By on September 27, 2015

Mallory and Trophy

On Sunday, when my eldest daughter and I headed to a local grocery store for a few things, we happened upon a car show in progress. The local Oldsmobile club was having their annual show, which caught the daughter’s eye. Naturally, we put shopping on hold for a few minutes to wander through the lot.

Chris Washing Oldsmobile

Until a few years ago, I never truly realized how vast an influence the cars of Oldsmobile had on my formative years. On first glance, we were an import family, with Nissans taking precedence and some others sprinkled in. But when I was very young, Dad drove a couple different Cutlass sedans, one of which you can see above with a toddler-sized Chris.

I strangely recall losing my lunch in the back of one of those Olds — coming back from a funeral, I think. In between jobs, Dad sold cars at the local Olds dealer, too, and came home excitedly telling me about an autocross held for salesmen in the new W41 Calais. When he took the sales job that would keep him on the road nearly every week, his first company car was a Cutlass Ciera.


As the kid and I looked over a Twenties-vintage Olds with a rumble seat, I took a phone call from my wife. I turned away from my daughter for a moment and noticed an older gentleman walking over toward us with a trophy. I figured this would be a quick learning moment where we could talk with the owner briefly. Instead, he approached my kid and handed her his trophy, telling her that she could have it. We politely refused, but he insisted. He told me he had a pink ’57 a couple rows over and had plenty of trophies already. My nine-year-old, who really prefers purple if she had to choose a “feminine” color, fell in love.


I don’t know how Dad became a gearhead, but he certainly passed the gene onto his only kid. We’d work on his old cars together, spend our weekends together traveling to car shows and races, and bonding over a shared love of all things automotive. As I approached my teens, I’d write to performance parts companies for catalogs, trying to convince him that he needed to race or autocross his Z.

Twelve years ago, I bought a 1991 Miata. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty clean and would make for a great weekend toy. Dad also wanted to run autocrosses with me in his C5 Corvette ragtop, but he found himself unusually weak and unable to eat much of anything, so motorsports needed to take a backseat for a while.


Eleven years ago last week, my new bride and I pointed the Miata northeast on our honeymoon. We reasoned that New England in autumn would be a spectacular vista to encounter with the top down. An eighteen-hour trek that included the famously-awful Pennsylvania Turnpike failed to dampen our spirits and we spent a magnificent week along the coast of Maine.

Last summer, we made the trip back in a more appropriate vehicle, dragging the kids along in the Town & Country. We stayed in the same hotel and even ate in many of the same restaurants. The van made Pennsylvania much more tolerable.


It was an enormous challenge to watch my Dad those months before the wedding. Esophageal cancer had made it nearly impossible for him to eat anything — and what did get through was annihilated by the chemotherapy. He was always a big man, generally in the vicinity of three hundred pounds on his 6-foot-3-inch frame, but the cancer had cut his weight in half. Another indignity — he traded the Corvette in on a Pontiac Vibe, as the sports car was too difficult to get in and out of.

When I’d visit, he’d try to lighten my mood by talking about cars, specifically my car. He knew I had a list of go-fast bits I wanted for the Miata, but hadn’t purchased since we were saving for the wedding. One visit, he insisted on buying new wheels, tires, shocks, and springs for me. As I objected, he strained to raise his voice: “No. I’m not going to be around much longer. Let me do this for you.”


The trip back to Ohio was uneventful, other than driving past the car haulers headed out of Mid-Ohio from the annual SCCA Runoffs. I knew some of those drivers and cars, having attended nearly every year with Dad since the event was moved out of the south. We got back to the condo, parked the car in the garage, and collapsed on the couch.

The next day, my stepmother called. As it turned out, Dad took a turn for the worse the prior evening within a few hours of my arriving back home safely. My new bride and I headed to the hospital, the same facility where my own two children would come into the world over the next few years, and watched and waited. It didn’t take long.


My eldest turns ten next spring. The Miata sits in the garage under a cover, in need of restoration, wasting away under the detritus of suburban life.

I wonder if the gentleman who gave my daughter the trophy thought she was being dragged along by her dad to the show and gifted it to her out of pity. But she really wanted to be there and is now a bigger enthusiast after his kind gesture.

I think I’ll take the kid out to the shop this winter, hand her the Craftsman tools my dad used when he was in tech school, and let her start taking things apart so I can send the shell to a body shop.

Dad and Me

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33 Comments on “My Father’s Oldsmobile...”


