1958 años 98 convertible

When you’ve spent 16 years returning one 1958 Oldsmobile to the road, what do you do for an encore? Have yourself one more, that’s what…

Choice – or a lack of it – has a big effect on the cars we end up owning. Tomas Karlsson of Lyrestad in Sweden found his options severely restricted when he went looking for a 1958 Oldsmobile 98 convertible. They were always uncommon by American standards, though not exactly rare, with 5605 of them sold at a $4200 base price, more than any of the other Olds 98 models.

But that spectacular styling dated fast and the big 371cu in V8 sucked through a generous Quadra-jet carb, making for a thirst that seemed alarming by the time the oil crisis struck in the early Seventies. A great many were taken off the road and scrapped, dumped or just parked.

So where did Tomas find this beautiful example? Well… it wasn’t beautiful when he found it. It had made its exit from daily life even before the oil crisis, suffering an accident somewhere in Tennessee. When Tomas heard of it in 2004, it was in Texas, and the long years of storage had allowed the rust bug to take hold too. Not a very enticing prospect as a restoration candidate, but this is where the problem of choice came into it.

There are never many for sale, and Tomas didn’t have a giant pile of money – he had recently put a lot into a 16-year restoration of a 1958 Olds 98 coupe, one that he finished to such a high standard that it collected prizes everywhere it went and even won him a trip to the US in 2003.

“The following year, a friend called and told me about the convertible,” says Tomas. “It was in need of total restoration, but a Super 88 four-door from the same year was also included in the deal.” If that sounds more promising, it didn’t look that way when Tomas saw some pictures: “There was a lot of rust in the body and on top of that there was the accident damage,” he says.

But it was a convertible, and Tomas certainly knew his way around a 1958 Oldsmobile by this time, so there was nothing to frighten him off. During the spring of 2005 it was shipped to Sweden.

Brace yourself

On arrival Tomas realised it would be a long, long time before this particular Olds returned to the road. The storage conditions had clearly been pretty dismal, with enough rainfall to rot out much of the floor and other lower areas. Worse still, every nut and bolt seemed to be corroded and Tomas had to resort to cutting them off. When it was time to start on the shell repairs, he took the only sensible tactic for such a weakened structure – keep the body on the frame until it had its strength back.

“I welded some bracing bars inside the body to keep it from bending since most of the floor was rusted away,” he says.

“After that there was a lot of welding to get a new floor in place, plus other lower parts like the sills replaced with new metal.” Tomas did most of the bodywork himself but called on an extra-skilful friend to assist with the most challenging tasks, like cutting off the rear section of the trunk and welding in a new section from a donor car. When the body was stable again, the bracing bars inside were cut out and the body could finally be taken off the frame.

This revealed the damage caused by that accident back in 1967 – the car suffered enough of an impact to move one of the chassis rails slightly. With this corrected, the chassis went for sandblasting which revealed only a little corrosion damage to deal with. Finally, a coat of tough black paint went on for protection. When Tomas turned his attention to the engine and transmission, the value of the donor car really came into its own. Both the mill and the Hydra-Matic transmission were beyond help – not worth even attempting a rebuild. But the same 371cu in V8 was used in the 88 model, differing only in carburettor and intake manifold, so the four-door donor’s driveline would be a perfect substitute.

“To be sure it was okay, I totally dismantled both the engine and the transmission and replaced everything that needed to be replaced, so it all got a complete rebuild,” says Tomas.

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