Just the Facts
Model: Starfire 98 Convertible
Owners: John & Leslie Gilson
Maybe there was something in the Detroit drinking water that year. Or maybe the planets were aligned just right over the Motor City. Whatever may have caused it, 1957 was a particularly successful model year for auto designers. A lot of Ford and Chevy fans would agree with that, but Buick, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile folks probably would too.
When John Gilson of Huntington Beach, California, was a young gun, his second car was a 1957 Olds 88 Holiday Coupe. He loved the car, and even though he's owned a bunch of classic cars since then, he always hoped to have another one someday. A few years ago, John mentioned this hope to Darryl Nance of D&P Classics in Huntington Beach, and asked him to let him know if he ever came across a 1957 Olds convertible they could build into a driveable, show-worthy car.
"After doing a bit of searching, Darryl found a 1957 Starfre 98 convertible in Oakland," John told us. "The owner used to own a GM salvage yard. He closed it years ago, but kept a few favorites. The Olds had been stored for decades. It didn't run, but it was mostly complete. The fact that it was a 98 was all the more exciting."
The only set of these billet wheels is on this car. They were built at J&P exclusively
Once the car got to Huntington Beach, John and Darryl started kicking around ideas for how to build it. The frst decision was whether to have J&P restore the Olds to stock or to "retro-rod" it by blending modern components while retaining much of the original look. John opted for the second option. "I was intrigued by the latter approach— and felt that I'd have the only one around."
The whole point of a retro rod is to improve the performance and ride, and provide some cosmetic fne-tuning without a lot of unnecessary tweaks to the outward appearance of the car. In this case, the wheels and tires are the biggest variation from the look of a restoration. The front fenders got the horizontal side trim raised a few inches and lost the ornamental rockets that originally decorated the tops of the fenders and the Ninety-Eight script that decorated the sides. At the other end, the oval Olds ornament has been shaved from the modifed decklid. Illumination was improved with Halogen headlights and LED taillights. The body was fnished in the brightest red around, PPG's Oh So Sexy Red, sprayed by D&P painter Alex Rodriguez. The same color was chosen for the Haartz cloth top. What you can't see from the outside is all the re-engineering done by D&P to adapt the body to the chassis, including a completely rebuilt foor and braces.
In order to update the 1957 Oldsmobile's 57-year-old undercarriage with modern-day components, J&P commissioned Art Morrison Enterprises to build a whole new chassis for the car. The frame and crossmembers are outftted with top-shelf suspension goodies, including Strange Engineering adjustable coilovers at every corner. The front was beefed up with a Panhard bar and updated with rack-andpinion steering. In the back, parallel four-bars locate a Ford 9-inch rearend. Torque is transferred to the one-of, custom-built billet wheels, created by D&P, and rolling on Goodyear Eagle RS tires. John never has to worry about stopping in time, since that job is handled by 15-inch disc brakes with six-piston calipers from Baer Brakes.
Five-hundred-plus horsepower from a GM crate big-block moves the Olds down the street with ease. At shows, the dressed-up 502ci engine performs its other job—getting attention—equally well. The handbuilt air intake system uses twin Viper throttle bodies to feed a Hogan fuel injection manifold. Exhaust is drawn through a pair of custom headers with 2-inch primaries, leading into 3-inch pipes from Automotive Excellence. DynoMax mufers provide just the right resonance. The transmission behind the big-block was built by 200-4R expert Art Carr, now at California Performance Transmission in Huntington Beach, and is operated by a Lokar Performance Products foor shifter.
J&P and the Gilsons teamed up with Stitchcraft Custom Interiors in Westminster, California, to transform the inside of the Olds as beautifully as the outside. Red and ivory hides cover Lexus seats, separated by a console housing the shifter, billet vents for the Vintage Air air conditioning, and the touch-screen for the Panasonic Double DIN audio system (with a Kicker amp and Infnity speakers). Classic Instruments designed a white-face gauge package specifc for this application.
The finished car was just what John wanted: a 1957 Olds to bring back memories of the one from his younger days—and a fun, driveable car that he and his wife, Leslie, could cruise on the street and display at the show with equal success. In addition to fulflling all of those objectives, the Olds has provided some additional perks in the form of awards. Those include a Top 25 trophy from Hot August Nights in Reno and a Builder's Choice award at a Goodguys event in Del Mar. Of course, for John, the real prize is the one he can drive.
In addition to combining colors, Stitchcraft combined textures in the leather used on the
There's a lot of interior to cover on a 1957 Oldsmobile. The crew at Stitchcraft caught on
This billet aluminum electric master cylinder from Classic Industries doesn't take away fr