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By Brian Earnest
Keith Korbut is a fan of early automobiles – really old, brass-era, wooden-wheel relics.
He’s also a fan of V-8 propulsion.
Those two fascinations are generally mutually exclusive. You normally can’t have them both at the same time, unless you’re heading down the street rod path. Pre-1920 cars were generally one-, two- or four-cylinder buggies that were horsepower-challenged, unless you started doing some shade tree mechanic engine swapping.
So when Korbut came across a 1918 Oldsmobile, and learned that it actually came equipped with a factory V-8 — one of the only cars of the “nickel era” so equipped — he couldn’t help himself. That was almost five years ago now, and Korbut is just as giddy over his Oldsmobile today as the day he bought it. The stunning green touring car represents the best of both worlds for guys like Korbut — wonderful early-time pieces that are actually able to function on today’s roads and capable of handling almost any duty a hobbyist demands from them.
“I’ve basically been playing with it for the last two years — cleaning out the fuel tank and repacking the wheel bearings, things like that,” said Korbut, a resident of Springfield, Mass. “I can’t wait to get it out this year. I haven’t driven it much yet. I’ve had it out in the neighborhood and it goes like heck because it’s a V-8. It’s got a lot of power. It’s a seven-passenger touring. It’s got the jump seats. And the amazing part about the whole car is it’s so original. It’s all there. It doesn’t need anything.
“I’ve always been attracted to things that are a little unusual — not cars that were ordinary or run-of-the-mill. I didn’t know much about this car, but I was just so intrigued that it had a V-8 from 1918.”
Korbut’s car has had a handful of owners, but all of them have seemingly taken meticulous care of the pristine Oldsmobile, which today still has only 12,900 original miles on its odometer. The car was originally purchased by a man from Illinois, and eventually wound up in the inventory at Hyman Ltd. Classic Cars in St. Louis. Korbut has been able to do some detective work on the history of the car, and has been able to fill in most of the gaps.
“The man who first had it was named George Werling [from Pawnee, Ill.]. He owned a factory and was kind of a wealthy fellow,” Korbut said. “But he never had a driver’s license, so he never drove it, he employed a chauffeur. For its first 40 years or so, the car was only chauffeur driven. So it stayed with him for quite a while, and then it was sold around — my best guess — in the early 1960s. George Werling passed on, and the estate sold it to his best friend. His best friend kept it for no more than 10 years, the best I can tell, and he used it to drive the governor of Ohio to the Ohio State Fair … The only miles it got on it was the driving to and from the fair and a parade every year with the governor … That would have gotten us almost to the ’70s, when the car was purchased by a fellow named Albert Ketchum of Marissa, Ill. He had the car sent to Memoryville USA [a restoration shop in Rolla, Mo.] in 1988, and he had them go through the car and what they did was disassemble the entire car …
“They found the car needed absolutely nothing. The engine was torn down, but the bearings all measured standard … All it needed was new upholstery because the leather was all dried out inside. He had the upholstery all re-done in black leather. The paint was all original. It was rubbed out, but that was all that was needed… From there it was put up for sale and went to the Volo Museum, and it sat in the Volo Museum for about 10 years. Then they put it up for sale and it want to RM Auctions, and they sold it at Meadow Brook to Hyman.”
Korbut’s beauty is one of 8,132 Model 45A series cars that were produced by Oldsmobile for the 1918 model year. The year marked the second for the upper-tier 45A series, but it was actually the third year that Oldsmobile offered its 256-cid V-8 engine in its top-end models. The V-8 powerplant offered 56 hp by 1918.
The 45A series included seven- and five-passenger touring cars, a three-passenger cabriolet, four-door sedan, four-door sport touring and two-door roadster. The seven-passenger touring cars were designated 45A-T and carried a base price of $1,295 and a curb weight of 3,095 lbs. The big 45A series cars had wheelbases of 120 inches — eight inches more than the smaller Olds 37 series cars. They featured a selective three-speed transmission with shaft drive, floating rear axle, two-wheel brakes and wooden artillery-style wheels.
“It’s got electric lights — no gas lighting at all,” noted Korbut. “It’s got a factory spotlight mounted on the driver’s side. It’s got its original color, royal green with black fenders. The cars only came in one color, and that was royal green. It’s got a dash-mounted clock. It’s got a speedometer with an odometer. And, of course, it’s got the V-8 with a cast-iron block that’s made in two halves. The cylinder heads are different than, say, a Cadillac in that the heads are removable.
“And it’s got the sliding-gear transmission, so I’ll be double-clutching for the rest of my life.”
Korbut admits he’s looked hard for things to fix on the Oldsmobile since he bought it in 2006, but he hasn’t found many. For a car that’s more than 90 years old, the Oldsmobile has required minimal maintenance. “It was more than I expected, actually,” Korbut said. “It was in such great shape, it was like a brand new car. You look underneath and it looks like nobody ever touched it. It’s really pristine.
“Later, I found out it did need some work. The carburetor had been sitting so long that it needed some work. I had new throttle shafts made out of bronze [rather than brass]. Other than that, the only other problem I had was with the ignition system. I found the coil wasn’t giving me a strong enough spark, but I found a fellow with an original coil still in the box, if you can believe it! So now it has a new original coil in it.”
Korbut has had plenty of experience with dinosaur cars in the past. Before he bought his 1918 Olds, he owned a 1911 Cole. He’s served as the past director for the Connecticut Valley Region of the AACA, and is a founding member of the Duryea Transportation Society, which operates the Duryea Transportation Museum in Springfield.
He’s also been a regular participant in past touring ventures in his Cole, but he figures the Oldsmobile will be an upgrade in the reliability and roadability departments. “I’m really into the older cars, and I’ve had older cars than this,” Korbut said. “I’ve gravitated to the horseless carriage age.
“And over that time I’ve learned that with cars this old, unless you have a museum or something like that, you learn these cars aren’t meant to be driven much anymore,” he adds with a laugh. “But I love ’em, and my club does a lot of touring, and that’s what led me to the 1918 [Oldsmobile]. It’s a little more modern than the horseless carriage cars that I’ve had before.”
“With the other older cars I’ve had, I think I probably only put on 200 to 300 miles a year, but that’s enough. Even if I do that, that will be good, and I won’t worry too much about that. I buy them to drive them, not show them. I’ll probably get pushed into bringing it out for some cruise nights, and it does attract a lot of attention, I know that!”
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