Way back in 2005, George Leis of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, completed a 1955 Chevy sedan delivery that was painted in PPG Tangerine Pearl, and emblazoned with “Shifty’s Used Cars, Bail Bonds and Undertaking, We sell used caskets” on the side panels. The delivery was powered by a 292ci inline-six with a split header and twin-carbed intake, and featured A/C blowing cold. After building something like that, what can be done for an encore? For George the answer was to find a 1948 Oldsmobile Futuramic 98 fastback at a salvage yard auction in Pine Bluffs, Wyoming.
For you history buffs, the 98 was the top-of-the-line Oldsmobile. The series had the most technologically advanced items available, such as the Hydramatic automatic transmission, the Autronic Eye, an automatic headlight dimmer, something called a Twilight Sentinel (a feature that automatically turned the headlights on and off via a timer, as controlled by the driver), and the highest-grade interior and exterior trim.
The C-Body And Beyond
The new C-body that the 1940 (carried through to the 1950 Olds) Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser 90 shared with Cadillac Series 62, Buick Roadmaster and Super, and the Pontiac Torpedo featured cutting-edge “torpedo” styling. Shoulder and hip room was more than 5 inches wider, running boards were eliminated, and the exterior was streamlined and 2–3 inches lower.
When combined with a column-mounted shift lever, these cars offered true six passenger comfort. These changes had clearly been influenced by the Cadillac Sixty Special. The 90 rode on a wheelbase of 124 inches, and a total of 43,658 Oldsmobile 98s were sold in four body styles. The rarest was the four-door convertible, with only 50 being sold.
Several old cars were being auctioned off in the yard that August of 2008, and many were destined for the crusher. George had gone to preview the auction listing two weeks prior and spotted the old hulk. The old Oldsmobile was complete, with the exception of the front bumper, engine, and transmission. Best part-it was virtually rust free!
That alone was worth the auction price. The rear window glass was intact, and although the side windows were cracked, but intact, they rolled up. However, a mouse apartment complex came with the car. They were quickly evicted when the George got the car home.
The car sat for two years, while George finished another project and made plans for what he wanted to do to the Oldsmobile. The goal was to have a striking, semi-custom/driver kind-of-a-car, but to find someone to do the major body work. To that end, George stripped the body and removed it from the frame.
On To The Suspension
The frame was then modified with a Fatman front clip and a 9-inch Ford rearend, all supported by a Ride Tech air suspension. He added Shockwaves to the front and air bags to the rear. Wanting to keep the Oldsmobile all Olds, he acquired a donor 1972 Olds sedan, pulled the 455ci engine and rebuilt it.
Not wanting to do any body work, George took the body, fenders, hood, and other parts to Tomas Quiroz in Longmont, Colorado. Tomas removed the years-old hail dents, molded the fenders to the body, shaved the door handles, and peaked the hood. He also primed and readied the car for blocking. George then trailered it back home, mounted the body to the frame, and installed the engine and transmission.
Some weeks later, George’s son, Ben, began the process of block sanding and priming, while George and his wife tried to choose a color. That was a major challenge, until they drove their aforementioned ’55 Chevy to the Goodguys Loveland, Colorado, show. They stopped at the PPG Paint booth, and the PPG Vibrance-series Sour Apple Pearl color was recommended by the PPG rep. Shortly after that, Ben painted the car in the shop of the car lot George owns. After color sanding and polishing, all three of them thought the color was perfect for the Olds, now known as the “Lizzzrd.”
The interior followed the original style, and leather and suede was used throughout. Woody’s Auto Trim in Mitchell, Nebraska, completed the interior. All the chrome, stainless, and pot-metal trim was taken to Quality Plating in Yuma, Colorado, to be rechromed and polished.
The “Lizzzrd” has a Phoenix-built 700R4 transmission, Vintage Air A/C and heat, Edelbrock intake and carb, tilt wheel, power locks and windows, and cruise control. The car is always driven, never trailered, and currently has 9,800 mostly trouble-free miles.
George and his wife have traveled to many local and national shows, and the car has won many awards. Most notable are a “Safety Pick” at the NSRA Rocky Mountain Nationals, and a “Top 25” and “Hall of Fame” pick at the KKOA Leadsled Nationals in Salina, Kansas. The Kustom guys loved it and it’s had its photos in many magazines.
The Olds took more than four years to complete. A dear old friend who has passed on, gave George some advice many years ago: “The project may seem overwhelming and insurmountable, but effort and dedication can be very rewarding. Just do something every day, be patient, and eventually the end will come.” Following that advice, George never looked back after he purchased the car.