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1951Olds88

1951 Oldsmobile 88 (Deluxe)

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As an immigrant, with no history of American cars in my youth I never thought I would get bitten by the bug.... We had just moved back to north of Atlanta, after 14 years in Central Florida. On a road near our house, someone was selling a red late 40's car. turned out to be a resto-mod Dodge 48 or 49.

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Looked at it but it was noisy (hot rod) and pricey. But then something was itching. Started looking on-line at ATClassics & ClassicCars.com. Found a '50 Plymouth(?) south of Atlanta, but it was more a street rod too (no chrome trim, black bumper and modern engine).

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Sales guy said easier to maintain modern engines, and have power steering and power brakes. But it did not bite me. The sales guy suggested, if I was looking for something more stock to look for Oldsmobiles as they were still slightly cheaper than the premium marques, (Chevy, Ford, Cadillac). By now I was beginning to get a sense of my "ideal" car, in running condition but not perfect 1) to keep the price down 2) would like to accomplish something myself on the car; would prefer a stock car but not original, restored to stock is OK and finally the icing on the cake would be a car dated the same year that I am (1951). Just after receiving the 'Olds advice', I found one about 4 hours away so I could take a look myself and not buy blind. Two days later drove up and yes, this one bit me ... and hard!

In running condition (and what a sound that Rocket 8 makes), little rust showing, restored interior, just some issues with the (original) paint job. So I put down a deposit, went home and started arranging final payment, transportation and insurance.

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Edited by 1951Olds88
added pix (see edit history)

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Finally the big day came and the 88 was delivered.

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Off the truck and a quick spin around the sub-division, what fun. Didn't want to go further as no license plate yet (awaiting title which was sent separately for safety). Although the transport driver said most cops would not worry about a plate, might just pull me over to look at the car!

Found some hidden treasure in the glove compartment, documents from the first owner.

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Transfer was easy, GA does not title cars over 25 years anymore so all I needed was a GA plate and an affidavit that allows me to display a YOM plate that I had purchased as soon as I had taken the decision to go ahead. Started driving around and yes the classic car fun starts. After one 15 minute drive noticed wisps of smoke coming out of the oil breather. Asked the year advisor of OCA and he recommended a compression test in case it was due to blow by. Found a small local garage with old guys working there that said they could look at it. Good news was that there were no compression issues, everything within specs. At the same time they noticed that the choke was sticking, which explained some reluctance to start now and then, and fixed it for me.

A neighbor told me about the monthly Caffeine and Octane Car Show nearby, so took the car there, what a blast!

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Next was a trip to the North Georgia mountains. Great fun driving around, but it was a hot day and I noticed some issues with the starter acting up. Did manage to get home without a problem and next day everything seemed OK.

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Edited by 1951Olds88 (see edit history)

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Thanks, I am very pleased with it, but like any 63 year old vehicle it has its quirks. I am going to try and share my (ongoing) story in this thread, so keep watching.

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Stefan,

We love pictures and ongoing stories in this section of the forum -- keep'em coming!!

Beautiful car, by the way.

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Nice car. On your starting issues, check the sizes of you battery cables. They should be much bigger in diameter than on a modern car. Also make sure your connections are good. Worn starter bearings can cause hot engine starting issues too but I would suspect battery cables first.

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The day after our Saturday drive in the country, started up the car to fill up at the local ethanol free pump (luckily have two between 4 and 8 miles from home). No problems with starting, either at home or at the gas station. However, while filling, the nozzle got caught on the lip of the filling pipe on the gas tank (actually it was the spring on the nozzle that got caught). Couldn't leave with a gas pipe hanging out of fuel door, and I don't think that the gas station would have liked it either. So tried twisting and turning the nozzle but to no avail. Finally took my tire iron, pushed the filling tube to one side and managed to extract the gas hose. All well and good I thought.

As we had another weekend planned in the mountains with friends, Friday morning I pushed the car out of the garage to give it a good wash. My garage floor is pretty much level, but there is a 1" small step down from the garage to the drive way and my driveway slopes noticeably to one side, away from the garage. Now the car is not level anymore and I notice liquid spreading at the back of the car. I think, funny, this car does not have airco, so where is the water coming from? Not water, gas! Running off the gas tank and dripping right next to the exhaust pipe. Am I glad that I did not start the engine and drive the car out for its wash, who knows what might of happened.

