It was a beautiful, sunny day recently as the St. Clair County East Rotary Club hosted its fifth annual Wheels & Wine Car Show at The Weingarten, in Belleville.
Walking TKCS-StL mascot Roy and walking with veteran TKCS-StL volunteer Luis, I was drawn to a long, low-slung convertible — an obvious radical custom. Although the sleek, black beauty was “shaved” of any identifying emblems or badges, I could tell instantly, by the grill, it was a late ’40s Oldsmobile. That was worth one point to me, for my father was an Oldsmobile guy. His first was a 1950 Rocket 88 coupe, black, just like this one. That’s were the similarity ended.
The closer I got to this beautiful creation, the more enamored I was with the car. The Starship Enterprise could have landed on The Weingarten lawn and it wouldn’t have broken my gaze at this incredible ride.
Kicking back in a lawn chair behind this one-of-a-kind Olds was its owner of just one year, Steve Maher, of Waterloo, Ill.. Ironically, Steve, a body shop owner who sold his business (Steve’s Auto Body, in Belleville, and later, O’Fallon, Ill.) just one year ago, had nothing to do with creating this masterpiece. He purchased it just as you see it here and never laid a hand on it.
Steve first saw the car a few years ago at KC World of Wheels and later at a show in Springfield. He had spoken to the owner on several occasions. During this period, the original owner passed away and Steve ended up buying the car from the man’s widow.
What you see here is a car that was built from three of the 12,914 original 1948 Olds 98 convertibles produced that year. The first car came from Boise, Idaho, the second from Topeka, Kan., and the third from somewhere in North Dakota.
Originally powered by a 257 cubic inch (that’s 4.2 liters for all you Gen-Xers and newer in the audience), 115 horsepower in-line eight cylinder engine (man, those heads were heavy when I had to carry them in for machine shop work!), Steve’s Olds is powered by a 502 cubic inch GM crate motor with a ramjet electronic ignition set up (if you have to ask what the MPG is, you can’t afford it anyway!). Right behind that monster engine is bolted a brand new GM 700 R4 transmission with a built-up, 1,800 rpm stall speed converter. Steve hasn’t had the car on a “dyno” to check the horsepower, but suffice it to say, it is “more than adequate!”
The original factory base price of the 1948 Olds 98 ragtop, the biggest and most expensive Olds at the time, was $2,624, which equals $26,201.57 in 2016 dollars.
I didn’t have the nerve to ask Steve how much his car is worth, but I’ll bet I could buy a pretty decent house for the same amount of money.
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The Outsiders Car Club is still cruisin’ on Friday through the month of October on Fridays, by McDonald’s at Westport Plaza. This is their ninth year, making it the longest-running weekly cruise in the metro area. A convenient location for a relaxed evening.
As I promised, collector out-of-control Dick Benach will be bringing his 1959 Edsel Villager wagon, loaded with memorabilia from days gone by, to the next Breakfast With The FIN MAN, one week from today, Oct. 10, at the McDonald’s at Interstate 270 and West Florissant, in North County. This will be an interesting event as Dick will have lots of stories to tell. We’ll start an hour early at 8 a.m. and go until noon. And, bring your special car or truck. Don’t miss this one!
I’m working out details for two more very special BWFMs to take place before the end of the year. The first will be a 2 p.m. lunch at Chuck-A-Burger, followed by a tour of the Wally Overstreet collection of more than 100 muscle cars and customs. Then, in November, we will take a tour bus to Springfield, Ill., to see a fantastic, private collection of transportation, including a large collection of cars, approximately 50 motorcycles and three Lear Jets! Expected cost for this event will be around $50 per person, including lunch. Details on these two events to follow.
Thanks for reading the Old Car Column and Keep on Cruisin’!
(And … Gus, I haven’t forgotten that I owe you a photo. I’ve been plagued by a series of equipment problems for many months, but I’ll get it to you soon)
Bruce Kunz, a.k.a. “The FIN MAN,” is a member of the Society of Automobile Historians. If you love old cars and care about kids, help by visiting www.thefinman.com/Take_a_Kid_to_a_Car_Show.html and visit www.thefinman.com.