|FOR SALE: 1968 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight Luxury Sedan, completely original including paint, no rust or body damage, very nice original interior, everything works, ran and drove great when purchased, great restoration project, no engine, make offer.|
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Vol. 4, No. 1
|I recently took a trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas. If you've never been,
you should go. The countryside is beautiful, with winding roads and hills
and valleys all along the way. It was very hot while I was there, so early
Spring or Fall would be a better time to go. I would imagine that the Fall
foliage is spectacular, and plan to go back soon to see if I'm right. The
tall trees tower over the roads, with sunlight filtering through the leaves
before it reaches the ground. One can see first hand what Mother Nature
intended this planet to look like before man came along and messed with
Arkansas is a haven for old cars. Often neglected, but there were some real gems parked in driveways and under carports. And of course there are always the abandoned ones, parked long ago at the side of the house, or perhaps left wherever they were when they stopped running. From time to time, I saw some very nice if not pristine cars, likely still in the hands of the original owners. It was very obvious that these cars had been well cared for since day one, which is no small feat. To have a 30-plus year old car with perfect black cloth upholstery, unspoiled by rips, tears, or sun fading is not something accomplished by sheer accident.
I am fearful that more and more of these cars are disappearing every day, and that they are very close to extinction. One would hope that the same people who have cared for these cars all along would always be able to care for them, but we all know that's just not possible. Family members, often in a rush to take care of the estate of a departed loved one, are usually ill equipped to also care for a vintage car. Some will attempt to preserve the car, only to discover there's more to it than turning the key and going somewhere in it every few months. They soon realize that it takes time to maintain and preserve these cars, and often this reality doesn't reveal itself until it's too late.
It's a familiar story: Uncle Joe or Aunt Bernice left his/her 1968 Oldsmobile to a family member. The car has been maintained in top condition since new, and was very much loved by the now departed Uncle or Aunt. So, the lucky survivor who gets the car drives it home and parks it. It isn't driven as much as it should be, and one day won't start. Attempts to revive the car only reveal other problems that must be dealt with, it is an old car after all, and this becomes too much for the new owner. So, regrettably, they decide to sell it.
Or, after allowing the once perfect old car to sit outside for a few years, they're dismayed that it has deteriorated so much. The once shiny enamel paint is now faded, with spots of surface rust. The sheen and texture of the vinyl top is long gone, leaving behind shreds of vinyl to flap in the wind. The sun has faded the upholstery, cracked the instrument panel, and rotted the rubber. My, my, all this in just a few short years. The thought of making repairs is just too much to think of, so they realize it's time to let it go.
Sad scenarios, but one can hardly blame a person for not realizing what is involved in the care and maintenance of an old car. They are concerned because the car doesn't run good until it's warmed up, but of course the fact that the choke wasn't properly set by the driver prior to starting the car isn't considered. There's more to driving an old car than turning the key and going, but they just don't seem to understand that, nor do they take the time to learn how it should be driven and operated.
So, the old car comes up for sale with the hope that someone else will love it as much as the original owner did. And sometimes that's exactly what happens. A collector or enthusiast who recognizes the value of a low mileage, original, one owner car discovers it and maintains and preserves the vehicle with the respect it deserves. No doubt Uncle Joe or Aunt Bernice, looking down from Heaven, are quite relieved when this happens, because they know their treasure is in good hands.
But things don't always turn out this way. And this is what concerns me so. Time and time again, I see a car listed on the Internet or on eBay that certainly appears to be a lovingly maintained original, with shiny paint, soft, smooth vinyl surfaces unmarred by cracks, a straight, rust-free body, and no engine!
Where did the engine go? Surely it didn't just disappear, evaporate into thin air, or unbolt itself and jump out from under the hood in the middle of the night! So what happened to it? Quite often, the text of the ad reveals that the engine was removed by the current seller to be used in "another project." In fact, you often find that the car was purchased solely for the engine (and often the transmission, too), and after extracting the heart from the car, it was suddenly discovered that the car was "just too nice to part out or crush." So now they want to sell the remains of the car to someone else.
