Photos Courtesy: Jeff Koch.
It started innocently enough–with a boy and his bicycle. “In 1970, my bike was a Raleigh Chopper. It was orange and black–the same color as this Oldsmobile. I’ve kept it all these years, but as a kid I started noticing Oldsmobile 4-4-2s and Cutlasses painted the same color–orange with black stripes. And it all started with that bike.” The boy was 10 at the time; popping down to the dealership nearest his Rochester, New York, home and ordering his own Rally Red 4-4-2 was a little out of his reach.
Now, the bike was hardly to blame for Fred Mandrick’s Oldsmobile fetish–he got started down that path quite separately–but it’s absolutely fair to link that bike to his current fleet’s color choices. (Would the passion have run as deeply if the bike had been equivalent to Aegean Aqua, Sebring Yellow, or Nugget Gold–the other three hues that made up Oldsmobile’s special-order palette for the season? Who can say?)
Fast forward four decades, and among the dozen-plus 1968-’72 Olds A-bodies the Scottsdale, Arizona, resident has in his collection, four of them are Rally Red. Two of them, long-term readers may remember seeing grace the cover of our September 2010 issue: a pair of W-30s, one coupe, one convertible. A third is a driveable four-speed W-31 machine that’s in need of a restoration–the rust on its flanks suggests that it’s not native to the desert.
And then there’s the one we gather here today to celebrate: a plain ol’ 4-4-2, lightly optioned, and unrestored. Not brought back to new, like the pair seen four years ago, not rotten like the one in the far corner of the garage, but clean, original and largely unfussed with.
The story begins in April of 1970, when this Rally Red machine rolled off the Lansing assembly line and was delivered to Reynolds Oldsmobile in Metuchen, New Jersey. The subsequent tale suggests that it was a dealer-ordered car, rather than a customer-ordered unit, as ownership didn’t take place untill late June. The buyer, Air Force Captain Steven Bowman, was stationed at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico (home of the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing, and at the time its fleet of F4 Phantom aircraft)–while the address on the Protect-O-Plate is recorded as West Oelwein, Iowa. The 4-4-2 went out the door on June 24, and the warranty paperwork is all dated June 24, but the Protect-O-Plate is dated June 29. Unproven, but suspected, is that Captain Bowman wanted a Rally Red 4-4-2 and couldn’t find one at Sacramento Motors in Alamogordo; the closest one they found was in New Jersey, and the dealers traded cars. Did it go by truck? Or was it driven? New Jersey-to-Alamogordo isn’t a hugely popular route; the 4,149 mileage reading on a dealership receipt from September 8, 1970–high mileage, for less than two-and-a-half months of ownership–suggests that this 4-4-2 could well have been driven out, and another driven back. Five days is about the right time to make it from New Jersey to New Mexico, sticking to major roads and posted speed limits.
Clean, original and untouched after nearly four-and-a-half decades; the vinyl still feels soft and pliable. Unusual for a desert dweller.
History tells us that Captain Bowman died on base April 27, 1972. Receipts show that Sacramento Motors worked on the 4-4-2 shortly after his passing, in May of 1972. (Included in those receipts: some new pieces for a fender-bender at 13,000 miles, including a front bumper, headlamp bezel and some other parts.) By early June 1972, the receipts change, and widow Joyce moved to Chicago; Leslie Oldsmobile in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, took over servicing. (Though the dealership is gone, its offshoot, the Leslie Car Wash, is still in operation there.) Leslie offers a pair of receipts–mostly for wear items like belts and hoses. By late October of that year, Joyce is on the move again and the receipts are taken over by Holiday Oldsmobile of Scottsdale, Arizona; they massage a dent out of the right-rear fender and install a new turn signal on the corner, for the princely sum of $25.
From then on, Joyce (thought to be a schoolteacher in Scottsdale) used her 4-4-2 as a daily driver until 1982, racking up 102,000 miles. We can only assume that it was parked indoors at home; while we can’t vouch for whether the school parking lots were covered or not, the exceptional condition of the unretouched paint all these decades later points to excellent original care. Indeed, her receipts indicate that she took her 4-4-2 in for an oil change on a quarterly basis, no matter how meager the mileage.
When it went up for sale, all of the local Olds fans’ ears perked up. “I saw it in the paper for $2,500 in 1982,” Fred recalls. But Fred, who had moved to Arizona in 1977, well before the area was the sprawling metropolis it is today, had just blown $3,500 on–you guessed it–a Rally Red ’70 4-4-2 that was for sale on his dad’s car lot, one that was originally delivered to GM’s proving grounds in what was then rural Mesa, Arizona. Much as he dug Joyce’s old commuter car, he was in no position to get his hands on this one too. And so he let it pass. “It’s just as well,” Fred says. “I burned through cars when I was younger, and I would have sold it,”–just like he ended up selling his Rally Red ex-proving-ground special, another vintage 4-4-2 that he has kept up with over the years.