  • avatar
    Vulpine

    In a way, mine has been an Oldsmobile family as well, though far more on my part than my Dad’s. Still, it was his 1958 Dynamic 88 with that green/yellow/red ribbon speedometer that first got me hooked on them, purchased brand new. Years later he tried a ’68 Cutlass S and got hooked all over again; he loved that car and drove it until he finally sold it to a young man going to college (not me) who himself drove it coast to coast several times and couldn’t praise that Cutlass’ economy and reliability enough. In ’74 I bought my own first Olds, a ’73 Cutlass S used and learned my first lesson about buying used–Don’t. The next year I bought a ’75 Cutlass Supreme with the swivel buckets and loved that car. My last Olds was an ’86 Toronado that was everything I wanted in a car at the time: looks, performance and comfort, with all the gadgets.

    Unfortunately Oldsmobile was headed downhill soon after that. None of their later cars could match up to those I and my father had owned. GM’s mismanagement of the mark is what led to their ultimate demise and has turned me against ever buying another GM. They would have to build exactly the car I want before I ever go back to them.

  • avatar
    skitter

    That was a wonderful story. My family’s fond memories of Oldsmobiles include a Cutlass named Bessie that dropped two cylinders and would still lay rubber, an ’88 Ninety-Eight (very confusing to a four year old), with a sunroof for standing out and watching 747s take off and land at MSP, and a Silhouette van that took us everywhere east of the Mississippi.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Great story. One of the cars I learned to drive was my maternal grandfather’s 64 silver Oldsmobile 98 with matching silver interior. Smooth driving and riding car that ran on 100 plus octane.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    We had a cream colored 1957, very like the pink one shown with your daughter. Wonderbar radio is my most vivid memory, as this was the first car other than a Cadillac I had ever seen it. I applaud your intent to school her by rote – nothing better than seeing things apart and re-assembled. Good luck. Good project.

  • avatar
    MrGreenMan

    General Motors will never mean the same to me after they killed Oldsmobile.

    I have so many good memories tied up in my father’s Cutlass, my father’s Toronado, my mother’s Trofeo, my grandfather’s Olds 98 top trim edition (he bought a new one every year – always the biggest Oldsmobile V8), my mother’s LSS with the Autobahn package, my parents’ final Oldsmobile matching pair of 4.0 V8 Auroras. It was a sad day when the Oldsmobile Rocket V8 became just a GM corporate engine. Even my first car, a beat-up used 88 that, even with three transmissions in 40k miles, always seems rosier with time, and I would have purchased another 88 if it was an option and not the abortion that was the Intrigue.

    I guess we’re making memories now with Ford.

  • avatar

    Family bonding over cars–very nice story. Three generations, no less!

    I showed my niece how to change a tire when she was six. More than 20 years later, she’s now buying a car, asking me all the questions.

    My favorite Olds was the ’55. The famous cellist, Bernard Greenhouse, had what I’m pretty sure was a ’55 (maybe a ’56), until he died a couple of years ago. He kept it in beautiful shape.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    I’m still bummed about the ’76 Cutlass Supreme Brougham I really wanted but couldn’t afford.

    That interior!

  • avatar
    rickentropic

    Wonderful, touching, well-written account and a good reason why I love this site. My father’s Oldsmobile was a 1956 tu-tone green four-door 98 with a wonder bar radio and the biggest chrome spinner hubcaps I have ever seen. I remember one day he went out to start it and drive to the hospital where he delivered babies and found the car up on wood blocks with all four wheels gone. I swore to him none of my older high school hot Rod buddies had anything to do with it—and they didn’t.

  • avatar
    salguod

    My dad wasn’t an Olds guy, per se, but he fell in love with the colonnade Cutlass and when he learned that they would be replaced he bought a new 1977 Supreme, Mandarin orange with the light buckskin landau top, pin stripes and body side moldings. I remember shopping for it with him and he and I debating the merits of the orange vs the bright green with white accents. Later, I would learn to drive in that car.

    In my neighborhood in the west Columbus suburbs there’s a white NA Miata in a garage that hasn’t moved in 10 years. You can’t even see it anymore, it’s buried in stuff that I’ve watched accumulate over the years. I wonder if there’s a similar story behind it.

  • avatar
    Driver8

    Great story. Thanks.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    What a great story Chris ;

    I had nothing like this with my Father but I sure do with my 37 Y.O. Son.

    Sharing things close you you heart makes for happier childhoods , no matter what they grow up to be in the end .