Could not see why this was happening, was it a break in the filler that I had manhandled, a break in the fuel line to the engine because it go pushed up against something when I was wrestling with the nozzle or something else? As I did not want to drive the car I called my garage and had them pick it up so they could put it up on a lift and find out what was going on. They ended up dropping the fuel tank and discovering that sometime in the past the tank had rusted through around the opening for the sending unit. It had been repaired with what looked like epoxy, and the epoxy had deteriorated. The garage said I ought to be able to drive with less than 1/2 tank, but I decided to get Fusick to send me a new tank. The car was flatbedded back home to await the tank. A few days I returned to the garage with tank and we were ready to roll again.

Edited by 1951Olds88 (see edit history)

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So now that the tank was done, I was ready for my next road trip. The local chapter of the Oldsmobile Club of America (Dixie Olds Club) was showing some cars at a nearby show, so I decided to join them. Set of Saturday morning excited to meet other enthusiasts. I was about hallway through the 40 minute drive when the car stalled at a light. Although I was able to turn the engine over a few times, slowly the battery was dying. So I called my wife and asked her to bring the new Optima Red-top that I had just bought and charged, but not installed or even put in the trunk.

At this point I can see the look of horror on the faces of the AACA purists at my battery choice. To be honest, this car was initially purchased as a weekend driver. That said, after being introduced to the AACA, once the car is more reliable, perhaps I will spend some time and money to make it more of a show car. I am learning quickly, this is a long term hobby.

Half an hour she arrived with booster cables and the battery, but now even the starter would not turn over. Time to call Hagerty's and have their road service take me home, not quite as excited as when I left a few hours earlier.

BTW. Once home, I did jump in my daily driver so I could meet the fellow car ethusiasts and see what a local show is all about.

The following week, called my garage again and asked them to take out the starter so I could drop it off at a nearby company for an overhaul. (I seemed to have chosen a good place to live because there plenty of classic car friendly services very close. The only thing that seems to be missing is a well stocked salvage yard. But I am sure there must be one somewhere in the Atlanta area.)

I am also mentioning the local garage that is helping me out quite a bit. After taking the car there for the compression test, I decided they were probably a good place to continue to patronize because I noticed an antique car in a state for major disassembly in one of their bays. It turned out to be a 1940 Ford something, owned by one of the mechanics. But that gave me confidence that they knew about classic cars and were not just wet-behind-the-ears grease jockeys. Although I was hoping to do work on the car myself, a reoccurrence of a back problem meant it was useful to have somewhere that could attend to urgent maintenance.

A day later the start was ready, looking very spiffy with what looks like a new solenoid. The garage replaced the starter but when I picked it up mentioned that instead of the earlier heat soak problems, it seemed to be starting intermittently even when cold. They suggested taking the car to the rebuilders and having the starter tested in place. As I had requested, they had checked the cable gauges and everything was as it should, albeit that the cables looked a little old. I soon found out that we still had a problem.

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After the starter had been replaced , but it was not working 100%, it was time to take the car to the starter rebuilder for an on-car evaluation. Stalled the car getting out of the garage, and click, click, click.... The ammeter was pegging out but no turns on the engine. Called the shop and the flat-bed to the car in. The starter was out quite quickly, but before it was removed they did some testing. The comment was that my new Optima was getting drained very quickly, quicker than normal. So either the battery was defective or there was something wrong with the starter. SO off to the rebuilder with the starter only. At the rebuilders the owner took the starter into his shop for 20 minutes. I could hear the starter being tested , over and over and over. Finally he came out with his diagnosis. The good news was that the starter was working within specs and not drawing more amps than expected. In his opinion it meant either that the engine was more difficult to turn over (but that fact that it ran normally belied that) or that the cabling had an issue.

(good advice Bleach)
However, the shop had confirmed that the cables seemed to have the correct gauge, so now what?

Back to the shop, sat down with the owner and the mechanic to discuss. The big question why had this suddenly appeared after the starter had been rebuilt, whereas before the issue had been heat soak. I asked whether the cables looked original, or whether they had been replaced in earlier restorations, like the radiator and other hoses. I was told no, the cables looked original. So I suggested that perhaps the old cable might be brittle inside and the strands might have broken during the disconnecting and connecting, increasing the resistance which would also raise the amps drawn. That would explain the fast drain on the battery. We all agreed that this was a likely scenario and that it could be resolved by replacing the relevant cables (battery to starter and neutral safety switch to solenoid).