He kept tabs on this one too, some two decades before his own name would be on the title. “Charlie Baker ended up buying it. Charlie owned a ’68 and a ’69 Hurst/Olds, but he never drove them–he didn’t have the money to insure ’em. A lot of people tried to buy those cars, but he didn’t want to sell them, even though he couldn’t afford to drive them. So they sat in his garage for a few years. Then, some time in the ’90s, Richard Franco caught Charlie in a weak moment; Richard and his dad had a few cars, but were always playing around with Oldsmobiles. Then he sold it to Larry Wolfe, a car collector who I believe knew Richard through church.
The 365-hp 455 doesn’t quite show its age, thanks to a recent detailing, but it’s never been apart or overhauled beyond belt and gaskets.
“I had Larry’s phone number in my credenza, and every time I opened the drawer, I saw the number there on top of the pile of papers, and thought to myself, I need to call Larry. And every few months, I called and asked whether he was ready to sell the car yet. I worked on him for about a year-and-a-half, and I finally wore him down in February 2002.”
Today, Fred’s collection is more than a dozen cars thick; you can barely move in his garage/shop without tripping over a Hurst/Olds or an Indy Pace Car replica, and 4-4-2s seem positively commonplace inside those four walls. Of the machines that reside in his collection, probably half are unrestored cars, with two of them receiving only a single repaint prior to Fred’s ownership. And this machine’s original nature–though it had 102,000 miles in 1982, the odometer reads only 107,000 now, a thousand of which Fred confesses to piling on in his dozen years of ownership–is only part of what turns him on about this particular piece of his collection.
“It survived all these years with minimal amounts of damage, and all of the original patina from that period of time. It led a pretty good life. A previous owner did the bushings and installed KYB gas shocks since the original pieces were sagged out and tired, and I’ve done an underhood detail and normal maintenance.
“You can tell a restored car from an original one as soon as you sit in the seat… well, I can. It’s the thickness of the seat foam, the angle, the way it sits. Also, on the instrument panel, there’s a plastic trimline that runs around the dash that separates the upper and lower dash, where the controls are, below the gauges. On an original car, you can see that line; on a restored car, it disappears.
“I’ll do the maintenance on it, and nothing more. I won’t replace anything, and there’s no reason to paint it. It still looks pretty good. This one is gonna stay like it is; I don’t want to deviate from its originality.” He did, however, allow a writer to take it for a spin around town, gambling that its originality would not be shattered.
It is in remarkable shape. The paint still shines as if it were new, it’s easy to see your way past the occasional scratch and blemish that decorate the exterior, and the interior plastics and vinyls haven’t been baked to a crisp–unusual for a car of this age that’s spent the majority of its life in the desert.
We see what Fred means about sitting in the seat. In pictures, those buckets look flat and featureless, a slice of bench seat eager to dump you off either side at the first sign of a curve. But settle in, and note that the fabric and foam offer some give, and the seat frame offers a modicum of support. Our test drive was in the dark, but even then we could see that the four-spoke sport steering wheel was blocking the tachometer, in the nacelle on the right. At least the wheel made up for it by feeling satisfyingly chunky in your hand, quite apart from many period steering wheels that are thinner around than store-brand pretzel rods. Look out the windshield, and the twin stripped scoops look even more blocky and menacing from your marginally lower driving position than they do from higher up.
The big 455 fires right up, chugging and blub-blubbing at a cold 700 RPM before warming into a 900 RPM idle that takes some of the chug away from the twice-pipes. Get rolling, and a couple of mice start squeaking from somewhere in the cabin. Otherwise, there is an overwhelming feeling of solidity here. Even the mildest brake-torque maneuvers prove that the modern rubber is little match for big-block Oldsmobile torque, and the chug of the exhaust escalates to a full-cabin roar that nicely matches the increasing blur of the scenery out your windows. It’s not quite as instant if you attack from a slow roll; then, it takes a second for the transmission to react, but the deep “bowww…” from under the hood can only mean that the 455 is ready to explode with the same plaintive “waaaaaaaah” that fills the cabin when you stand on it. The Turbo Hydra-Matic is controlled via the His/Hers Hurst shifter with an easy action, and when you plunk it into D, the shifts are in keeping with your driving habits–it holds for revs under hard acceleration, but it’s not afraid to go a gear up for economy if you’re just bopping around town.
