1954 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight convertible was familiar to pages of
Old Cars, Hemmings
Kenny Buttolph, the former Old Cars Weekly research editor who recently passed away, owned hundreds of collector cars in his lifetime — maybe more. Retired OCW Publisher John Gunnell likes to tell people that Kenny once began writing down a list of all the cars he owned upon leaving OCW HQ in Iola, Wis., as the two headed to a show. It took Kenny until the middle of Ohio to finish that list!
One of Kenny's favorite cars was his low-mileage 1954 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Starfire convertible that came out of a Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, estate. It came to Kenny by way of Terry Boyce, also a former Old Cars Weekly staffer, during a trip to the fall Pennsylvania meets in 1976.
"I...first become aware of the car during the last day of the 1976 Carlisle swap, where the seller was walking around with a cardboard sign advertising it on his back," Terry said. "[I] saw it and stopped him to ask about the car. Kenny and I went out to see it during the break between Carlisle and Hershey."
Terry, who still has a strong appreciation for 1950s cars, had to have the Olds, even if the seller had some unusual stipulations to complete the sale after the AACA meet in Hershey concluded.
"The guy who sold it to us, a neighbor of the deceased owner, insisted on all cash, and it had to be that night, as we were leaving in the morning," Terry recalled. "I didn't have quite enough money with me to buy the car, so I ended up writing Old Cars a check for $400, which I exchanged for a like amount in quarters from sample issue sales (all banks were closed and there were no ATMs in those days). To get the deal done, the quarters were counted out on the dash of the company Suburban in the middle of the night while a stupendous thunderstorm was going on. Ken was with me that long night and I think he rode home with me when I drove it home to Iola the next day — it rolled over 30,000 miles on the odometer during the trip."
Kenny and Terry had horse traded before, notably in the mid 1970s when Kenny traded part of his childhood collection of 1/25-scale promotional models — 300 in total (all but Kenny's Chevy promos) — for Terry's 1953 Chrysler Imperial two-door hardtop with factory air conditioning, wire wheels and a fully automatic transmission (Terry said it was a very late 1953). Again, Kenny wanted a car that Terry had and the two worked out a trade: Kenny would get the 1954 Olds 98 convert and Terry would get Kenny's nice 1955 Clipper two-door hardtop and his rough 1941 Buick Roadmaster convertible with a boatload of NOS parts to fix it up. Terry says his wife still hasn't forgiven him for trading away the Olds!
Once the title was in his name, Kenny detailed the unrestored Olds and Terry said it really sparkled after Kenny put some elbow grease into it. Kenny eventually added a continental kit to the Olds that he later recalled as being a rattling annoyance. Nonetheless, he never removed it.
Kenny loved that turquoise-and-white Olds and kept it for close to 20 years — nearly the longest he had ever kept a car — until another 1954 Olds Starfire lover had to have it in 1994.
"I was looking for a 1954 Starfire convertible," wrote Scotty Hall of Lafayette, Louisiana. "[Kenny's car] was recommended by Jess Ruffalo of Plainfield, Wisconsin. I met [Kenny's] mother and was shown through a large barn full of original '50s cars. I bought one that must have been one of his favorites - it had 53,000 miles."
By this time, the '54 Olds was a celebrity in its own right. It had appeared in two "Old Cars Weekly Collector's Calendars," on a "Profile" promotional card distributed by OCW, in a HemmingsSpecial-Interest Auto article and on numerous pages of OCW through the decades. Although the Olds was one of Kenny's favorites, he must have had his fun with it and figured he'd part with it by the time Scotty came knocking. I think he regretted the sale because 14 years later, in 2008, he bought a turquoise-and-white 1955 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Holiday coupe from the car corral of the Fall Auburn auction over Labor Day Weekend. The lead for this '55 Olds came from none other than Terry Boyce, the man who sold Kenny the '54 Olds Ninety-Eight so many years earlier.
Scotty recently wrote to us saying he is ready to pass the Olds onto its next caretaker. Since 1994, he's taken it on numerous long trips, some as part of Oldsmobile Club of America activities, and the car is still pretty much as he bought it. The odometer now shows 94,000 miles and that continental kit is still hanging off the back.
If you're interested in the car, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll pass the word onto Scotty. Only serious Olds fans need apply.
Kenny's '55 Olds is pictured on the cover of The Standard Catalog of Oldsmobile CD. Order it here.