The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights to which they are commonly referred, occur when charged particles found in the sun's solar wind collide with atoms in Earth's upper atmosphere, resulting in the brilliant aerial light shows above Earth's Northern Hemisphere. The Aurora Speedster, however, resulted when Oldsmobile contacted Jerry Kugel with an idea for a project to showcase the company's Aurora powerplant. Like the brilliant, flashy light show in the sky, Jerry's resulting Aurora was just as spectacular, albeit in a more terrestrial kind of way.
The speedster's first breath of life arrived at Jerry's Kugel Komponents shop in La Habra, California, in the shape of a factory 1994 Oldsmobile Aurora. These GM luxury cars were actually introduced in the 1995 model year, but the guys at Olds wanted to get a jump on what they thought was a truly revolutionary engine design to showcase at the 1994 SEMA show. The result that Jerry and his Kugel Komponents crew came up with was a space tube frame that mounted the transverse 243ci DOHC engine in a mid-engine configuration, allowing the utilization of a rear-wheel-drive setup instead of the stock Olds front-wheel drive. Of course, the chassis wouldn't be complete without suspension, and Jerry knows suspension designs like the back of his hand.
From a humble beginning working as a line mechanic for legendary hot rodder Ak Miller, Jerry proceeded to make a name for himself in the street rodding industry by being one of the first to graft Jaguar independent suspensions under street rods. Once the stock Jaguar components started to dry up, Jerry began making the parts himself, starting with IFS kits and eventually manufacturing an IRS unit complete with coilover shocks and inboard disc brakes. This long history with suspension design reflects in the suspension underneath his Aurora Speedster.
For this car, though, it was back to the drawing board, as Jerry designed a completely custom suspension system to fit the speedster. He wanted the design to be clean, unobtrusive, and effective. Since the engine was mid-mounted, there was ample room to mount the Eibach-wrapped Aldan shocks inboard the framerails behind the front crossmember. These were attached to lengthened A-arms by a pair of pushrods similar to what's under the front end of Indy-type race cars. On the end of each pair of A-arms sit billet spindles with Wilwood rotors and Corvette calipers providing stopping power. The rear suspension was set up in a similar fashion, with the same shock/ spring combo used up front, this time mounted horizontally behind the transverse V-8 and actuated by a bellcrank/ pushrod design. A set of smoothie billet rollers completed the chassis package as it appeared at the 1994 SEMA show.
Upon returning from the debut at the SEMA show, that chassis was slid back into the Kugel shop where it remained while other priorities took precedence. After a year or two in mothballs, Jerry decided it was time to dress the bare chassis. Marcel DeLey at Marcel's Custom Metal Shaping in Corona, California, was familiar with the project, and when Jerry approached him about building a custom aluminum roadster body for the project, out came the hammers. The existing relationship between the two craftsmen dates back to the Muroc and Muroc II bodies Marcel handformed for Jerry, so Marcel knew what was expected when it came time to design a one-off body for the Aurora project.
The design of the body was based on a '32 roadster, though the typical beltline is absent, replaced by stainless trim, and many of the panels have been lengthened and stretched before the entire body was channeled over the frame. To add to the sleek look of the channeled and stretched body, a lengthened hood was fitted between the cowl and the custom grille. Under the hood, where the engine normally resides, sits a small storage compartment, the foundation of which is a 1 1/2-inch steel plate that provides ballast for the otherwise light front end and covers the fuel tank, battery, and radiator. These items over the front end, combined with the mid-engine arrangement, yield an excellent weight bias.
Once Marcel built the body, it was time to actually put the car together. Since Jerry runs a full-time business of his own, it was decided to send the car to Larry Ruth and Jeremy Grant of J Grant Hot Rods in Deadwood, South Dakota. Larry and Jeremy have an astonishingly keen attention to detail, and there was no doubt in the capabilities of the shop to perform the outstanding work necessary to complement the job already done by Kugel Komponents and Marcel's. Arriving as a roller, the crew at J Grant now had the daunting task of assembling the car. Hundreds of hours of incidentals had to be worked out before the car could be painted and upholstered.
When the time finally came for paint and body prep to begin, the body was massaged to near perfection before being whisked away to nearby Spearfish, South Dakota, location of Mike's Paint and Body. The team at Mike's worked the aluminum body until it was smooth as glass before applying the PPG black and dark metallic gray paint. Once color sanded and polished, it was back over to the J Grant shop, where resident stitcher Dan Weber of Dan Weber Custom Interiors often moonlights on J Grant project cars. Dan used black leather to cover the J Grant-fabbed aluminum panels that flank the custom bench seat, and the center console also received the leather treatment. A set of Classic Instruments gauges and a Flaming River steering wheel finish off the interior.
The collision between Jerry Kugel and Oldsmobile that resulted in the chassis that became the foundation for Jerry's Aurora Speedster may have more in common with the mysterious Northern Lights than we thought. For while the Aurora Speedster is relatively young, it's no doubt that both Auroras will tantalize and amaze man for years to come!
The centerpiece of the driver's...
The centerpiece of the driver's compartment is the Flaming River steering wheel mounted atop a GM tilt column. Underneath sits a pair of billet pedals, the brake of which swings on a Kugel Komponents 90-degree underdash unit. The center console houses the custom shifter, which controls the transmission via a Kugel Komponents shift arm mated to a Lokar cable, a Sirius satellite receiver, as well as remote control pockets for the underdash radio and the Sirius satellite unit.
Marcel's Custom Metal Shaping...
Marcel's Custom Metal Shaping blended the dash into the doors before a set of Classic Instruments gauges was slipped in. Larry Ruth and Jeremy Grant of J Grant Hot Rods in Deadwood, SD, were then given the task to fabricate the bench seat, center console, and door and kicker panels before Dan Weber covered it all in black leather.
The front A-arms were lengthened...
The front A-arms were lengthened to hide the pickup points inside the lengthened, stretched, and smoothed hood sides. A Strange Engineering Stiletto rack-and-pinion steering box turns the wheels in the right direction. Boyd Coddington provided the headlights, which sit on custom stands.
The Oldsmobile Aurora's transverse...
The Oldsmobile Aurora's transverse engine originally appeared in front-wheel-drive passenger-car applications, but Jerry has converted it to a mid-engine application by moving the powertrain over the rear wheels. The electric fan in the center of the trunk evacuates any hot air trapped under the decklid.
Narrowed A-arms were used...
Narrowed A-arms were used for the rear suspension, along with custom halfshafts to mate the hubs with the output shafts on the transmission. Corvette calipers put the clamp down on Wilwood rotors, while a pushrod emits from the lower A-arm to actuate the horizontally mounted Aldan shocks inside Eibach springs.
Like the rear suspension,...
Like the rear suspension, the frontend utilizes the same Wilwood/Corvette braking combo and inboard, Indy-style coilover shocks; but, unlike the rear, the front shocks are mounted vertically behind the grille shell.