Car of the Week: 1950 Oldsmobile Street Rod


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By Brian Earnest

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Bill Whited is not the type of fellow to come right out and say it, but he’s one of those guys that’s not easy to impress when it comes to cool cars. Not that Whited doesn’t appreciate all varieties and vintages of old iron – he does. He’s a full-blown car geek.

It’s just that when you’ve owned all the amazing machines that have passed through Whited’s garage over the years, there just aren’t many cars that really blow your doors off.

But thankfully, even for car guys who seem to have owned “one of everything,” there is always another fascinating creature out there, and Whited found himself smitten once again by his latest acquisition: a blinding orange, old school 1950 Oldsmobile street rod.

“People who know the list of cars I’ve owned, they say, ‘Gee, why would you be attracted to [the Olds]?’ I say, I don’t really know, but it just pours out muscle. And you see a lot of the club coupes from back then, but the fastbacks are unique. They’re unique because of those fins on the back with the ‘88’ on them.

“I have guys in my shop look at the back of the car, and they ask, ‘Is that all custom made?’ But it’s not, except for the wheel wells being radiused. That’s the way these cars looked.”

Whited, who owns and operates a Volvo dealership in Englewood, N.J., has had all kinds of muscle and sports cars from the 1950s on up. His stable has included scores of Corvettes, vintage Porsches, GM pavement eaters from the 1960s, some great 1950s cars, and several modified cars and street rods.

“I started driving in 1967 and I owned five different cars by the time I was 19,” Whited said. “A ’57 Chevy Two-Ten sedan, a ’63 Impala SS, ’65 Impala convertible, a ’56 Chevy and a ’66 Corvette convertible. I have always owned at least two cars at a time. I kept buying and selling to be able to drive what I wanted. For fun, I totaled up all the cars I personally owned and came up with 62. I realize this is not a lot compared to many who have huge collections, but it is so hard to really enjoy them when you have over three or so at a time.”

Suffice it to say, Whited is used to cars that demand attention and scream when you hit the throttle, but he still can’t stop giggling about the hairy Oldsmobile that he now gets to take out for occasional joy rides.

His 1950 Olds fastback club sedan became a street rod back in 1975 when Belmont, Calif., customizer Al Kvarme got hold of it. Like many other professional street-rodders and backyard mechanics, Kvarme found the 1949-‘50 Oldsmobiles were perfect candidates for rodding, “Al used to find 1950 Oldsmobiles and turn them into quarter-mile rods and customs,” Whited said. “This particular car I bought from a friend in Wisconsin. The only alteration to the fastback body is radiused rear wheel wells to accommodate a pair of Firestone Slicks. The car back when had a 454-[cid] big block. When my friend purchased it back in ’05, it had a tired 396 in it and it and the paint was in need of a refinish. It was stripped down to bare metal [and] the car only needed a little filer where the original stone guards were; other than that, no body work was needed. It was painted the same color as back in ’75 — a Porsche blood orange. The painter laid down three coats of color, color sanded it, then applied eight coats of clear. [It was] wet sanded and buffed to a mirror-like finish and it still looks great.”

The engine is a rebuilt 402-cid Chevy big-block with a big cam and dual quads on top. “There are new Hollies on it, but the setup is basically the same as it was originally,” Whited noted. The Olds shifts through a rebuilt THM400 transmission with a stall converter and line lock — just in case Whited ever happens to stumble into a drag race. If that happens, a few windows will probably rattle from the soaring decibel levels.

“[The previous owner] went to a local exhaust shop and copied the side pipes just the way Al had it on his car. Prior to me buying the car, the same shop installed super traps on my request so I can drive it on the street. It’s still a bit loud, but that can be adjusted by removing some of the plates on the end of the pipe.

“It idles right at 600 rpm, and when it idles, it’s not crazy-crazy,” Whited added with a laugh. “But when you step on it, yeah, it’s a little loud!”

The custom interior is done in matching orange with black trim. A floor shifter is located ahead of the front bench seat. A three-pod gauge cluster is integrated into the top of the dash with a tachometer mounted front and center on the dash ahead of the steering wheel. “The interior hasn’t changed since 1975,” Whited said. “It’s just magnificent. It looks like it was just done a couple years ago.

“It rides a little firm, but it’s amazing how comfortable it is. It has a humungous steering wheel … Push-button ignition — you turn the key on and push the button. That’s all stock.”

Even during their new-car days more than six decades ago, the 1949-’50 Oldsmobiles resided on the fringes of the hot rod world. Many consider them to be the first true “factory hot rods,” and it seems almost appropriate that so many ended up on tracks and country road drag strips. With a high-compression 303-cid Rocket V-8 from the big 98 Series stuffed into a small platform previously used only by six-cylinder models, Olds created the race-worthy 88 Series. The cars were a huge hit with John Q. Public, and eventually became popular as both stock and modified racers. They came in seven body styles, including the fastback two-door club sedan (a.k.a. “sedanette”).

Whited had never owned an Oldsmobile of that vintage before and wasn’t even thinking about one when he met Bob Cattelino of Wisconsin earlier this year at a Mecum auction. Whited wound up buying two cars at the Mecum sale, but he was more intrigued with Cattelino’s Olds after he began hearing stories and seeing pictures. One thing led to another, and eventually Whited swapped the two cars he picked up at auction for the hot rod Oldsmobile. “I normally don’t buy cars sight-unseen, but I met Bob and I kind of trusted him,” he said.

“When I got it, it was pretty exciting. It’s just an awesome, awesome car. It’s so much different from anything I’ve ever owned before. It would make a great car to take to some nostalgia drags. It’s all set to go. It’s got the line lock and the big slicks on it. I’m excited to see what it will turn [in the quarter-mile].”

Whited has had so many cars come and go over the years that he knows not to ever get too attached to one machine, but he doesn’t have any plans to part with his attention-grabbing Oldsmobile. He’s got a really fun car on his hands, and he knows it!

“Oh, I’m probably going to hang onto this one and keep it for a few years,” Whited said. “With all the cars I’ve had, I guess you could say I’m just the caretaker of the car, for the moment.

“But I plan to drive this one a little and enjoy it … And maybe race somebody!”

SUGGESTED READING

Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942
Lost & Found: Great Barn Finds & Other Automotive Discoveries
‘Rocket’ Olds 1949-1964 Standard Statistics Digital Download

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