Best intentions: 1957 Oldsmobile Super 88

Posted in Cars
Published in NZV8 Issue No. 61.

When Bryan ‘Raz’ Rasmussen purchased this 1957 Oldsmobile Super 88 Holiday Coupe two years ago, he had the best of intentions. He originally bought it for his partner, Sheila. It was to be her new weekend car, something she could drive, something she could enjoy, something she could love. Sheila never quite got to do any of those things, but at least it’s still in the family.

It was only after Raz saw the large, swooping car in person for the first time that plans began to change. “I’ve always loved the shape of a ’57 Chevy, but they are too common for my liking,” says Raz. “I found this car online when I was looking for something for Sheila, but when I went to pick it up, I couldn’t get over how good it looked. It had so many similarities to the Chev but it was still completely different and unique. I could see the huge potential in it.”

Sheila never got her car but at least Raz gained a new project vehicle — one that eventually became one of the coolest cruisers in the country.

Getting around

Despite being a project car since Bryan has owned it, the Buick has been to every Americarna and Beach Hop event in the last three years, in various states of completion. NZV8 had been keeping an eye on this old roller, and when it was finally sighted in all its finished glory at Americarna 2010, complete with four generations of Rasmussen lads inside, we knew we had to feature it.

Often referred to as the ‘chrome-mobile’, the ’57 and ’58 Buick 88s were famous for the opulent chrome zig-zagging all over the big iron. The most heavily laden of all these 88s was the Super 88 Holiday Coupe, like Raz’s.

With that reputation in mind, he wasn’t about to delete any trim when it came time, three years ago, to strip the car down and refresh the exterior. With help from Terry’s Panel and Paint and The Paint Shop, both in Taranaki, Raz had all the precise trim removed and the body sanded back to bare metal, before the boys got to work going over the car centimetre by centimetre to make sure no panel was left uneven.

Once everything was deemed perfect, the car was layered in a beautiful white and blue pearl paint, which, when paired with the reconditioned latticework of chrome and the aggressive, pronounced rear hip, looks amazing.

Transplant Patient

Under the hood the Oldsmobile is now a beautiful thing. A rumbling 350ci Chev sits in the smoothed engine bay. Raz re-wired the entire car himself, hiding as many messy cables as was practical. The 350 runs a set of Dart heads that sit below a high-flowing Offenhauser intake manifold and grunty Edelbrock carb. After an electric fuel pump and Mallory distributor have done their work providing the fuel and spark, the resulting waste product is forced out through the headers and into a 2.5-inch exhaust system hidden high up under the car. Finished off with a polished alloy radiator, electric fan, oil cooler and braided lines, the engine bay looks an absolute treat.

Behind the motor sits a 2500rpm torque converter, which feeds power to a Turbo 400 transmission spinning the factory diff and axles at the rear. These axles turn an awesome pair of 20×10-inch Foose Nitrous rims, wrapped in 275/30R20 Bridgestone rubber.

Up front, the same rims are still 20 inches high, but run a narrower eight-inch width fitted with 245/35R20 tyres. Behind the big chromes, Wilwood six-pot callipers and huge discs can be found on all four corners — it’s probably overkill for a cruiser, but who cares when they look this good?

Low Baller

The gorgeous Foose rollers sit high up into the Super 88’s perfectly restored guards thanks to a trick air suspension system. Using aftermarket chromoly A-arms and drop spindles up front, and a triangulated four-bar system in the rear, Raz employs the services of an Air Ride Shockwave setup to suspend the car. The Shockwave system uses air struts — as opposed to bags — which combine both a cylindrical Firestone bag and a shock absorber in one unit. The bags are filled by a simple Viar arrangement in the boot, consisting of a single compressor, single chrome tank and four solenoids, all hooked up to 3/8-inch high-pressure lines. Raz then adjusts the height of the car via a controller tucked away in the glove compartment of his beautifully restored interior.

A Lecarra steering wheel sits in front of the driver’s seat, next to a pair of Auto Meter air pressure gauges in the dash. Brand new black leather with custom silver trim coats the original Oldsmobile seats and doors, and a simple audio system from Kenwood keeps Raz and family entertained should the rumble of the 350 Chev not be enough.

“Sheila and my mates still give me a hard time about keeping the car for myself, especially since I still haven’t got her a replacement yet,” Raz says. He doesn’t sound like he feels particularly guilty about it. “We are off to the States later this year, though, so hopefully we can find something for her then.”

Although Sheila never quite got her Oldsmobile, we hear she does have the keys to Bryan’s other car, a 1968 Chevrolet Impala convertible. It’s no bagged, chrome-laden, fully restored classic Oldsmobile Super 88, but that doesn’t sound too bad a compromise to us.

1957 Oldsmobile Super 88 specifications

Engine: 350ci (5.7-litre) Chev V8, Dart heads, Offenhauser intake manifold, Edelbrock carburettor, electric fuel pump, Mallory distributor, 2.5-inch exhaust system, alloy radiator, alloy oil cooler, de-loomed engine bay, smoothed firewall
Driveline: Turbo 400 transmission, 2500rpm stall converter
Suspension: Custom chromoly A-arms, front drop spindles, triangulated four-bar rear suspension, Air Ride Shockwave front and rear airstrut setup
Brakes: Front 350mm Wilwood rotors, front Wilwood six-pot callipers; rear 300mm Wilwood rotors, Wilwood six-pot callipers, Wilwood master cylinder, Corvette booster
Wheels/ tyres: 20×8-and 20×10-inch Foose Nitrous rims, Bridgestone 245/35R20 front tyres, Bridgestone 275/30R20 rear tyres
Exterior: Complete ground-up restoration, white with blue pearl respray
Interior: Black leather re-trim, silver inserts, custom door trim using original chrome strips, Lecarra steering wheel, Auto Meter gauges, hidden Kenwood head unit, Kenwood speakers, airstrutt controller
Performance: Untested

Owner Profile

Bryan ‘Raz’ Rasmussen 
Occupation: Regional manager
Build time: Two years
Length of ownership: Two years
Raz thanks: His son Kris, Rhys Humphries, Ron Berry, Sheila Murphy, Murray Gordge Engineering, Terry’s Panel and Paint, The Paint Shop, Steve Hildred Motors, Normanby Upholstery

Words: Peter Kelly Photos: Adam Croy