Next morning everything was done, and yes, it does seem that the starter issue is resolved :D. Now to address another problem, the stumble, hesitation or worst, stall, when accelerating from idle. According to the mechanic while not super bad the carburetor probably needs a rebuild too. So that is my next project. I have found a couple of places that have the right kits for the carb in my car - a Carter WGD 851S, as well as one that carries out rebuilds. I would love to have a try at rebuilding the carb myself, but at the moment with some home projects and a back problem, I might not be able to devote the time necessary.

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Took the car out for a drive, stalled just outside the garage and needed another 4 or 5 pushes of the starter button to restart. So the new cables did not help. But not all the cables associated with the starter were changed. In this case from the battery to starter and from the neutral safety switch to the solenoid were replaced. So now I guess I have to replace from the ignition switch to the starter button and from the button to the other side of the neutral safety. Bleach (and thanks for your advice again) also suggested the solenoid but it looked like a brand new one when I picked up the starter from the rebuilder. I will check with the rebuilder but I suspect it must be the cables or even the ignition switch or starter button not allowing enough amperage to the solenoid. I don't think the battery is the issue because once you get over the initial click-click-click, the starter turns over quite normally and the car starts well too.

At the same time I also confirmed what the mechanic has warned me about, that some of the wires were losing their insulation, for example on the backup light cables (also run from the neutral safety switch). Uninsulated wires - shorts = sparks can = fire, so have put a new wiring harness on the top of the list for my major work to be done after the S.E. Oldsmobile Gathering in a few weeks.

Starter reliability, wiring and carburetor rebuild, my toy will be stripped down and not running for a couple of months at least :(. Because there is so much, I have decided that I will have to outsource the carb rebuild, thanks to the members of the AACA forums who helped with advice in that matter too, as well as some other questions.

Next update probably after The Gathering.

Edited by 1951Olds88 (see edit history)

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Some slightly good news today after all. I had to start the car and drive it out of the garage, left it for a couple of hours and then started it again. And there were no problems whatsoever, this time around. This was a very short run of the engine, not enough to do a generator charge, and I included some testing of the headlights (and that pegs the ammeter too). The other good news is that the back-up lights do not come on with the headlights any more. Actually they don't come on in R either, but that is better than before and getting them to work in R is probably just a small adjustment. Something that I can do later.

Anyway I decided to recharge the battery, but in less than an hour it was back in 'maintainer' status. I suspect that battery is OK, and that my intermittent starter problems are indeed probably cable and/or switch and/or button related. Nice way to end the weekend, as I head out for a business trip tomorrow afternoon.

The reason that I had the short drive out of and back into the garage was because I replaced the 'normal' garage light with a much brighter set of shop lights (4x4' fluorescents). Nothing but the best for my toy! Now I will be able to work on the car much easier when the days are shorter during the winter.

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After a couple of quiet weeks, this week I got the car ready for the Dixie Olds (chapter of OCA) annual show, The Gathering. Before heading over to Cartersville, about 50 minutes away, I did a quick tour around the neighborhood, visiting the starter rebuilder for some advice about replacement cables, the local shop to arrange an oil change for my daily driver and getting gassed up with ethanol free gas. The good news was no stalls and no problem with the starter. Just to be safe I decided to disconnect the backup light cable. This was the most damaged of the cables in the engine compartment and I suspected responsible for other issues. In addition I had used touch up paint to cover all the scratches and bubbles in the paint, it was not pretty but I wanted to prevent any rust developing. I started wet sanding and polishing one scratch. Unfortunately I had not filled it in enough with paint so after polishing the paint looked good but the scratch was still visible. I added more touch but in resanding I noticed that some of the paint around the scratch had been sanded down to the primer . So I decided not do any more sanding. I had read the Meguiars #7 is good for old lacquer paint and I took my 110V2 and applied #7 section by section, wiping it off quickly as per the instructions. It seemed to give a good shine, but that was inside the garage (remember, don't apply surface coating in bright sunlight). Of course when I did get it into sunlight I noticed how many spots I had missed. I also was not ready for waxing yet, which would have also helped (the reasons for that should be the subject of a separate post).

