1970 Oldsmobile 442

1970 Oldsmobile 442

Editor Ben Klemenzson reveals how he ended up restoringhis muscle car over four years… by accident!

American car-owning folk seem to be divided into two categories: those that change their car like their underwear and those that cling on to the same car for years, lifetimes even. I think I fall firmly into the latter category, as I’ve owned the car pictured on these pages for 17 years and two months. How I came about buying the car is a story in itself…

Oldsmobile 442

When I was 16/17 I was an exchange student in Raleigh, North Carolina in the mid-Eighties. It was about as American as you could get and the parking lot of the high school I went to was filled with teenage students’ cars. I loved American cars back then as much as I do now and it was a real eye-opener to see 16-year-olds driving big old Seventies Buick Regals, Cutlasses, Le Sabres, Caprices, Delta 88s, Coronets, Polaras and Grand Marquis models.

All these big old Seventies boats were hand-me-downs predominantly from grandparents or other relatives and there was a universal belief that it was a good idea for these newly qualified drivers to have ‘a lot of metal around them’ as the father of my American girlfriend at the time explained (she had a 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass, of which she was painfully embarrassed and longed for a Volvo 240 – I thought she was crazy!). It’s what they used to call ‘The Big Car Advantage’…

Editor Ben Klemenzson reveals how he ended up restoring his muscle car over four years… by accident!

The quarterback on the high school football team, who was also Homecoming King and universally admired, drove a Sherwood Green 1970 Olds Cutlass and I really fell in love with that car. It was scruffy but fun and in the summer he’d hoon around in it with his football buddies in their letter jackets and I used to think to myself: “I’d love a car like that…”

Fast forward about 10 years to the mid-Nineties and I’m working at Classic American as the deputy editor. I happened to be at the Damn Yankees show in Blake Hall and I came upon the Olds 4-4-2 featured on these pages. At the time I noted that the interior had been reupholstered in non-factory green corduroy, but to the exact same pattern as the vinyl originals (I had an unkind colleague who used to call it ‘The Candlewick bedspread car’; however, on hot days the corduroy is in fact a lot more forgiving than vinyl!). I looked at it for a long time; although I never saw the owner and eventually walked away, I did make a promise to myself: “If that car ever comes up for sale, I must buy it…”

Life is funny sometimes in that opportunities often present themselves at the most inopportune time. The car did come up for sale in Classic American’s pages nine years later, in 2005; I recognised it immediately (those corduroy seats!).However, I’d just bought a flat and was pretty skint, so I did something quite reckless (for me at least) and something I would never normally do: I took out a loan to pay for it…

I went down to Loughton in Essex to look at it with a view to purchase it. The vendor was a nice chap who owned a car spraying business and he agreed to blow in a couple of areas that were looking a bit crusty. Overall, the car was as I remembered it and following a test-drive, a deal was struck, I paid a deposit and arranged to return the following week by train with the balance and to collect the car and drive it up to Manchester.

I’ve never really looked back since, although I have done quite a lot of things to the car in that time. What’s always been satisfying for me is that every mechanic who has ever worked on it has said that it’s a nice, solid car that’s never been messed with and it drives beautifully. Every year I’d always make a point of taking the car on at least one big trip and over the years it’s been everywhere from Sweden to the Scottish Highlands and Devon. I’ve even done a couple of weddings with it, not for money, just as a favour…

As with any car I’ve owned, I’ve become a bit of an expert on 1970 Oldsmobile 4-4-2s, although my own car has always remained a bit of an enigma – it actually featured in Classic American number 18 (April/May 1992) when it belonged to a gentleman called Doug Poole who’d purchased it at the 1988 Fall Autofest, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It had been totally restored in the US by Pennsylvania 4-4-2 specialist Michael Redding (whose name is on the original Pennsylvania title it came with). But that was 30 years ago and since then Mr Redding has passed away and it’s unclear what history the car had in the US before its import to the UK. It has however spent more time in the UK during its life than the US. It’s also got very few options (no power windows, air con or any of the other luxury options you’d expect on a car of this era). In many ways, that’s in keeping with a muscle car and also a bit of a blessing once a car gets to this age…

Sadly, over the years the rust has made a reappearance behind the wheel openings and the odd scratch, chip and wear has made its presence known on the bodywork. With every MoT and service (I still have the car MoT’d every year, even though that’s not a legal requirement) I would notice the rash of rust – surface admittedly – getting worse. The car’s never driven in winter or in rain or bad weather, but inevitably in our climate the damp conditions eventually take their toll… I’m sure many of you reading this have reached that stage with your car where these kinds of issues really need addressing; either that, or the car will deteriorate further and potentially just become a wreck.

I was most definitely at that stage around April 2018 with the 4-4-2 when something happened that forced my hand. For my 50th birthday I’d decided that my big 4-4-2 trip that year was going to be a drive to the South of France for a week’s holiday. It was going to be an epic, once-in-a-lifetime trip and as such the car had been mechanically fettled to within an inch of its life by my local American garage Dave Madders and trusty mechanic Alex Doig. As part of the preparations, I’d been putting the car through its paces to make sure everything was tickety-boo before the 1000-mile, three-day drive; this had included a day trip to Liverpool.

On the return, as I merged on to the M62 motorway, I noticed the red brake lights of a stationary vehicle, with a truck next to it. Since the slip road only had two lanes, there was nowhere for me to go, although fortunately there was an empty hard shoulder and I quickly steered into this, while the wheels locked as I stamped on the brakes and plumes of black smoke appeared in my wake as the rubber burned…

They say at moments like that time slows down and I can attest to that; with the locked wheels and squealing, burning rubber I was convinced the car would slam into the Armco rail and be totalled on one side. Incredibly the car, although sliding with locked wheels, remained in a straight line and didn’t hit the side. What I hadn’t accounted for was the stationary car attempting to pull into the hard shoulder and effectively kissing the full length of my car as it slid past. It was one of those ‘life-flashing-past-your-eyes’ moments and was followed by silence.

The car which had hit me was now half on the hard shoulder and half in the slow lane and the driver, a crying teenage girl, was hunched over the steering wheel in a state of distress. Eventually I got her to pull on to the hard shoulder properly. It turned out she’d only just passed her test and felt she couldn’t merge on to the motorway, so had stopped on the slip road. The truck behind her had pulled into the other lane but clipped her in the process and it was at that stage I’d come upon them.

I’ve never had an accident on the motorway, but it’s easy to see how dangerous they can be… and thank God for the hard shoulder. Had it not been there, I would have ploughed into the back of her and it would have been a very different story. Ultimately, the damage to my car was superficial; it had scraped the paint, but hadn’t dented or damaged any of the panels. Obviously, I wasn’t just going to paint one side of the car and negotiations with my insurance company meant I was going to have to bite the bullet and have the entire car resprayed. But before that it would have to be bare-metalled and what on earth would be under that paint? Acres of bog? Dodgy American repairs? There was only one way to find out…

Repainted in the mid-Eighties, the paint was starting to get tired. Original Pennsylvanian title.

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