1958 Oldsmobile 98 Coupe
Paul Wells’ beautifully restored 1958 Oldsmobile 98 Coupe is stock in virtually every respect, but there was no way he was going to return it to the factory colours.
Words: Mike Renaut
Photography: James Mann
ANYTHING BUT PINK
Buying any car sight unseen can be a risk, but when there’s fire damage it’s potentially a whole lot more trouble. Fortunately, this is far from the first time Paul Wells has imported a car for restoration; you may recall our feature on his 1957 Olds 88 convertible in August 2018 where he mentioned buying a slightly burnt 1958: “I just like Oldsmobiles,” explains Paul, “you only see a handful at shows compared to the number of, say, Chevys or Mustangs. Having already owned four or five 1957 Oldsmobiles I’d been to the Big Power Meet in Sweden and started noticing the 1958 versions, they interested me, particularly when I saw one fitted with a Continental kit.”
Paul spotted this 1958 Oldsmobile 98 Coupe on American eBay in 2013, “it was in a sorry state having been in a building that caught fire, most of the glass was gone, the paint was blistered and the stainless trim tarnished. But the car came with a Continental kit and I thought it looked awesome. I really wanted it, so put in a bid at midnight, then later upped it by £3000 – and barely won.”
The Olds was part of a large collection owned by Frank Karadetos of Sugar Grove, Illinois. “He had over 100 Oldsmobiles,” continues Paul, “and had bought the ’58 just as it was. I started to buy replacement glass and had it sent to Sugar Grove to be shipped over with the car, but the rear screen proved impossible to find new. Frank had planned to have one made from Perspex, but I couldn’t accept that, so I began scouring junkyard websites for a screen and finally found a ’58 coupe in New York with one I thought would fit. I managed to persuade the ’yard to remove that screen, then found a courier willing to build a crate to protect the glass and ship it over with the car. The final cost was over £1000 – making this the most expensive glass I’ve ever bought! “I collected the Oldsmobile from Chatham Dockyard and my first impression was of its sheer size. Although two tyres were flat and the car was still blackened from the fire it was nowhere near as bad as some I’ve bought… then we got a puncture on the trailer and had to leave the tow van and the Olds in a petrol station overnight – fortunately nothing was vandalised. “It must have been a pretty decent car before the fire, although it turned out it’d been repainted at some point – when I removed the side trim, the original paint underneath was pink. It had been masked up and blown over rather than properly repainted. I like originality in a car but there’s no way it was being painted pink again! “I stripped it back to bare metal and the body was generally very solid, it needed new door bottoms to about 4in deep, some metalwork on the roof around the rear window and some repair on areas of the floorpan. My nephew Neil Hilliard stepped in to help and we made up filler panels by hand because replacement parts aren’t produced. It’s annoying, but I do appreciate this car’s not everyone’s cup of tea…”
The 1958 Oldsmobile, like all of General Motors’ automobiles that year, underwent a radical design change from the previous year’s car. Every one was lower and boasted the recently legalised quad headlights, while the 98 series was top of the range and sat on an exclusive 126.5in wheelbase. That extra length meant the 98 was the only series to not include a station wagon. Paul’s 98 Holiday Two-Door Hardtop is one of 11,012 sold and had a factory price of $4020. For his or her money the original owner got powersteering and -brakes as standard, dual exhausts connected to a 371cu in, 305bhp Rocket V8, with Jetaway Hydramatic transmission and a padded dashboard containing an electric clock. According to the cowl tag our feature car left the Lansing, Michigan assembly plant painted Desert Glow with a Canyon Glow roof (which appears to mean it was brown over pink!) with a serial number making it near the 26,000th car built. Options fitted include heater, deluxe radio, reversing lights, screen washer and power-seat.
“The same painter who did my 1957 convertible – my friend Andy Meakin – painted the ’58,” adds Paul, “it took a long time for me to decide on the colours, but I went with Lexus Indigo Ink Pearl, with a Lamborghini Strato Silver for the roof. Neil assisted with the reassembly; that’s often the most complicated aspect, because you have to work out where all those parts go and how they attach. We had to make a number of trim clips from scratch and sorting through the bolts and screws also took a long time – I’d sent them out for plating carefully organised into batches, they came back all thrown together in one box.”
