It shouldn't be a stretch of the imagination that most folks have a pretty good opinion of the car they're driving around, but that thought gets amplified when it comes to people who own a hot rod. Some may tell you their car "Has the best lines of any ever made," which is how Ron Finch, from Fresno, California feels about his '57 Olds Golden Rocket 88 hardtop.
Sure, he had one of these cars when he was younger, which might augment the bias in this retired computer specialist, but it didn't alter the fact that when he finally decided he'd like to own another one (building it for his wife, Bonnie), nothing was going to slow him down.
Finch found this '57 in Arizona, but it got there via an extended trip from Michigan and Colorado. He bought it 8 years ago as a fairly solid car with only a little rust and a few dents here and there, and with an engine that had a couple of frozen, rusted pistons.
Nonetheless Finch took on the rebuild, blowing the body off the frame and starting with the chassis. The original rear end (3.73:1) was used, though the leaf springs were reworked and a set of Gabriel air shocks were bolted up. The original front suspension was also used, though Finch opted for a set of disc brakes rather than stay with the stock front drums.
Chassis and suspension pieces were powdercoated by Caps Powdercoating (the company responsible for also coating the exhaust and other pieces throughout the car). The steering column is a new unit, too, and came from Flaming River, while Billet Specialties delivered both the steering wheel and road wheels (16-inch Legacy wheels wrapped in Michelin rubber).
The Olds Rocket 88 debuted as a vehicle in 1949 ("You've got to drive it to believe it! so said the slogan) and came with the company's new Rocket engine, brimming with 135 horses of overhead valve technology. Every few years Olds would up the displacement and performance of their Rocket engines and, by 1957, had three different versions of their 371-inch motor. Each with 10:1 compression, the engines differed on induction, which netted different horsepower ratings. The econ-o-way carb version offered 265 hp, the Quadrajet version ponied up 305 hp, but the top-of-the-line J-2 engine, with its six-barrel, triple-two carb system offered 300-plus horsepower with 415 lb.ft of torque.
Finch knew the J-2 was at the top of the class of Olds engines for a '57, but for this ride he upted the ante a bit by having Dave Hyatt bore the block .060 over for a final displacement of almost 400 cubes-more than enough power even for a heavy boat like this.
Finch turned to Doug Omstead for help in assembling the motor, which uses a group of parts (including many of those found in the heads) and pieces from Egge Machine. Offenhauser valve covers were obtained, and a four-barrel air filter was modified to cover all three carbs. A custom exhaust system was fabricated (exiting through Flowmaster mufflers) and the V-8 was soon mated to a 700-R4 transmission (equipped with a B&M Transmission shift kit).
And even though Finch declared the car had great lines, he found a way to improve on them by shaving the door handles as well as the trim on the hood and trunk. After the body was perfected by Va Song, the car was taken to Fortney Auto Body in Clovis, California, for black-with-blue-pearl paint job.
Finch says Bonnie wanted a blue car, and he wanted a black one. The compromise was that the blue pearl would show up better in the daytime (when Bonnie would drive it) and Ron would have his black car for cruising Fresno at night!
Reassembly soon began, and Finch got help in that department from Rick Anderson of Custom Fabrication (Fresno, CA) who worked on the entire build-up. Rechromed parts from Clovis Specialty Plating were added and Finch ordered a set of gauges from Dakota Digital for a spot in the dash in front of the steering wheel. The stereo system came from Custom Autosound and installed at Cooks Communications in Fresno. The major electrical work for the car was then finished up by Bob Cook, who used a Haywire wiring kit as a base to work from.
A 60/40 split bench seat, taken from a '86 Lincoln, was recovered in black and beige leatherette by Dave Stoeckel of DSco Interiors in Madera, California. DSco also created the small center console under the dash, which houses the controls and vents for the Vintage Air climate control system.
With the car finished after a seven-year build, Finch was happy to get behind the wheel and get some miles on the car. Not interested in the car show trophy scene, Ron is happier when driving his ride down the road with his wife, Bonnie, by his side. But other times she's following in the couple's other hot rod: a '29 Ford Tudor, which Ron had built back in 1994. Both cars have an unmistakable attitude, and both are fine examples of the early-late hot rod combination that are found in the garages of today's hot rodders.
It seems the Olds J-2 engines have been popping up a lot lately in various hot rods, but i
A '86 Lincoln gave up its 60/40 split bench seat for the cause, and was recovered in beige
If the black paint and chrome accents didn't tell you, the Rocket's nose-down stance shoul