Entrepreneur Ransom Eli Olds began producing automobiles in Lansing, Mich. in 1897. While some of his designs were questionable, he struck success in 1901 with a simple single-cylinder runabout, the curved dash Oldsmobile.
In 1908, Olds sold to William C. Durant and the Oldsmobile became part of the newly-formed General Motors Corporation. As a mid-price vehicle in the GM line-up, Oldsmobile was a leader in innovation and released many exciting features. 1940 saw the introduction of the Hydra-Matic automatic transmission, Futuramic styling for late ’40s models and the high-compression, overhead valve, Rocket V-8 engines.
Throughout the 1950s, the Oldsmobile continued to improve in styling and performance and increased sales among General Motors buyers.
Don Scharf of Winnipeg grew up with the Oldsmobile. Throughout the ’50s and ’60s, his father and brother exclusively drove Oldsmobiles and Don owned a 1952 Oldsmobile 98 hardtop. Since then, Scharf has appreciated the Oldsmobile marque and, over the years, has acquired a few prime models for his collection. But one that stood high on his list of wants was a 1956 Oldsmobile 98 two-door hardtop.
The ’50s Oldsmobiles are great collector vehicles, but very difficult to restore. An incomplete car can lead the owner on a years-long hunt for the one-year, one-model trim and chrome for which these vehicles are famous. The other consideration is rust or badly bent body panels. There are no reproduction panels manufactured for these cars and finding original, new-old stock — or even just good used parts — is not an enviable task.
“I had been looking for a 98 Holiday hardtop for quite a while and they are hard to find,” Scharf says.
In 2010, he saw one advertised for sale in New Hampshire. An original California car with only 6,000 miles on the odometer since undergoing an extensive restoration, it clearly looked like the one to own. After more than four weeks of telephone calls and sharing photos of the car a decision was at hand.
“As I’ve done in the past, it was as much to fly there to look at the car in person, as it was to have it transported to Winnipeg, so I bought it and had it shipped home,” says Scharf.
Finished in its original, two-tone paint colours of Citron Cream and Antique White, the car is a looker, especially set off with all of the bright stainless steel trim and chrome plating. Inside, there’s a flawlessly redone interior with new carpet, headliner and white vinyl upholstery with green piping and trim, including a padded dashboard. The vehicle is also fully loaded with power steering, power brakes, power windows, power seat, tinted glass, “Autronic Eye,” automatic headlamp dimmer, electric clock and deluxe six-tube push button AM radio and has a hidden 10-disc compact disc player.
Powering the Olds is the legendary 324 cubic inch Rocket V-8. Equipped with 9.25:1 compression, Rochester 4GC Quadra-Jet four-barrel carburetor and dual exhaust, it produces 240 horsepower at 4,400 r.p.m. and 350 lb/ft of torque at 2,800 r.p.m. Backed by the Hydra-Matic drive automatic transmission, it gets the 3,978-pound coupe down the road in style. Tires are 15-inch wide whitewall radials, with full Oldsmobile spinner wheel covers.
Following a summer of driving, Scharf found the car has a few nagging problems, including engine oil leaks. “I did the usual maintenance of rebuilding the brakes, new wheel bearings and adding a custom-built Griffin aluminium radiator for cooling,” says Scharf. After chasing the oil leaks without success, he decided to remove the engine and have it rebuilt.
Jason Turkle and Barry Korba at Piston Ring Service rebuilt the Olds Rocket V-8 with a 0.030-inch overbore and new gaskets and seals throughout. Before reinstalling the engine, the Hydra-Matic transmission was also rebuilt and the rear axle checked and serviced.
“They did a great job on the engine,” says Scharf. “There are no oil leaks and it runs beautifully.
“I also have to thank my grandson Colin, Hitrac Service manager Charlie Huston and mechanic Big John Kanzler. With their help the powertrain rebuild and reassembly went off smoothly,” Scharf says.
Also on the guest list for troubleshooting and moral support was Sheldon Lischinski. Better known locally as Dr. Oldsmobile, Lischinski boasts a wealth of knowledge on all things to do with the marque. With a base price of $3,138.00 before adding optional equipment, the 1956 Holiday hardtop was at the upper limit of the mid-price range, yet it was popular with buyers, as 19,433 were produced. In 2004, General Motors ceased production of the Oldsmobile car line, bringing an end to more than a century worth of production. But enthusiasts shouldn’t fear — there are many great Oldsmobiles presented at local car shows and you’ll be able to check out Scharf’s ’56 at several shows next year.