For such a fat steering wheel, the actual effort seems way overboosted. You can move the car with a single finger, or you can spin the wheel with such force that Pat Sajak may appear to ask if you want to buy a vowel. The numb steering does make a curious contrast with the ride, which is downright rough on all but the smoothest, freshly paved surfaces. We hadn’t been informed of the gas shocks and polyurethane suspension bushings before we took our drive–perhaps those bushings were the source of the squeak that invaded the cabin–but half a mile down the road confirmed that they were in there. Together with the modern white-letter BFGoodrich rubber, they made for deft cornering, but the steering was so light that you were never exactly sure where you were going to go when approaching a curve at any velocity. Luckily, the power brakes (disc in front) stopped things sure and true, and required only the gentlest pressure to bring things back under control.
“It’s a car that everyone wanted. It’s a car that I’d known about since 1982; I followed it around, knew who had it and where it was all those years. Now I’ve got it, and it’s in a collection that helps represent it.” Today, it resides in the garage next to the machine that inspired it all–Fred’s original Raleigh Chopper bicycle.
“And if things turn around and go badly for me, I’ll live out of that car.”
It’s just a nice car–just like when it was made. It feels like it should have felt when it was a lot younger; it’s had a good life. I always judge a car by how the doors open and close, and you can tell that this one was never abused. It’s one you can drive, and I don’t get too wound up about anything happening to it… it’s not ultra-valuable, but it doesn’t get much better than that as a nice original car.–Fred Mandrick
Oldsmobile Club of America
P.O. Box 80318
Lansing, Michigan 48908-0318
Dues: $30/year • Membership: 7,000
+ As-built condition
+ Known history from new
+ Feels like a 7,000-mile car, not 107,000
– Those aftermarket shocks really roughen the ride
– We’ve never thrown a steering wheel before
– Isn’t driven enough
1970 Oldsmobile 4-4-2
Base price: $3,567
Options on car profiled: Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission, $227.04; air conditioning, $375.99; Soft Ray tinted windshield and windows, $38.97; power steering, $105.32; power disc brakes, $64.25; performance hood, $157.98; sports console, $61.09; Super Stock I wheels, $90.58; Rocket Rally Pac, $84.26; custom sports steering wheel, $15.80; Sports Console-Hurst Dual-Gate shifter, $76.88; Special Paint, $83.20; Sports-styled outside rearview mirrors, $22.12; auxiliary front floor mats, $7.37; auxiliary rear floor mats, $7.16
Type: Oldsmobile tall-deck OHV V-8, cast-iron block and cylinder heads
Displacement: 455 cubic inches
Bore x stroke: 4.125 x 4.25 inches
Compression ratio: 10.25:1
Horsepower @ RPM: 365 @ 5,200
Torque @ RPM: 500-lb.ft. @ 3,600
Valvetrain: Hydraulic valve lifters
Main bearings: 5
Fuel system: Single four-barrel Rochester 4MV carburetor, mechanical pump
Lubrication system: Pressure, gear-type pump
Electrical system: 12-volt
Exhaust system: Dual exhaust
Type: GM Turbo Hydra-Matic 400 three-speed automatic
Type: Oldsmobile (“O”-type) 12-bolt with limited slip
Type: Saginaw recirculating ball, power assist
Turns, lock-to-lock: 3.15
Turning circle: 40 feet
Type: Front disc/rear drum, hydraulic activation, vacuum power-assist
Front: 10.9-inch rotor
Rear: 9.5-inch drum
Chassis & Body
Body style: Two-door sedan
Layout: Front engine, rear-wheel drive
Front: Independent, unequal-length A-arms; coil springs; telescoping shock absorbers
Rear: Upper and lower control arms; coil springs; telescoping shock absorbers
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Super Stock I, stamped steel, trim ring
Front: 14 x 7 inches
Rear: 14 x 7 inches
Tires: White-letter Goodyear Polyglas (currently BFGoodrich Radial T/A)
Front: G70-14 (currently 225/70R14)
Rear: G70-14 (currently 225/70R14)
Weights & Measures
Wheelbase: 112 inches
Overall length: 203.2 inches
Overall width: 76.2 inches
Overall height: 52.8 inches
Front track: 59 inches
Rear track: 59 inches
Curb weight: 3,753 pounds
Crankcase: 5 quarts
Cooling system: 18.5 quarts
Fuel tank: 20 gallons
Transmission: 12 quarts
Rear axle: 3.75 pints
Bhp per cu.in.: 0.80
Weight per bhp: 10.28 pounds
Weight per cu.in.: 8.25 pounds
Oldsmobile built a total of 14,709 4-4-2 hardtops for the 1970 model year.
0-60 MPH: 5.7 seconds
1/4-mile ET: 14.36 seconds @ 100 MPH
Top speed: 116 MPH
*Source: Car Life magazine road test
This article originally appeared in the April, 2014 issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines.