- The Washington Times - Friday, March 12, 2010

When a fire in the General Motors Hydramatic transmission factory halted production, prospective Oldsmobile buyers were left with two options: They could get a new Oldsmobile equipped with a Dynaflow transmission from sister division Buick or select a tried-and-true three-speed manual transmission with the shift lever on the steering column.

A recently widowed buyer in Chicago opted for the manual transmission.

She was 73 years old when she ordered a black-over-lotus-cream 1953 Oldsmobile Super 88 two-door sedan with a stick shift.

She ignored most of the available extra-cost accessories, preferring instead to order a few “necessities” such as:

c AM radio - $100.82.

c Heater/defroster - 79.58.

c Electric clock -18.29.

c Deluxe steering wheel - 14.09.

c Oil filter - 10.27.

She didn’t even go for backup lights. Blanks fill the spot normally filled by the lights. Her 3,628-pound Oldsmobile had a base price of $2,395. Soon after taking delivery of her car, she reportedly moved to Oklahoma to be near relatives.

The car stayed in the family for 50 years. The second owner inherited the car from her aunt, and the third owner was a daughter of the second owner. The daughter offered the still very nice car, with just 58,000 miles on the odometer, for sale in 2004. Steve White was in the market for such a car.

He remembered what the rear of a 1953 Oldsmobile looked like because one in 1953 had bested him at a stoplight race in Vallejo, Calif. He was a new driver at the time and was driving a hopped-up 1951 Studebaker that he thought performed very well until he tangled with that Oldsmobile. “Some day,” he recalls thinking, “I’m going to get one of those.”

The deal was made in May 2004, and the car was trucked to Mr. White’s Falls Church, Va., home. Mr. White found no surprises with his car when it came to him. “It worked like clockwork,” he recalled. “It started right up and ran fine.”

He reported, “I think it’ll break 100 mph.” He enjoyed driving his car until the end of 2005, when he decided to have his Oldsmobile repainted and iron out a few minor dings that had been acquired in parking lots. After stripping off the trim, he had his car trucked to Middletown, Md. Work on the car began in August 2006.

One thing led to another, and it was determined that an engine overhaul was in order on the 303-cubic-inch V-8 engine so it could continue delivering 165 horsepower.

With the Rocket 88 engine and hood removed, the engine bay was easily cleaned and painted. As long as the engine was out of the car, it was easy to remove the front fenders for a better paint application.

And as long as the fenders were removed, the doors and trunk lid may as well be taken off, too. When the dust had settled, everything inside and outside of the car was removed with the exception of the body from the frame. That probably explains why the resprayed Oldsmobile appeared as if it had just rolled off the assembly line.

Mr. White explained that seven out of the eight windows were replaced, with only the original rear window retained.

The brightwork was sent off for replating or to be polished to a like-new sheen. While the car was in pieces, all of the wiring was replaced.

Mr. White declared the restoration complete on Oct. 18, 2007, with the exception of the interior.

The upholstery was the final piece of the puzzle, and in January 2008, the car was truly done. Mr. White admitted his original plan for the car “got out of hand.”

The newly upholstered interior complemented the two-tone gray-painted symmetrical dashboard with a wide glove compartment located at the bottom center, below the radio controls.

The bright red wheels are highlighted by a new set of small hubcaps Mr. White found at a swap meet in Hershey, Pa. Wrapping those wheels are new white sidewall 7.60x15-inch tubeless tires supporting the 120-inch wheelbase. With a 12-volt electrical system, the Oldsmobile started easily. After the car was reassembled Mr. White drove it sparingly.

A total of 36,824 Oldsmobiles like Mr. White’s were manufactured. The number of survivors is unknown, but it’s doubtful a nicer one exists.

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