The Continental kit involved a lot of head scratching: “There are six pieces of metal that bolt together to attach it to the rear of the chassis, but there is also a bracket that holds it to the trunk lid to stop it from wobbling about. That meant an awful lot of weight being put on the thin metal of the lid, so Neil devised a different method to hold it. It involved welding up the existing mounting holes and respraying the trunk, but was far better.” The script on the spare wheel cover is actually from a 1957 model since Paul preferred it to the original.
Weeks of polishing the trim pieces followed and Paul had almost everything except the rear bumper corners and hood emblem. “I found the bumper corners at the Power Meet and my friend Nevil Partridge and I brought one back each in our hand luggage. The hood ornament was also sourced there, but I got stopped coming back through customs and had to explain what the shapely piece was. The customs officer took it to her supervisor and they spent several minutes discussing it before she returned and admitted she’d been convinced it was actually a sex toy!”
Mechanically the Olds seemed good, but the engine got a strip down and inspection just to be on the safe side. “It’s got an Edelbrock carb on the Olds manifold and we found it has roller rockers and solid lifters. It’s very torquey so I’m sure it’s also gained a performance camshaft.” Paul had the gearbox checked over and added a Battle Born Brakes dual circuit master cylinder for safety, although left the car on drums. Another addition was air shocks on the rear: “They can add up to 3in of extra height and allow me to get into steep driveways or level the rear end to compensate for the extra weight of the Continental kit.” Infinity Exhausts (www. infinity-exhausts.co.uk/Tel. 01454 273123) made up a custom dual pipe stainless system and Neil fabricated some stylish oval tips for the ends.
“I rebuilt the power-steering since that leaked and I’ve fitted seatbelts. Aside from a cigarette burn, the seats weren’t bad, but still smelled a bit from the fire, although the door cards and headlining however, were shot.
“Once the paint was done it really showed the interior imperfections, so I contacted Joe at Unique Auto Trimming (01372 450076). I’d bought some cream leather and herringbone material and had planned to carpet the boot; Joe explained he could fit it, but it wouldn’t look American – it ‘would look like a car upholstered in the UK’. We changed our minds on the material and added metallic vinyl after discussion with Joe. I was going to buy a kit for the missing headlining, but he said he’d prefer to do that all himself. He did a fantastic job, even down to making the bows for the headlining from scratch. He re-padded the dashboard and fitted the carpets too; he has incredible skills.
“The fire had damaged the wiring at the front of the car, so I spliced in new connections for the headlights etc.; some previous owner fitted running lights under the rocker panels so I removed those. I also added an electric windscreen wiper conversion which I do to all my cars.” One heart-stopping moment occurred when they finally came to fit that valuable rear window, “I hadn’t ever opened the crate – leaving it sealed for six years – so when we came to fit the back screen that was the first time I’d seen it. We held it in place and it didn’t fit… there was panic until we realised we had it upside down.” Paul was also rather lucky that the colour tint matched the other glass…
The first drive was to the 2022 Bristol American Car Show where it promptly won best in show, Neil (Paul’s nephew who helped with sorting the car) then borrowed the Olds for Rally of the Giants and came back with the best Oldsmobile trophy. Naturally Paul is happy with his Oldsmobile: “It certainly feels more powerful than my 1957s, although it’s a bigger and heavier car. I love driving it but now it’s time to concentrate on my ’57 Oldsmobile wagon. Yes,” laughs Paul, “I’m going straight into another full restoration, sometimes it’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity…”
305bhp 371cu in Rocket V8 features Edelbrock carb. Paul added unique exhaust tips. Paul Dodds, the UK’s Mr Oldsmobile. The 98 picked up Best in Show at the 2022 Bristol American Car Show. Contiental kit wears ’57 script, which Paul prefers over ’58. Paul Dodds is one brave man… … to have bought a car that looked like this! Air shocks assist in balancing the rear height of the Olds.
Taillights or rocket fins? You decide! Dash features AM radio and clock. This ad extols the virtues of the 98’s almost 18ft in length and optional ‘New-Matic Ride’ air suspension. Paul reckons the ’58 is more powerful than his other ’57s, despite being bigger and heavier. Unique Auto Trimming did a fine job on the seats. Continental kit adds a couple of feet to an already pretty long car. Beautiful colour-coded door cards match seat upholstery. Dashpad was replaced and re-upholstered.