- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2005

Long before Rich Domros became an inspector for the U.S. Postal Service, he had a mind of his own.

After high school graduation in Buffalo, N.Y., he joined the Marines, and in 1981 was a private first class in Cherry Point, N.C. That’s when he decided that he needed a car. He didn’t want, nor could he afford, a new automobile. He didn’t even want a typical used car.

His sights were set on a car from the 1950s. His requirements were that it be large and have lots of chrome and cost less than $2,000, his life’s savings at the time. Not far from his base was a car that arrested his attention, a yellow four-door 1950 Oldsmobile Futuramic 88 sedan deluxe with only a bit of rust on the rocker panels. He reached a deal for the then-31-year-old car with a hair fewer than 100,000 miles on the odometer, and he purchased it at the end of June. He thinks that he is the third owner.

A week later was the long Fourth of July weekend, and Mr. Domros, with all the wisdom of youth, settled in behind the three-spoke steering wheel and drove his untested Oldsmobile home to Buffalo. “It took me 15 hours,” he recalls. “I remember that I was crossing a bridge when the odometer rolled over 100,000 miles.”

On the return trip he was close to home when he spotted an Oldsmobile identical to his at a gas station. He stopped and learned the car wasn’t running but had some parts he thought might come in handy later. The owner wouldn’t sell him any parts but offered the entire car for $200 and agreed to tow it wherever he wanted. Mr. Domros had the relic towed to a junkyard right outside the Marine base where he and some buddies spent the next several weekends stripping the car down to skeletal remains.

In September 1981, he loaded almost a half ton of parts from the parts car into a rental trailer hitched to the bumper of his yellow Oldsmobile, and he once again shuffled off to Buffalo. He was crossing Pennsylvania at night when he ran into a construction zone — literally. His car and trailer were towed to a nearby town where the next day a mechanic told him the Oldsmobile had a bent tie rod. Mr. Domros asked what a tie rod looked like. Then he went back to the rental trailer and started digging through the parts. Yes, he had an undamaged tie rod. The astonished mechanic had never encountered a motorist who carried a trailer full of spare parts.

After being discharged from the Marines in September 1984, Mr. Domros returned to Buffalo, where he got a job and then bought a house. “The house was so I could have a garage to restore the car,” he says.

He learned that his Oldsmobile was one of 100,810 such models manufactured. It weighs 3,520 pounds and had a base price when new of $2,056. Under the hood is a 303.7-cubic-inch V-8 engine that produces 135 horsepower, compliments of a two-barrel side-draft Rochester carburetor drawing air through a silencer and an oil bath deluxe air cleaner.

Mr. Domros thinks that the more skills a person has, the better. While stationed in the South as a Marine, he learned line dancing. When he returned to Buffalo, he began teaching line dancing. One his students, an upholsterer, was so grateful that he told Mr. Domros, “If you ever need anything upholstered, I’ll take care of you.”

The dismantling of the car began in the spring of 1985, and it was then that Mr. Domros discovered it had left the factory as a two-tone blue car. Because Oldsmobile offered canto cream in 1950, Mr. Domros decided to repaint the 16-foot, 10-inch-long car yellow after replacing both rocker panels with rust-free steel.

As the Olds was being reassembled, he contacted the upholsterer, who said he hated to work on cars but would honor his commitment.

By the summer of 1988, the car had been rewired, rechromed, repainted and reuphostered. Mr. Domros got it titled and back on the road in June of that year.

For the next 10 years the car left the garage only on sunny, rain-free summer days. “I drove a winter car,” Mr. Domros says, explaining how his Oldsmobile avoided the rust monster that plagues most Buffalo cars.

The winter car was sold in July 1998 when he moved to Silver Spring. “It was a hot July day,” Mr. Domros recalls, “and I was exhausted when I got here after 400 miles.” He might have been hot, but he never had a problem with his car.

In 2004, the engine started to smoke, so Mr. Domros had it rebuilt. “Now when I punch it, it actually downshifts like its supposed to” with power transferred to the rear tires via the Whirlaway Hydramatic transmission. From the left the shift pattern is neutral-drive-low-reverse. There is no parking gear.

Coil springs at each corner of the car cushion the ride as the 7.60x15-inch tires support the 119.5-inch wheelbase. The 1950 Oldsmobile was one of the fastest cars on the road. “I’ve had it up to 90,” Mr. Domros says, “but four-ply tires weren’t meant to go that fast.”

The restored Oldsmobile’s odometer is just now approaching 109,000 miles. “Is doesn’t have power steering,” Mr. Domros says, “Maybe that’s why they call it a muscle car,” he muses as he wrestles the steering wheel.

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