    My 2.5 Y.O. Grand Daughter began riding her own Motocycle…..

    I guess she’ll be like me , her Father and Mother too ! .

    =8-) .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Neat story and nice “vintage” pics, this is a nice refreshment from all the VW co-motion.

    Before I could ever walk my mothers first car was an Oldsmobile Calais International, very rare car these days. I think I’d eye Pontiacs and BMWs more than anything as a kid thinking they were the same brand (they both had similar little grilles!), whenever I saw a Volvo-Benz I’d say “Neat car, but I’ll never have the money to afford one”, turns out I wasn’t aware of depreciation.

    We eventually had a W-Body Oldsmobile Cutlass that was a little cheap inside, I ended up breaking the center arm rest cover at the hinge. I cant recall what other issues that car had, it was traded for a blobby ’96-ish Sable.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    Wonderful article. Your story of your dad’s battle with cancer hits close to home. In the past five years, one incle and two aunts died of cancer. My dad had prostate cancer and my mom breast cancer. Both are in remission now.

    Back to cars, I suppose Oldsmobile is/was my favorite GM division (though I do like GMCs as well). The G body Cutlass, an Alero coupe with a Getrag manual paired with the Quad 4, and a RWD late 70s/early 80s 88 coupe all have room in my fantasy car collection.

    The only import my dad ever bought was a Ford Courior which was sold before I was born. His 85 Ranger had the Mazda 2.0 in it, too.

  • avatar

    My zayde, my mom’s father, drove Oldsmobiles. He had a big 1961 Olds 98 four door in white. Not sure what he traded in for that, but a previous car was a ’56 or ’57 Olds that my dad bought from him. I have early memories of that car sitting behind my father’s veterinary clinic on Seven Mile Road.

    1960 must have been a good year for my dad because my folks bought two new cars, a Rambler American that my dad drove and a Pontiac Catalina to replace the Olds and a DeSoto that got wrecked when my mom was driving us on Woodward. By ’66, the less than adequate transmission in the Pontiac started to slip (I believe they used their own two-speed, not the much more reliable Powerglide over at Chevy) so my dad got a 1966 Olds 88. Big, fast and comfortable car. Still, it wasn’t much of a match for a deer on I-80. Took out everything back to the water pump. Must not have been totaled because it was fixed.

    In the 1970s, my dad discovered big Mercurys, first a ’72 Monterey and then a ’74 Grand Marquis Brougham that he dearly loved. His last car was an ’84 Honda Accord with a stick. My brother owned one of the first Accords sold in the U.S. and even though it eventually was mostly an iron oxide alloy, it made our family Honda fans.

    After my dad died in 1989, my mom bought another Olds, a mediocre Cutlass Calais with the Quad Four. Not sure what happened to that but it was replaced with a Saturn.

    Not long ago, my niece was in town visiting my mom, who’s in an assisted living facility and she wanted to see some of my mom’s photo albums, in my folks’ house, where I now live. I told her that my mom had most of the albums with her, but that my dad took mostly slides and she came over with one of her cousins and I got out some carousels, the slide projector and a screen.

    One of the first slides we saw was one of her mom, as a young girl, standing next to the red ’66 Olds not long after we moved into this house.

  • avatar

    It’s articles like this that make me proud to be associated with TTAC.

    • 0 avatar

      It might be our duty to run coverage on Volkswagen, it’s my personal pleasure to be able to run articles like this.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      Ronnie;

      This article reminds me of the ones you would write every weekend for TTAC; and which I always looked forward to reading. Thanks to yourself, Chris, and others for sharing a part of your lives with us along with the car show scene.

      No Oldsmobiles in our family tree, just lots of Fords going back to the 1950 Ford Dad was driving when he married Mom. He switched to Chrysler after being impressed with the ’74 Plymouth Fury II ex-company car he bought for me and the local Chrysler dealer, as well as the K-Car wagons he bought for several of us kids. But, he went back to the Ford house one more time to buy the Blue Goose.

      The only GMs he bought was a Chevrolet Greenbriar (the van version of the Corvair), a Celebrity wagon, and at the end a Saturn wagon; the last wagon he bought for Mom. I wanted it when Mom and Dad passed away, but it went to one of my nephews instead. But we enjoyed lots of hand-me-downs from Mom and Dad over the years, so all is well.

  • avatar
    alexndr333

    Dad was a Chevy man, with new purchases in 1956, ’64, ’68 and ’73. Having received his B.S. in mechanical engineering at the General Motors Institute – Class of ’49 – he would stay in the GM family.

