0-60mph time to nine seconds, Lee Petty took one to more than 140mph at Daytona. Paul’s car is one of 6423 convertible 88s that sold for $2895 in 1957, but he’s spent a bit more than that to get the car looking like it does today…

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Classic American is the biggest American car and lifestyle magazine in the UK featuring Classic American cars from the Twenties to the Seventies, as well as being the number one place for buying and selling cars, trucks and parts.

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