MAN OF DISTINCTION – CRAIG LEUDERS’ 1955 OLDSMOBILE 98 HOLIDAY COUPE

Just like Oldsmobile claimed in 1955, Everything about this 98 hardtop said Go Ahead

BY GAVIN KELSO, PHOTOS BY WARREN DAY, FEATURED CRUZIN #221

General Motors really had it going on in the mid 50s. Sure, all of the ‘Big 3’ were really starting to get their act together, but those shoebox Chevys… there’s a reason why they’re so sought after today. 

Craig Leuders from Renmark, a few hours out of Adelaide, agrees. While he fooled around with a couple of mid 30s Ford utes some time back, it wasn’t until around 10 years ago that he began the hunt for some fresh wheels to rekindle his motoring mojo.

“Over the years I’ve had a couple of cars, then you get married and you have to move things on because you need the dough. They have a run each year here in Renmark and I used to go down and have a look. I said to the missus, ‘We’re going to have one of these,’” Craig reflects.

He began a casual search for a 1957 Chevy coupe, an admirable choice, but an old school buddy’s off-hand comment prompted a rethink.

“Why do you want one of them, they’re everywhere,” he scoffed.

A dedicated Cruzin reader at the time, Craig spotted a magazine feature soon after on a 1957 Pontiac Superchief sedan, rebuilt by Graeme and Trish Parmenter of Oz Rods in Queensland as their personal play thing. 

“I said to my son, ‘How good does this thing look!’” he recalls, clearly smitten with the not-so-common luxury sedan.

“I read the article, but the only thing I didn’t read was the last paragraph, where it said that the car could possibly be for sale. So I went onto the computer to see if I could find something similar in the States. I showed one to my son to see if it was the same car and he said ‘Yeah, but I don’t know why you’re looking overseas, this one’s for sale.’”

“I said ‘Bullshit, they wouldn’t want to sell that.’ He said, ‘Gimme the book,’ and read me the last paragraph, which I didn’t read!”

The rest is history, as they say, with a phone call, plane flight and successful transaction with the honourable Oz Rods proprietors planting the blue and white Pontiac in his garage.

A few years passed and Craig starting getting that itch again. His new experience with General Motors’ upmarket range saw him shoot higher again for his second innings.

“I wanted another car, but I wanted a coupe. An Olds was what I really wanted, either that or a Desoto or a Buick. I was at Mildura for the Goanna Run and I saw this four door (Oldsmobile) go in. My wife Lyn said, ‘That’s a nice looking car,’ and I told her that that would be the pick of the ones I’d be looking for.”

While the four door wasn’t on the market, a chat to Graeme at Oz Rods yielded an unexpected result. Craig and Graeme had become friends since the Pontiac deal and Craig knew about Graeme’s 1955 Oldsmobile project. While discussing the sedan, Graeme quipped… “Anything’s for sale (at a price)…”

“I said, ‘Is that right. I’ll buy your car then.’ The phone went dead for about 10 seconds and then he said OK.”

What Craig bought was a 1955 Oldsmobile 98 Holiday Hardtop Coupe. Oldsmobile offered two platforms in the mid 50s – the 88 Series and the longer, more exclusive 98 Series. The 98’s extra four inches in wheelbase (126 versus 122) and other niceties would cost you around 15 percent more than an equivalent 88, and they were offered in four door sedan, four door hardtop, two door coupe and convertible body styles. With plenty of options to spend up on, the sky was the limit.

With 1955 Oldsmobile production just over 580,000, 98 Series cars account for 118,000, and of those, around 38,000 were Holiday Hardtop Coupes. With the stylish Oldsmobile range somewhat neglected throughout the decades as the world went Chevy mad, finding a good 98 today can be tough, and costly.

Similar to the Pontiac, Graeme had acquired the Olds as a personal project, quoting its uniqueness as a significant motive. Ironically he bought it from a South Australian importer. Who knew it would return!

We spoke with Graeme at Oz Rods about the Olds.

“I bought it out of Murray Bridge in South Australia. It was a fresh import, all black, but no floors. All the original paperwork and receipts were in the car. It was running and driving, just. You couldn’t register it, put it that way. I took it back to bare metal, body off chassis, did bits and pieces as I went through. That was probably 12 years ago.”

Craig considered shipping the newly acquired Olds back to his place in Renmark to oversee the restoration, but reconsidered, trusting Graham and his crew to complete the car to a high standard. 

“I think when you pull a car apart, you can put it back together, but when it’s in boxes… I’m not that way inclined. It’s taken 3 ½ years to get it to where it is now.”

Fortunately as the pair collaborated, they found their end goals to be similar, so the whole process went smoothly with Craig entrusting Graeme with many of the decisions. Trust is the key word, Craig admitting that handing over thousands of dollars with the car over 2,000km away was overwhelming for him sometimes. He was somewhat less stressed when Graeme personally delivered the final product.

The completed Olds now resides with Craig and Lyn at their Renmark home, Craig deciding which car to take out depending on his mood. While it’s still fresh he’s been showing the coupe at selected events around South Australia, receiving numerous awards and compliments. 

“I have been asked to sell it, it’s the rarity of the thing. We went to Victor Harbour, about 570 cars and it got top car there. No one had ever seen one.”

He was on target to bring the coupe to this year’s Victorian Hot Rod Show but doctor’s order curbed his plans. Maybe 2020.


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