    The big move up for him was a new 1977 Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale sedan. He was glad to know that it had an Olds V-8, not the Chevy / Corporate GM V-8 whose use seemed like such a betrayal to the GM’s divisional loyalists.

    The 88 was the last car he owned that I think he considered aspirational and was proud to drive. The cars after the Olds just didn’t capture the magic for him.

  • avatar
    z9

    Nice article and I love the picture of washing the car. Growing up, I spent many a Saturday “helping” my father wash the various Oldsmobiles we owned (F85 convertible, Vista Cruiser, several 98s, and finally the sad ’77 Omega). I wish some photos of those cars survived, but alas they have not.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    This needs a like button.

    Great story.

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    I had seen the second pic in one of your previous posts, Chris! I’d recognize the profile of an ’80/’81+ G-Body, or ’77+ B-or-C-Body anywhere, and twice on Sunday (along with the post ’82 A-Body (Ciera, Century, 6000, Celebrity) profile). (“Rallye” wheels FTW!)

    The first couple years of the G-Body (which were A-Bodies prior to ’82) beginning in 1978 were a little buggy, but by ’82 or ’83, they pretty much had them nailed! As I’ve stated ad nauseum here, if I happened across a near-mint (or an example which only needed a couple-$grand worth of NOS parts) to bring it to said condition, I’d gladly grab a last-year-of-build Olds Cutlass Supreme Brougham Sedan (yup, I said SEDAN) with every option checked, including the 5.0L V8 and 4-speed AOD THM (and whitewall tires, with aforementioned Rallye or wire wheels), to use as a summer “toy”: hit a weekly local vintage car gathering (where there is actually a couple with a 1987 Century Limited which appears to have driven out of a time warp, fresh from the showroom, including unmolested Monroney, with 25,000 original miles, tight as a drum), and just hang out! Unfortunately, these sedans, if they haven’t already met their fate from normal use, have likely either been “donked,” or have been used, along with their B-and-C-Body brethren, as monster-truck fodder!

    (Some of these posts where first memory of cars is a Calais or something mid-’80s makes THIS 45 year-old feel old indeed! But I’ve softened a little, even towards stuff like the Cimarron that was featured a couple weeks ago; THAT’s a classic, no matter what silly decisions begat it!)

  • avatar
    Chi-One

    Great story, thanks Chris.
    My first car ’61 F85 wagon with the small V8. In my childhood, my Dad had a ’49 Rocket 88. Guys were always stopping by trying to buy the motor. Currently, ’69 442 droptop.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    My mother bought my brother who was in college at the time a new 66 Cutlass 2 door maroon with black vinyl top and black bucket seats with a console. Someone stole his spinner wheel covers. It was a really nice looking and driving car. Other than my brother’s 66 Cutlass and my granddad’s 64 98 my family never owned an Oldsmobile. I came close to buying a new Olds Cutlass a couple of times but I ended up with the last large Monte Carlo (1977) with rally wheels and swivel buckets fully loaded. I loved my Monte but after reading this article I wish I would have bought an Olds Cutlass. I have owned 3 Chevies and 1 Buick and have liked all of them. I washed and waxed my granddad’s 98 several times. I use to hand wax all my parents, grandparents, and my own cars years ago with Vista wax. My parents had Chrysler products, Chevrolets, 1 Buick, 2 Studebakers, a Cadillac, and finally a Chrysler 5th Avenue which I finally inherited.

  • avatar

    Big hugs for you and yours, Chris.

  • avatar
    j.grif

    Great article Chris, to most people a car is just a conveyance, a commodity, something that they have to buy as a matter of everyday life, to car people, a car is the fabric of our lives and we mark time with which automobile we happen to have at the time of events that befall or shape us. Kudos to the gentleman who is trying to involve young people into this pasttime. My dad bought my mother a 68 olds cutlass two door when the new body style came out and I grew up riding in that car, in the early years my dad drove fords but gravitated to the larger gms, the first one was a Electra 225 followed by an 1972 estate wagon. I think I abused those cars unmercilesly, if I could take those actions back I would, but we all grow up at some point.

  • avatar
    Jezza819

    I’ve always had a soft place in my heart for Oldsmobile. My dad started as a salesman with the local Olds Cadillac dealer back in the very early 50’s right after he married my mom. He started his own used car lot in the early 60’s.

