I’ll try to make this brief. I can be very ‘wordy’ when talking about cars! I’ve been an on-and-off subscriber to Hemmings for many years, and I’ve always thought of it for restoration parts and information. So glad to see the ClassicCars.com Journal is branching out into doing articles on customizing. I’ve been building rods and mostly customs for over 40 years, and I also do restoration work as well. But customs are in my blood.
My first one was a ’55 Olds 98 that I did mostly by myself, at home, but I learned to customize and how to do custom paint by an old-timer who built and showed a custom ’54 Merc back in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. He actually helped do the chopped top on the Olds back in 1982 when I worked for him part time.
Over the years I’ve done a bit over 100 cars (105 I think), almost all were body and paint, some as far as frame off. This is doing it in my spare time, as I’ve worked for Exxon Research and Eng. and Engelhard’s engine lab (later, BASF) full time.
My biggest accomplishment has been the building of the clone of George Barris’ Kopper Kart. I know you’ve probably heard of it. My friend, Vic Collins, owns (the clone), and he and I, and several friends, built it in my latest shop behind my house, in Howell, New Jersey. I had taught the others how to do welding and bodywork, even doing lead work, before and during the build.
My latest project is something that has been envisioned by several artists and modelers. I’ve always loved Oldsmobiles, but I started out owning and rebuilding ’55-’57 Chevies, so I still have a soft spot for them. The project in the back of my mind since the ’80s became reality when my long-time friend, Pete Chasse, gave up trying to restore his ’56 Olds ‘88’ Holiday coupe, due to health issues. I acquired the car, and set about searching for the parts to build it as a Nomad-style wagon.
I had already bought two Nomad/Safari roofs, but they were in very bad shape. I found another on Long Island, New York, and began the transformation. Vic Collins helped by securing a ’57 Safari from our friend Lou Callisibetta, a very well-known Pontiac restorer. This supplied a lot of the missing stainless and all the interior moldings needed.
I have the body roughed out, having to fabricate a lot of the sheet metal around the wagon windows and tailgate area. Grafting the Nomad roof to the Olds windshield area was no easy task as the Olds was about ¾ of an inch wider, and I decided to do a mild chop on the top, exaggerating this difference even more. My idea was to build more of a concept car than a custom car, so I’m keeping all the relevant Olds parts, grille, headlights, tail lights, and side trim (though finding 98 tail lights and side trim was not easy).
The body is off the frame while I modify the frame with modern components, ’76 Impala suspension, power steering and 12-inch power disc brakes, police-package rear drums and an Olds 455/Turbo 400 powertrain.
That’s it for now. I do have more in depth pics of rust repair, and such, but keeping it to a minimum! I look forward to sending you an update when the car is done!