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King of Chrome

King of Chrome

24.5.05. Imagine an era when excess was the norm, when bold statements in automotive design were an everyday phenomenon, led largely by American manufacturers hell bent on giving customers jet age styling.   That era, which enthusiasts will know so well, spanned the mid-fifties through to the sixties and produced many iconic statements in automotive design - the 1958 Oldsmobile Eighty Eight was no exception.


The classic 50's era of big, bold statements in auto design

Philip Hynes has been an American car enthusiast for as long as he can remember, having owned among others a 60’s Cadillac, and a ’66 Galaxy convertible.  He likes his cars big and became an Oldsmobile fan when he narrowly missed out on purchasing one back in 1989  “It was a 1958 Olds Super 88  for sale in a magazine with the headline - King of Chrome,” explains Philip.  “A friend went to look at it for me mid-week and I’d planned to view it on Saturday, but because of heavy snow I couldn’t make the trip from my home in Flitwick, Bedfordshire to Leicester.  When I phoned on Monday to rearrange to see it, the car had gone!  From that day on I promised myself that someday I’d own a 1958 Oldsmobile 88.”


Philip Hynes - one very proud Oldsmobile owner

Philip’s prayers were answered in 2001 when he was to stumble across a truly remarkable vehicle for sale in Classic American magazine – a 1958, one owner 41,000 mile Oldsmobile 88 which, although straight but far from pristine on the outside, had the original unmarked interior still covered with the factory plastic.  The car had arrived in the UK in 2000, but before this, it had stood neglected for 37 years in a garage in Iowa.   The car was complete, even down to the period window stickers, including one indicating the next service due at  41,008 miles.  Philip purchased the car with an indicated and genuine 41,242 recorded miles.  It was just what he’d been looking for.

A repaint and re-chrome were necessities as far as the exterior was concerned, and on stripping the car down it was found to be totally solid underneath. It was what one might expect of a 41,000 mile car  but not necessarily one of this vintage.  Running his own garage business, Phillip carried out most of the disassembly and dirty work himself.  “I strongly remember spending about a month or so after work, cleaning up the chassis for undersealing – that was a particularly messy job,” he recalls.


Instant before and after reveals true extent of the rebuild

The Chrome plating and painting were outsourced, but Philip tackled most other jobs, including the delicate task of fitting new windscreen rubbers, accomplished with a little help from his work colleague.  “I was quoted £900 for the removal of both screens and replacement of the rubber seals, so we cautiously did it ourselves,” he says.


Painstaking body preparation was the key to ripple free paintwork

Philip recalls, “It was very time-consuming, working every night for months slowly taking the car apart and then putting it back together many months later.  It wasn’t a total frame off restoration mind you, but all the glass, bumpers, trim and body panels, plus the engine and transmission were removed and we fitted new rubber seals throughout, renewed the shock absorbers, checked the steering, ran new brake and fuel lines and replaced all the engine hoses.  Amazingly, Philip managed to source rare chrome side trim pieces in Sweden while visiting the annual  “Power Meeting.” car show.


Original 371 cu. in. Rocket V8

As for motivation, the car is powered by the original 371 cu in Rocket V8, equipped with a two-barrel carburettor and driving through a three-speed Hydramatic transmission.  It has, however, been stripped, cleaned, checked over and repainted in the correct shade of gold. The only deviation from standard is a new, "fit-and-forget" stainless steel exhaust system. 

Inside, the car was virtually flawless to begin with but has been treated to a new custom carpet set, which replaced the previous rubber floor mats.  The pièce de résistance however, came when the restoration was completed in 2003, and the factory-fresh interior trim and seats were revealed for the first time in the car’s history.  “Once the faded yellow plastic covers had been removed, the results were breathtaking,” says Philip.   “No one could believe how good it was.”  The net result is that both interior and exterior now match perfectly.


Flawless original interior makes this a truly authentic restoration 

So what’s it like to drive such a big and beautiful car?  “With no power steering, drum brakes and a lack of air conditioning, it’s a big step back in time,” says Philip.  “It drives perfectly in a straight line but you really have to drive it round roundabouts and tight corners to make up for the lack of power steering.  It’s not a hard car to drive but you know when you have driven it and you need to remember to start slowing down on the approach to junctions well in advance because of the drum brakes and the sheer weight of the car.   The other thing to remember is to try not to get caught out in the rain as the vacuum assisted wipers slow down when you back off the throttle which can be a bit nightmarish in such a big brute.”


Silvered headlight covers are a more recent addition

Has it been an expensive rebuild?  “You start to write things down and then you lose track but I’d say it's cost in the region of £10-12,000 to get it to where it is now," explained Philip. "The ballast resistor was probably the least expensive component to buy at £2.33 and the  most expensive part of the whole restoration was the re-chroming bill.”


With all that fresh chromium plate, it's easy to see why it amounted to the single biggest outlay  

Now that the car has been completed, did Philip have any ideas what he was going to do with it, especially as he's already had several offers for it?  “If I sell it what do I replace it with?" he responds. " I haven’t the time to go through all of this again and it’s very hard when you run a business and try to tackle your hobby as well."

But if someone offered him the right money would he sell?  “Well I’ve been offered the right money a couple of times, but I think I’d miss it like I miss the Cadillac.  I guess I’ll know when the time is right.”     

Story & photos: Andy Kirk 

 
 
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