The fact that they took a very nice, complete, numbers matching car and ruined it by turning it into an incomplete car that no longer has the correct numbers matching engine and transmission, and no longer has the ability to be driven, seems to escape them. They just don't appear to have any shame. Uncle Joe and Aunt Bernice, looking down from above are likely not pleased with this development, and, well...let's just say that Karma can be a real bitch when it comes back to bite you on the butt!
One can only hope that the nice 455 Rocket V-8 that was yanked out of the pristine original 1968 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight was used in another Oldsmobile, perhaps a Cutlass or 442, but often that is not the case. Demolition Derby guys like to find these old powerful V-8's that are still in good mechanical shape to power their latest derby car. These guys like durable cars that can really take a good hit and keep going. Imperials are very popular, so durable that some derby's don't allow them. GM station wagons of the 1960s and 1970s are also quite popular, because they have strong bodies and frames, and can get bashed around yet still keep going.
The fact that an original collectible car worthy of being preserved is being forced into the final chapter of its life is beyond these guys. Of course, once bought, they can do whatever they want with the old car, since it is, unfortunately, theirs. And while to some it may be forgivable to part out a once great luxury car in order to restore a muscle car or win a demo derby, it's a real shame that people don't have more respect for these cars. And it's not just Oldsmobiles that are affected. Ford Thunderbirds are becoming increasingly popular for their 429 Thunder Jet engines and C6 transmissions. More than a few Buick Rivieras and Electras have had their 430 V-8s removed as well.
Sadly, in many cases these cars are worth more money as parts cars, since values are still somewhat low when compared to lesser cars of the same vintage. For instance, a Thunderbird is usually worth less money than a Mustang of the same vintage, as is the case with an Olds Ninety Eight when compared to a Cutlass or 442, or a Buick Riviera or Electra compared to a Skylark or Gran Sport. More than a few Stage One engines have been pulled from a Riviera over the years to go into a pseudo muscle car, because the value is simply not there in the luxury version, and a fake muscle car is still worth more money than an original luxury car.
It's a sad phenomenon, and one that will only worsen over time if things continue as they have. En route to Hot Springs, I had lunch in Fort Smith, Arkansas at a restaurant on Garrison Avenue, which is one of the main streets going through town. As I sat there, I could see traffic pass by outside on Garrison, through the many windows. At one point, a large truck passed by, with a load of crushed cars. I was able to identify the remains of several cars, flattened beyond repair, taking their final trip, and that made me sad. Had they been a nice original, complete and running a few months earlier? Were they the victim of an engine removal, dooming them to a short life expectancy as a non-driver?
Even if you aren't a fan of these big luxury cars as some of us are, please have respect for them and their history. At some point, the market could change and the big luxury cars could be the hot commodity that the muscle cars are now. There are lots of 429s and 455s already pulled from cars that have been wrecked, burned, or have rusted beyond repair. It may take a bit more time searching, but they are out there. As of the date of this writing, there were multiple instances of 429s and 455s available on eBay, either complete running engines already out of cars, or in wrecked cars that were beyond repair.
Those of us in the old car hobby must learn to respect the automobiles that have survived, and allow them the opportunity for a future. Using parts from one car to keep another on the road is a noble action, but removing parts from a clean, complete, original, running car with no thought as to what that does to the value and life expectancy of that car going forward is a shameful act that no person with any level of respect for old cars would do.
Will this car suffer the fate of having its engine pulled for use in another car, or will it die a horrid death in a demo derby?
We'd like to recommend instead a fresh coat of paint, a little maintenance, and years of happy driving!
This article was originally scheduled for publication on June 24, 2006, but was delayed at the author's request.
Copyright © 2006 Automotive Mileposts, Inc.
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