    The rules about new car sales were slightly different in the 70’s when he would go about 100 miles to the east to a Oldsmobile/Pontiac/Cadillac dealer friend of his and bring back 3 or 4 new GM cars to sell on his used car lot. One of them would always be for my mom and she almost always drove an Oldsmobile. I remember in 77 I think it was that he brought back a Robin’s Egg Blue Cutlass for her and she absolutely refused to drive it because of the color.

    I also still remember that red with woodgrain Vista Cruiser wagon that we drove to Florida one year.

    Every Christmas when “Christmas Story” is on I like it when Ralphie says his father was an Oldsmobile man. “That %&*$# Oldsmobile is froze up again!!!”

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    The Old Man was a Ford guy. If I ever get enough spare money either a ’56 Customline or a Mark IV Pucci will go into my garage. Those were his 2 favourites.

    We inherited my father-in-law’s Oshawa built Buick with a 3800. Will continue to keep it on the road for as long as possible, as my wife never wants to part with it.

    Thanks, Chris.

  • avatar
    Matt Foley

    Chris, this piece hit me like a sledge between the eyes:

    My dad had a Cutlass much like yours did (a ’79 Supreme coupe, not a sedan).
    My dad went to the SCCA Runoffs with me every year they were held at Mid-Ohio. He’d always root for Vic Skirmants in the 356 Porsche.
    I lost my dad to a “wasting away” disease too – complications from juvenile-onset diabetes.
    I, too, have a ’91 Miata. Mine runs, though.
    I have a kid a little older than yours, but unlike your daughter, my son doesn’t care about cars, despite my best efforts. My family name will almost certainly live on, but my love of cars probably won’t.

    I consider myself blessed that, like you, my dad gave a damn about me. Thanks for posting.

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    Great story, Chris!

    Oldsmobiles were way up on my list beginning with the first one, a ’62 Dynamic 88. We flew to Texas to visit family, and drove home in that car, which was the first one we ever had with air conditioning..

    My first Olds purchase was a used ’66 F-85, with that wonderful 330CID Rocket V-8, hands down the smoothest-running V-8 I ever drove. Next was a 1980 Omega, which was totally forgettable, but at least the radio was oriented in the right direction..then a 1984 98 Regency Brougham, which was the last one we owned.
    Honorable mention went to a ’79 Pontiac Bonneville 2-door coupe with a console and bucket seats, and an Olds 350 in it that served up buckets full of smooth and abundant torque.

    With the exception of the Omega and the 98, build quality and materials were above average compared to the other cars that we ended up with, but with the ’84, the writing was on the wall about the brand dilution that had started with the ’73 mid-size lineup.

    But the ’62 and the ’66 were my favorites. Gobs of torque and smooth running engines (especially that 330), I’d like to have one again.

  • avatar
    wristtwist

    Got me right in the feels, man.

  • avatar
    JEFFSHADOW

    My first car, in 1978, was a 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme in Sherwood Green with the dark green interior, floor shifter and SSI wheels. I had been searching for a vehicle for some months when I found this Olds in Huntington Beach. Even though I had looked at Pontiac Tempests, Le Mans, Buick Skylarks and Olds 88s, I knew this was the one at first sight.
    For $725 it was mine and I drove it straight to Yellow Cab of Anaheim where my father worked part time on the taxi fleet radios. Lyle, the Yellow Cab mechanic, scolded me for not buying something with a slant-six. The Cutlass was already overheating but I did not care; it was mine!
    As I worked at Southwest Leasing we had a mechanic who could fix anything. Joe Fournier (Joe’s Alignment Shop!) repaired the blown head gasket and rebuilt the top end of the 2-barrel 455 for $200.
    I kept that car for nine years and won an award at the 1986 Oldsmobile Club of America Nationals in Santa Maria, California in the modified category. The car had American Racing Vector wheels, some chrome removed and blacked-out grill with smoked plexi-glass headlight covers.
    And the “70 OLDS” license plate!
    My goal was to keep any car for at least nine years before selling. The first loss was my 1979 Trans Am, sold to pay rent plus it had 148,000 miles on the Olds 403 anyway.
    I now have several Oldsmobiles that I have owned since 1991 and beyond, certainly longer than the nine-year mark!
    And even though some people see Oldsmobile as lost since 1973 or 1986 or 1991 (pick your decade) I enjoyed selling them for fourteen years until the end in 2004.
    I just bought a Ruby Red 2000 Alero GLS coupe from Copart in Oregon (A Wheels For Wishes donation) that runs great and has less than 52,000 miles.


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