The smooth running continued on the Friday afternoon run to Cartersville for the Cruise-in, with my youngest daughter. Once there I was introduced to Jerry Wilson, who my daughter had met through Jerry's son. After an interesting evening talking cars and other topics we headed back home. While the car again performed beautifully, with no stalls or starting problems, here was small challenge in that the dashboard lighting is not working, but I was pleased that the turn signals were flashing, even when the headlights were on. This was probably due to the disconnecting of the backup light cable to the backup switch. I had the same uneventful trip back to Cartersville Saturday morning for the show and judging. Although I did not see my car as a show car I thought it would be useful to have it judged and find out what might be needed to turn it into a show car. Yes, the bug was biting badly.

So here is the car next to a beautiful (late) 1951 Super 88, as part of the 40+ cars that had arrived for the show. just for bragging rights I was able to find out the my car was the oldest car in the how (just).

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It was a really interesting day, where I met a bunch of friendly people, many with lots of useful advice around the car. I was also surprised how many people came up to compliment me about the car. Finally the end of the show came and the results of the judging were to be announced. Of course, I was not expecting anything, have entered a work in progress car, except a judging result with pointers for future shows. So I was not really listening to what was happening, but suddenly I heardmy name being called. It turns out I was awarded the special NAOC President's award. Wow, I was flabbergasted, and even more so when a few minutes later my name is called again. This time for second place in Class 1 (Stone age to 1953). But to top this unexpectedly good day, I discovered that the owner of the Supper 88 next to me might have a spare 'M' hood letter for me, the final missing letter to complete the Oldsmobile name on the hood. I was a very happy camper on the drive back and of course the car performed flawlessly again, as if it was proud of itself too.

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I had been waiting for The Gathering before starting any serious work on the car, so my next posts are going to be about the carburetor rebuild, installing a new wiring harness and any other major maintenance that might be necessary. Working on the paint job is at the bottom of the priority list but who knows.

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A work in progress ... and a good story to boot. I am enjoying this thread. Good luck with the car and your travels :)

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I asked the previous owner of the car if he had any information on the history of the car. What he told me was very interesting

The car was sold new by Lexington Motor Co.(a GM dealer)which was owned by Moyer Smith and was sold to Charlie Garner. In a few years (not sure how many)he traded it in and then the dealership was owned by Guy Smith (Moyer’s son). It was in his possession for the rest of the time until I purchased it in 2000. It did sit from 1975 until 2000 when I got it. It was in a storage building and the mileage that was on it when you purchased it is correct.

So not many owners before me. I was aware of the first owner, since I found the original warranty document and other ephemera in the glove compartment. And the starter rebuilder had mentioned that the car had likely been standing for a long while at some time. So it all looks very plausible and explains the relatively low 62k on the clock.

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It is amazing how much information and help you can get from the members of this forum. Case in point, in another thread I asked for information about the build date of my vehicle, based on the VIN. I got so much interesting information back and have summarized the key parts below.

Because of the Korean conflict, and time required for re-tooling, the 1951 olds 88's & 98's started production in January of 1951, the super 88's in march of 1951. With the first cars having a vin or serial number that started with the number 1001, each week's production would be around 400 to 500 cars, you can find out pretty close as to when your olds was built. According to the serial number book for U.S. cars 1900 - 1975, Oldsmobile started building cars in Atlanta, GA. in 1946. In Atlanta in 1951, Olds built 1,969 88's, 11,364 super 88's, 7,556 98's.

My serial number is (1)125, so that pretty much means the first, perhaps second, week of January.

If you ever remove your Oldsmobile's speedometer, you should find a production date stamped in ink on the backside of it, the speedometer should be about two to four weeks older than when the car was assembled. you might be able to see the ink stamp when looking up under the dash.

I may have to dismantle the dash for the rewiring, so can check this out too.

What is the body number (not the style number) on the Fisher Body plate? "BA 90"

BA is the code for the Atlanta Fisher Body plant. 90 means your car is the 90th 88A 4-door sedan built at Atlanta Fisher Body.

That means there were 35 88A of other body styles in the mix somewhere. Though it seems I read once that all 88A were 4-door sedans? Knew I shouldn't have packed all my books away...

Either way Stefan, you have a very early build 1951 88A. I'd guess 1st or 2nd week of production.

