- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Starting in the latter half of the 1950s, most American cars starting growing bigger. That phenomenon continued through the 1960s and on into the 1970s. Only the gasoline shortage of 1973 eventually brought downsizing into vogue.

But until then, the-bigger-is-better mantra was worshipped. For 1971 the biggest Oldsmobile was offered as a 98 model that came within 2 inches of stretching 19 feet long between the bumpers. For an additional $275 the buyer could get the upscale 98 LS (for Luxury Sedan). The two-door hardtop version had a base price of $5,065.

A man in Colorado Springs purchased one such car, which was coddled for the next 33 years. Another Colorado Springs man purchased the car and kept it until this year when he decided to post it on EBay. That’s when Dwight Wilson entered the scene. He contacted the owner to verify the condition of the car with 65,700 miles and, once satisfied, he purchased the Oldsmobile sight unseen on Jan. 6.

The owner agreed to deliver the car to Alexandria and — to demonstrate how roadworthy it was — he would drive the 1,700 miles. In January the owner, along with a friend, set off from Colorado Springs. Most of the trip was spent on Interstate 70, a superhighway designed for a supercar like the Oldsmobile. With a 127-inch wheelbase, it was the ideal automobile in which to make such a trip, the 320-horsepower, 455-cubic-inch V-8 engine easily propelling the 4,548-pound vehicle on 15-inch wheels.

At one point along the journey the elder of the two men reportedly told the other, “Martin, I think you hit a bump in the road back there but I didn’t feel it. Can you go back and hit it again?”

Other than driving through 700 miles of rain, the trip was uneventful until Indiana where the starter motor gave out. A new starter was located and installed but did not cure the problem. The old starter was re-installed and with a little tinkering it eventually turned the big V-8 one more time. With the engine running the pair drove the remainder of the trip without shutting off the engine.

The driving duo and the big Olds arrived at Mr. Wilson’s Alexandria home at 2 a.m. The Oldsmobile was put away in the garage and the thoroughly warm engine was finally shut off. The adventure was over.

Research indicates that 14,876 models like Mr. Wilson’s were manufactured. The spacious interior is matched by the equally gargantuan 20.5-cubic-foot trunk. Each owner of the Oldsmobile has kept the car in a garage. The second owner told Mr. Wilson that sun streaming through the garage windows of the first owner fell across the hindquarters of the Oldsmobile and faded the paint. Instead of trying to match the paint, he had the entire car repainted in its original hue.

The straight-as-a-string chrome strips on each side that make the car look longer also protect the sides from door dings. The vinyl top was an optional extra.

Standard features include:

• Power seat.

• Power steering.

• Power windows.

• Interior hood lock.

• Rear fender skirts.

• Remote left mirror.

• Flo-Thru ventilation.

• Chrome wheel discs.

• Self-regulating clock.

• Wood-grain dash trim.

• Deluxe steering wheel.

• Power front disc brakes.

• Concealed radio antenna.

• Front-seat center armrest.

• Recessed windshield wipers.

• Cigar lighters front and rear.

• Chrome-accented foot pedals.

On the 1971 model year of General Motors products the Flo-Thru ventilation system necessitated the louvers that are seen on the trunk lid.

The air cleaner, with a decal proclaiming “Oldsmobile Rocket 455” rests atop a four-barrel Rochester Quadrajet carburetor. “For a car of it’s size and weight it moves out incredibly fast,” Mr. Wilson says.

He reports the luxurious car cruises best around 70 mph and stops as well as it goes, with front disc brakes and drums in the rear.

Oldsmobile stylists in 1971 must have subscribed to the idea of putting fragile lights in the bumpers, hence the rear bumper houses the two backup lights while the front bumper supports the parking lights.

Now that Mr. Wilson has had some time to get acquainted with his behemoth Oldsmobile, he reports that he is impressed by the quality of the car.

“It’s my land yacht,” he says, “and it’s solid as a rock.


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