I recently bought a car to be a project for me and my son. At one year of age, Alex may be a little young for a father-son project car, but it actually makes sense for two very important reasons. One is that, once a child enters your life, the days of selfishly spending money on toys for yourself end. Or at least so says my wife. So calling it a father-son project was a great way to get around that.
The other reason this makes sense as a father-son project is that it gives me a full 15 years to get the project completed before Alex is ready to drive it. Which may be a little optimistic, as my progress in three months has consisted solely of getting the car into the garage. But I’m planning to ramp up my efforts very soon, so I’m confident in my 15 year plan.
The car Alex and I wound up with is a 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Classic. 1988 was the last year of production for the mid-size, full frame, G-body platform. While not really a pinnacle of automotive performance engineering, even in its day, it should prove to be a good platform to use for a relatively straightforward and cost-conscious project. The full frame makes it easy to work on, and because they were plentiful and the basis for several factory performance models (Buick Grand National, Chevy Monte Carlo SS), performance parts are readily available. With my experience doing other engine and T56 swaps, this project should be child’s play. Good thing Alex is progressing from baby to toddler quite quickly.
We actually weren’t determined to get that specific year, or make, or model, we just wanted a G-body. So we spent many nights searching Craigslist for ’79 through ’88 Monte Carlos, Cutlasses, Grand Prixes and Regals. We even considered El Caminos and Caballeros. Two doors and four doors were both options, as LS-engine swapability was more important than appearance. Price was also a concern, as the project is meant to be completed on a strict budget.
We spent several months inquiring about every G-body for sale within a 150 mile radius. At times, it was hard to resist the allure of all the cars out there that are already fully-restored, pristine classics, needing only minor work to be perfect, like complete floorboard replacement or reassembly from the pile of parts the previous owner had disassembled them into. Also challenging was trying to communicate with the various individuals who sell on Craigslist. Sure, there are some decent, coherent sellers out there, but they are far outnumbered by people who I can only assume were able to actually get their ads posted with significant assistance from their one year old children.
But after several months of searching, we finally found a good candidate for sale, at a reasonable price, from a seller who could respond to written inquiries more often than once a week and could form sentences of more than three words. The car was a good candidate because the body was sound and it barely ran. Further inspection revealed that it was an original, 41,000 mile car that had been owned by an elderly couple for most of its days. It had also not been turned into a low rider with 12? wire wheels, so it was perfect for us.
You may wonder about the mileage claim, as that is less than 2,000 miles per year. The seller actually had it listed as 141,000 miles, but DMV records indicate that it was, in fact, 41,000. I had my doubts, too, until I inspected the car. The seats aren’t worn at all, the dash isn’t cracked, and the carpet shows no wear. Anyone at all familiar with GM’s cars from this period knows that most rolled out of the factory with at least some interior wear already. So I’m pretty confident in saying it’s a 41,000 mile original.
So now that we have the basis for our project, Alex and I are ready to get to work. I’ll keep posting updates as they happen. The plan is to swap in a junkyard 5.3 liter LM7 engine from a truck with a T56 transmission. And maybe a turbo down the road. Along with whatever supporting mods are needed, like cooling system, fuel system, suspension, 12? wire wheels of our choosing, etc. We’ll commence work as soon as Alex is done helping me sell some stuff on Craigslist.