By Brian Earnest
Dale Noble gets to repeat himself a lot when he takes his 1970 Oldsmobile out in public. Most people who lay eyes on the car have never heard of an Olds SX, and even fewer know what a “W-32” car is. And it’s a fair bet that almost none of them have ever seen a combination SX/W-32 convertible like Noble has. Heck, even Noble has never seen another one, and he’s looked hard for such car. So he often has a fair bit of explaining to do when he shows up at collector car gatherings.
“I’ve had it close to 20 years. I’ve found only one other W-32 convertible, and that was over in Europe,” says Noble, a resident of Portage, Wis. “Otherwise, I have never seen or heard of one … I’ve taken it to some Nationals and local shows and people know the car, but I’ve never talked to anybody else who’s ever seen one. Even amongst the Oldsmobile Club, this is the only one they know of in the country.”
Even if it wasn’t rare, the cool triple-black Cutlass would still stand out. It’s just a great-looking machine with big power under the hood that still fooled insurance companies who didn’t realize it was a 4-4-2 in sheep’s clothing. What’s not to like?
Oldsmobile debuted its Cutlass Supreme intermediate model for the 1970 model year and it received a warm reception. For buyers who wanted to spice their cars up, the company offered an SX package that included several 455-cid V-8 engine options, special badging, TH400 transmission and a few other bells and whistles. It all added up to a refined muscle car that was meant to be classy and more understated than many of the wilder alternatives that were springing up on the market.
Just how hairy your Cutlass or 4-4-2 or SX was depended on which boxes you checked. The W-32 option was the middle offering of the three 455 power plants and reportedly produced 365 hp, although figures vary depending on the source. It was only offered on cars with the W-32 engine. The SX was sometimes called a “poor man’s 4-4-2,” although they were almost the same car, with the same profile, lots of power and great handling for a performance car.
Production records from the time are a bit fuzzy, but reportedly about 860 W-32s were built for the 1970 model year. There is no official breakdown of how many were coupes and how many were convertibles, but Noble did some of his own math and made some educated guesses. “What I did is take the 4-4-2 and I looked at the percentages of convertibles vs. hardtops and kind of did the same thing with W-32 and it comes out to maybe 50 or less that would have been convertibles, but there is no way of knowing that for sure. I have only found the one other W-32 convertible in Europe. Otherwise I have seen or heard of another one like mine (with the W-32).”
Noble is certainly proud of his SX, but it took him quite a while to figure out exactly what he had. He bought the car from his brother, and neither understood the car’s rarity until Dale tore into it a bit. “My older brother decided he wanted to get a collector car and he found this body shop guy who had this Cutlass as his own personal car … We saw it and it was a beautiful car and I knew it had the 455 in it and the SX symbols on it, but at that time I didn’t know it was a W-32. So he bought it in ’85 for I think 3,500 bucks [laughs]. He didn’t have to do a whole lot to it, and then he decided to sell it and I bought it from him maybe 15, 16 years ago.
“I rebuilt the motor, and had the car repainted and put a new top on it and a few other things. And when I rebuilt the motor I checked out the numbers on the block and found out it was a hi-performance 455 and the only cars they put that in was 4-4-2 or W-32. That’s when I knew how rare it was.”
The W-32 that was shared with the 4-4-2 featured a four-barrel carburetor, 10.5:1 compression, a hotter cam and bigger valves. Noble’s drop-top was also optioned with the dual gate shifter, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, power seats and power locks, and Tic Toc Tac. It also carries the cool Outside Air Induction (OAI) Ram Air hood.
Noble has done what he likes to a call a gradual “frame-on” restoration of the SX over the years. He was forced into repainting the car a few years back and has made a hot car even hotter with some engine tweaks. “A couple years ago a neighbor kid threw a ball through the window and just about every part of the car had scratches on it,” he said. “The insurance company paid for it and we had it stripped down to bare metal and painted … It had hardly any rust on it at all. I had a new top done on it. The interior was done by my brother years ago — probably 20 years ago. I put new carpet in it and I’ve rebuilt the motor to stock appearing. It’s putting out close to 500 horse, but you can’t tell by looking at it. I had the heads ported and polished by Joe Modello when he was still alive. The intake was ported and polished, the exhaust manifolds were ported and I had higher-compression pistons put in. It was bored .30 over. It’s got a bigger cam in it. Joe Modello also put bigger valves in it, too. It’s a really a nice motor now. If you look at it, everything looks stock. You can’t tell anything is different.”
Of course, once he got the engine done and running right, Noble just had to take it to the track and see what it was capable of. Was there any choice?
“I got a 14.149 with street tires, so I was pretty happy with that,” he chuckles. “That was pretty good. I’ve since then had the carburetor rebuilt quite a bit. I actually have a different carburetor on it now. I only [raced] a couple of times, just to see what it would do.”
The odometer on the black Olds shows 112,000 miles. There were about 85,000 on it when he bought the car from his brother, so Noble has been averaging a little under 2,000 miles a year. “The car is just a lot of fun to drive," he says. "My wife and I, we take it for a cruise and go out for golf and dinner and a relaxing evening. We have a lot of fun with it. It’s kind of like driving in a parade. It rumbles pretty good!”
Noble admits he is still pretty “fussy” when it comes to handling his favorite machine, but he’s not exactly worried about breaking anything. He’s more worried about passing a cop doing a high rate of speed than he is overworking the Olds.
“I really like it because you can step on it and it really moves with authority,” Noble concludes. “I like getting into it once in a while. I turned 62 here last month, but I’m still young at heart.”
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