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OLD SKOOL OLDS – PETER WHITFORD 1957 OLDSMOBILE 88 COUPE

When the white and black factory-backed 1957 Chevys hit the race track, they made history. Buck Baker, who joined NASCAR in 1946 and was runner up in 1955, won the 1957 Grand National Title driving a SEDCO-built ‘Black Widow’ 1957 Chevy after winning 10 of 40 races. What started out as a 150 Utility Sedan and later dubbed the Black Widow by its captivated fans, won a total of 59 NASCAR races, cementing its popularity amongst the massive crowds in attendance and stunned its challengers.

During those trail blazing times, Oldsmobile were taking notice and produced a healthy candidate to take on the bowtie brawler. In conjunction with new kid on the block, Air Lift, a set of ‘air bags’ were fitted to a ‘57 Olds J-2 Rocket-propelled hardtop coupe for promotional racing purposes at Daytona Beach. A line up of the top five stock car racers of the day (including Buck Baker) would take turns back-to-back, to race a standing mile. Richards’s dad, Lee Petty, set an outstanding record at 144mph, which was 20mph faster than anything else at the time. Racer and co-founder of NASCAR Bill France, astonished by the speed, inspected the engine bay and ultimately banned the Olds mill from NASCAR competition the same year.

When Peter Whitford took hold of the keys to this super cool 1957 Olds 88, he had little knowledge of Oldsmobile’s heritage or the J-2, he was simply looking for a new project. Out for a cruise with his wife in their 1965 Mustang, on a whim he dropped into Phil Woodbridge’s ‘Chevy Thunder Downunder’ to see what was on the lot. “As we arrived he had just taken delivery of this Oldsmobile,” Pete explains, “it was for another buyer who changed their mind and bought a different vehicle while it was in transit. I took one look and fell in love with it.”

Plans for the running ‘57 were to tart it up with a couple of bullet hole stickers, a Mexican blanket and drive the wheels off it. “That was a whole lot of $$$ ago,” he chuckles. As Pete researched the J-2 engine occupying the engine bay he became almost obsessed with learning about the NASCAR options and Oldsmobile’s performance heritage. As outlined in the accompanying article of the engine, the powerplant became the catalyst for the overall expression of the vehicle.  

Whilst Peter Klockner was working overtime on the engine internals, the body was handed over to Juice Customs for a complete tidy up and buff. Seasoned upholsterer Neil Pepper was enlisted into the mix and given the go ahead to stitch new seat covers and door cards that would respect the remaining interior. Using leather grain vinyl resembling a tan chamois, Neil skilfully followed the original Oldsmobile design patterns to produce a tasteful interior that would withstand regular seat time.  For now Pete grips a repro steering wheel but as soon as his wallet recovers from the engine rebuild, he will be restoring the original tiller to its former glory. With the factory black exterior resurrected and new threads on the inside, Pete looked at the ageing white dash and conceded that its day was done. Juice was once again called upon to perform a facelift on the existing sheet metal which he colour coded to the new interior.

As the complete package began to represent the vision in Pete’s mind, the only thing holding the hardtop back in the present time zone was the five spoke mags. A phone call to Antique Tyres in Melbourne soon rectified the issue with a set of 15×7 and 15×8 Vintique steelies. “I’ve never been a hub cap guy,” says Pete. With a lick of black paint and some decent rubber, this is one cool cruiser that doesn’t need them.

Pete may have inadvertently sabotaged his original idea for this unorthodox ’57, but he doesn’t regret it. When you see this stealthy trout mouthed beast appear in your rear view mirror and blow by with an untamed bellow… neither will you.

BY DALE HABERFIELD, PHOTOS MILLBROOK STUDIO, FULL FEATURE CRUZIN #172
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