- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 5, 2010

Going to Hershey, Pa., can be rewarding or dangerous, depending on your point of view.

About six weeks ago, Jeff Surdyk drove to the annual autumnal gathering of antique automobiles with the idea of simply enjoying the various old cars on display. He was also looking for a chrome-laden car from the early 1960s.

He didn’t really expect to find a suitable car but then he turned a corner and spotted the long strip of brushed aluminum on the side of a beautifully restored 17-foot, 8-inch-long 1961 Oldsmobile Starfire convertible. Even though the long, low car was red he knew that he had struck gold.

He rushed over to check out the dual chrome strips extending the length of the engine hood and all the other brightwork such as the chrome highlights in and around the taillights as well as the aluminum inserts embedded in the carpeting.

Oldsmobile manufactured 7,600 of the flashy Starfires in model year 1961, each one with a fire-breathing 394-cubic-inch V-8 engine that produces 330 horsepower. All that power is needed to propel the 4,330-pound convertible. Emblazoned on the air cleaner is a bold label announcing that beneath the carburetor is an “Ultra High Compression” power plant.

A long-time admirer of cars such as the Oldsmobile, Mr. Surdyk was drawn to it and could not pull himself away. Even the unusual three-dimensional wheel covers were mesmerizing. The Oldsmobile was like a magnet he could not resist, nor did he want to.

He purchased the car Oct. 8, 2007. When new the Starfire carried a base price of $4,647.

“It’s loaded,” Mr. Surdyk says with satisfaction. Standard equipment that came with the car includes:

- Console.

- Power seat.

- Tachometer.

- Trunk carpet.

- Power brakes.

- Dual exhausts.

- Power steering.

- Power windows.

- White sidewall tires.

- High torque rear axle.

- Fiber-packed mufflers.

- Hydramatic transmission.

- Foam cushion bucket seats.

- Top-grain leather upholstery.

Mr. Surdyk is particularly entranced by the fender skirts which are molded to blend into the sculpted lines of the rear fenders. He learned that during the restoration process all of the chrome trim was replated, including both bumpers.

As expected, not everything on the car was perfect. Mr. Surdyk had to repair the heater and rebuild the radio.

But other than installing a new brake light switch, a new fuel gauge and changing all of the fluids, the Oldsmobile was ready to roll.

Not much of an excuse is needed on a fair weather day for Mr. Surdyk to take his Starfire out for some exercise. He settles into the driver’s bucket seat behind the deep dish steering wheel and, with the flip of a switch, down goes the white convertible top with it’s clear plastic rear window. The very red car also has a red boot to cover the lowered top, adding to its streamlined appearance.

After adjusting the exterior mirrors, Mr. Surdyk motors out into traffic oblivious to whatever the road surface may be. His Oldsmobile insulates the occupants from the harsh realities of less than perfect road surfaces.

The lengthy 123-inch wheelbase contributes to the comfortable ride.

On the console is a tachometer near the automatic transmission gear lever. The positions of the gear selections are unlike the gear positions on modern cars. “I can’t get used to reverse,” Mr. Surdyk says, “It’s all the way back.”

The highest speed on the speedometer is 120 mph and Mr. Surdyk points out that the speedometer is also color-coded.

As the car accelerates from a stop, the speedometer shows green up to about 40 mph when it becomes orange. When the car traveling at more than 60 mph, the speedometer shows red as a warning. It’s doubtful that any Starfire owner ever heeded the warning.

The cost is immaterial because top-down driving never fails to make Mr. Surdyk happy. “It’s a small price to pay to look ridiculous,” he says with a smile.