By Brian Earnest
It took about 37 years for his “baby” to officially became full grown, but it was definitely worth the wait for Ken Rinear.
Rinear bought his 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme convertible back in 1996. At the time, the car was strictly for kicks, and the Perkasie, Pa., native had no aspirations of doing anything with the car beyond keeping it running and enjoying some top-down cruising in the summertime.
It’s funny how plans change and goals get adjusted when a guy gets infatuated with the car, however. Sixteen years later, Rinear has pretty much reinvented his Olds twice, turning it from a “decent No. 3 driver” to a top AACA award winner, then remaking it again as a biceps-flexing 455 “SX” muscle machine.
Along the way the car has served as the model for a Danbury mint replica, carried Miss America pageant contestants and even gotten its own nickname from the other car guys who know Rinear and his Olds. “Everybody knows it as ‘Baby.’ That’s what it’s called. Everybody calls it that,” Rinear laughs.
Rinear says that handle was hung on the car when he took the Olds to Thornton Classics in Bethlehem, Pa., for some work not long after he bought it. The Thornton shop specializes in high-end muscle machines, particularly Olds 4-4-2s, and there always were a lot of big-block GM cars in the vicinity whenever Rinear was around. “I told them it was the baby brother of all those big-blocks,” he said. Rinear took a lot of razzing about not having a big-block in his Cutlass Supreme, but he was not about to mess with the factory 350 that was still in the car. He had other ideas, and over time they all came to fruition.
“I never planned to do a frame-off restoration, but little by little, I re-did everything,” he says. “I kept doing a little here and there, and then I had a little accident with it and busted it up and had to replace a door and fender, and that’s when I got it stripped and repainted and decided to put everything back together the way it was supposed to be.” That included painting the wheels correctly, putting wide oval tires on the car, replacing the exhaust with the factory correct equipment and detailing the car from top to bottom. Rinear achieved his AACA First Junior award in 2002 and advanced all the way up to Senior Grand National honors in 2006. By that point, the car’s Pearl White interior had been redone, new seat covers, convertible top and door panels were in place, and a working factory 8-track player had been added.
“Everything on the car was pristine,” Rinear said.
The car’s resume continued to grow in 2003 and 2004 when it was selected to carry Miss Michigan and Miss Missouri in the Miss American Pageant Parades in Atlantic City. The pageant has since been moved out of Atlantic City, but Rinear has been able to continue his parade duties in the annual Miss New Jersey parade.
The crowning moment for the car may have come when the Danbury Mint called the Thorntons looking for a 1970 Cutlass to copy. The Thorntons passed along Rinear’s number. “I was in my office in Warminster one day in, I guess, ’05,” he recalled. “I had bought one or two of the Danbury models, and I get a call one day from them and I figure, ‘OK, they’re probably trying to get me to buy a few more models.’ Well, they had gotten the phone number and called Troy Thornton and he told him if they wanted a Cutlass convertible, call Ken. So a lady came over and saw it and a couple weeks later they came and photographed car … They probably spent three or four hours photographing the car and taking video of it and measuring everything. Then when they came out with [the model], it was a limited edition and only 5,000 were made. I didn’t get paid anything, of course, but I got a couple of the models for free. The only bad thing was I had pleaded with them to keep it red, but they had done a 4-4-2 convertible in Rallye Red, so that’s why the made the model Twilight Blue.”
The Rallye Red and Twilight Blue were among the more than 20 original factory colors that were available on the 1970 Cutlass Supremes, which again occupied the top rung of Oldsmobile’s popular Cutlass lineup. The Supreme nameplate was introduced in 1966 and for 1970 was built with GM’s A-body and was competing with ever-growing personal luxury car segment.
The Supremes were offered as two- and four-door holiday hardtops and as convertibles. More than 26,000 Supremes were built for the model year, but only 4,867 of those were ragtops, which carried a base price of $3,335.
Unlike some of GM’s other midsize offerings — namely the Monte Carlo and Grand Prix — the Supremes had much in common with the base Cutlass offerings and shared many of the same body and chassis pieces. The most obvious design difference was in the roofline; the Supremes had a notchback profile while the base Cutlass series had a sloping fastback design. Under the hood was a 350-cid four-barrel V-8 that produced 310 hp.
The Supremes were a little fancier inside than their base Cutlass siblings, and buyers could get either Strato bucket seats or a notchback bench in front.
If you wanted to rev up your Cutlass Supreme and impress your friends at the track, you could dial up the “SX” package, which basically turned it into a 4-4-2 in disguise. The Package included the W-32 455-cid, 365-hp big-block, Rallye suspension, cutout rear bumper and a different dual exhaust.
Rinear finally began to warm up to the idea of a big-block when his original engine began having problems after it had turned over 100,000 miles.
“The piston rings on one piston all broke,” he said. “I have a buddy, and he’s not a fan of small-blocks, and he’d say, ‘Look, you’ve got all the awards you can get, it’s time to move up to a big-block.’ So I did all the research on W-32 option, and that’s what I had them do. I always wanted to get a big muscle car so I told him to do it … I don’t call it a clone, I call it an upgrade. I had them take the motor out and put the new motor and correct trans in there… When it was done it was 100 percent factory-correct ‘SX’ W-32.”
The car has a much different personality and feel these days with the jumbo engine. Linear jokes that it’s also a lot thirstier, but he doesn’t seem to mind. It hasn’t stopped him from rolling up 6,000 miles since the 455 was installed. He figures there will be a lot more on the way, too.
“With that Code OG trans — which is a Turbo 400 with a higher stall converter … it has a lot firmer shifts and shifts at a lot higher RPM, so that’s going to affect your mileage,” he said. “Of course, the power is unbelievable … The 8 miles a gallon can be a little tough take. I’d say I went from 13 to 15 mph with the 350 to 8 to 10 with the big-block. But if I’m only driving 2,500 miles a year, ah, I just budget a 1,000 bucks a year for gas. I don’t worry about it!”
At this point, after years of tinkering and upgrading the Cutlass Supreme, Rinear admits there isn’t much left he can do. He’s thought about putting a dual-gate shifter in it, but he’s not sure. “Maybe I will, maybe I won’t,” he concluded. “Most of the time, I just put it in drive and just cruise.”
The idea of ever parting with the Olds and possibly starting over with a new car isn’t particularly appealing, Rinear says. Car and driver long ago formed a bond that’s pretty close to permanent.
“People would think I’m was crazy if I ever sold it,” he said. “It’s a part of my life. It’s a part of my family. And the car’s got personality. The only time it ever acts up is if I start talking about selling it!”
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