Photos courtesy R.E. Olds Transportation Museum.
Storage, Mark Memmel said, wasn’t kind to his Oldsmobile Cutlass. Rust ate up about half of the car while it sat, so he ultimately decided to restore it — as half of a car — and the result now sits on display in a much kinder environment, the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum.
Seventeen-year-old Mark bought as his first car a 1967 Oldsmobile Cutlass 4-4-2, one that he restored himself and drove around in the early 1980s. Though he sold it, he still had the itch to own another 4-4-2, so about a decade later, he bought a 1966 Cutlass Supreme convertible with the intention of restoring it as a big-block four-speed 4-4-2 convertible.
“And then I found a beautiful stock original ’67 Cutlass Supreme coupe to drive around while I worked on the convertible,” he said. “I drove it for two summers before I put it in a storage barn and suddenly six months became seven years.”
In some parts of the country and in some barns, such an elapsed time wouldn’t have led to much damage — maybe a flat tire or a mouse nest. In a leaky drafty barn in Waukesha, Wisconsin, where Mark lives, the Cutlass didn’t stand a chance: The underside melted away, and rust nibbled parts of the quarters into tissue paper. Regardless, Mark toted the disintegrating remains of the Cutlass as he moved from house to house, all along figuring he’d get to it when he finished with the convertible.
Until, that is, he saw that the Oldsmobile Club of America’s 2015 national meet was scheduled to take place near him in Wisconsin. He wanted to take a car, but the convertible wouldn’t be done in time and he had no money to spare for the coupe “so I started cutting up the ’67 figuring I had nothing to lose.”
After trimming away the rust, Mark ended up with just enough material to build a 38-inch-wide and 10-foot-long body that would fit on his 1974 Wheel Horse lawnmower’s 48-inch wheelbase. “I’d been cutting three acres of grass with that mower for 30 years and in 2012 I bought a new zero-turn mower,” he said.
With a recently rebuilt 13-hp 420cc aluminum replacement engine, the Wheel Horse would have enough power to move around the new body, but Mark wanted the look of an Oldsmobile V-8 so he mocked up an engine just forward of the steering wheel and up high like a Seventies Zinger street freak and then fitted a clear plastic canopy over the engine in place of a traditional windshield. Temporary spares and 30-inch drag slicks round out the creation’s cartoonish proportions.
“We had such a riot with it,” Mark said. He drove it around the show field at the nationals, of course, but also through the swap meet and pretty much anywhere else he felt like going. “I did get yelled at for cutting up a beautiful car to do this, but I told them, ‘No, it wasn’t a beautiful car.'”
Mark even kept the mower deck attachment points, so he can still cut a swath of grass when he feels like it, something he ended up doing when he dropped the creation off at the Olds museum earlier this fall.
While the mini-Olds sits in the museum, Mark’s working on a follow-up of equal creativity — this time using the 1966 convertible he’d been restoring.
“Some people will say it’s blasphemy to cut it up to make something different,” he said. “But after you’ve done this for a while, all the cars look the same, and you realize the market’s dropped out of the hobby. I’ve proved that I can bring a car like this to a show and have twice as much fun for less money.”
Mark’s mini-Olds will remain in the museum for the next year or so. For more information on the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum, visit REOldsMuseum.org.