88As were available as 2 and 4 door sedans. Additionally, they were available in Standard and DeLuxe trim. DeLuxe models have a D suffix in the model number.

The difference between body number 90 and serial number 125 is 35 of the other three models.

Keep in mind - 88As weren't built for the entire year. They were discontinued part way through the model year. You can't average production over 52 weeks. There were two color brochures issues for 1951. The first printing included the 88A, Super 88 and 98. The second printing only included the Super 88 and 98. Neither brochure has a printing date, but they are both copyrighted 1951.

I've been wondering about the "DeLuxe" thing. Sales literature that includes the 88A mentions both standard and DeLuxe trim, and shows the DeLuxe cars with stainless stone guards. I've got a salesman's prices, colors and equipment folder, undated, that lists only "88 2-door" and "88 4-door". A salesman penciled in "Del" below them when he penciled in the prices. Specifications in that folder only include "88" - no DeLuxe. Then I've got a dealer facts book dated March of '51. It lists the standard and DeLuxe models, prices for both, and standard equipment for both. And then I've got a '62 parts book that lists all the model numbers from '41 to '62. It lists a 51-3711 and a 51-3769, but nothing with a D - no DeLuxes. As keeper of the membership records for the NAOC, I've got 3711D and 3769D in the car database, but we don't have anyone that owns one. So, I'm guessing that DeLuxe trim was an option, not a model. I'd say yours is a DeLuxe based on the stainless stone guards. Radio, turn signals and clock would have been optional, even on a DeLuxe. Those were optional even on the Super 88s.

So now I have a ton more information, thanks to a number of very clever, informative and helpful people in the forum. Once again to all of you, thanks a million!

Stefan

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Now that the Dixie Olds Gathering is behind us, I am preparing to carry out some serious repairs (carb rebuild, installing a new wiring harness, replacing the ground strap and replacing the new battery cable with a cloth covered period correct one). I thought it might be a good idea to have a mechanic look it over and tell me what else might be necessary. That happened today, so in addition to the two items mentioned above, I have the following to do in the next few months (weeks?):

  1. Replace the oil pan gasket
  2. Replace the exhaust system (the shop says they can make what is needed rather than buying one made for an 88 - about 1/3 the price too)
  3. Replace the steering gear box (leaking oil, but I was told easier to replace than to re-gasket- but relatively expensive)
  4. Replace the steering idler arm

For a 63 year old car, not a bad list, in fact the mechanics complimented me because they had expected to find much more. However, it looks like the car will be in dry dock for quite a while. One more cruise-in this weekend (Dawsonville) before I start taking it apart. And by the way, anyone with advice on the above repairs, please do reply in this thread or PM me, if you prefer.

Edited by 1951Olds88 (see edit history)

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Yesterday was like Christmas, my birthday and all other party days rolled into one.

While at the Oldsmobile Gathering this last weekend I had been hoped to find my missing hood letters at the swap meet part of the show. Unfortunately, none of the vendors had my missing items. I had also received an email from someone who had seen my Oldsified in Journeys with Olds. Although what he had to offer were letters with only one or no pins, I was prepared to try to make my own pins on them. So he promised to send them to me. Thank you John for your kind and generous offer. (Actually the letters just arrived and he sent me an I with 2 pins!!! as well as the M with a pin and a half)

However, the beautiful Super 88 that was parked next to me had its letter replaced by a full set of Fusick letters, so I asked the owner if he had any of the originals left. He promised to look for me and send me what I needed, if he had them. In the mail yesterday was a letter with an M, an S and an I with two pins and another couple of letters with one pin. So essentially my search is over and my car will be complete. Thank you David for your generous gift, you cannot imagine how happy I am.

Edited by 1951Olds88 (see edit history)

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After a relatively quiet time, I have taken the next step, crossed the Rubicon so to speak, that is 'dry-docked' the car. I started with removal of the Carter carburetor which was shipped off for rebuild. I also sent of my dash clock, to get it running again.

In the meanwhile I managed to find an idler arm on Ebay at slightly less than in the restorer parts catalogs, as well as picking up a Fisher body catalog, which should help with some of the work on the body that is not covered in the shop manual. I also have some nice looking dog dish hubcaps to replace the smooth (1950?) hubcaps currently on it.

Baby steps at the moment, but the next thing will be starting on the wiring harness when the new one arrives.

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