Auction Pace Car Not The Real Deal?

Classic car auctions are one of the mainstays of the old car hobby, just like magazines and online sites like StreetMuscleMag. The most desired cars in the world often appear in these auctions because it’s one-stop shopping for the rich to bid against each other, driving up the price. Supply, meet Demand!

But what happens when a car in an auction isn’t what it is purported to be? It’s happened before – remember the JFK Pontiac ambulance at Barrett-Jackson? – and it will continue to happen, as this 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Indy Pace Car that is going on the block at Mecum’s St. Charles, IL proves.

When it comes to these auctions, their liability is limited because they are going by what the seller provides, so let’s be clear that Mecum is not culpable in the fraud. Likewise, the seller may not have a clue either, as he merely could be a flipper who is trying to make a quick buck. Or not.

So the car itself: Both Olds 4-4-2 and Cutlass Supreme convertibles were chosen to pace the Indianapolis 500 in 1970. They were painted Porcelain White with black/red stripes along the sides and on the W-25 fiberglass hood; they continued onto the trunklid – the only Olds to ever have this feature (the 1972 Hurst/Olds Indy Pace Car also had this feature). Additionally, black paint was used along the bottom edges of the sides, giving the Olds a sleeker look. And if you look at the Super Stock II wheels, you’ll see they are painted white, while all other Oldsmobiles had them painted gray. Motivation for the 4-4-2 was the 455/365, while the Cutlass Supreme made due with a healthy 350/310. Total production for the Pace Cars were 268 4-4-2s and 358 Cutlass Supremes, both which can be identified by by the Y74 on the data plate.

The seller of the car featured in the Mecum auction makes the following claims:

Image: Mecum.com

As this is a Canadian car, it is possible to obtain GM of Canada documentation that shows the vehicle’s pedigree. However, some of the claims raised red flags in the Oldsmobile community, such the COPO designation, which was a acronym used by Chevrolet for fleet sales and other non-regular production items. Additionally, a heavy-duty clutch wasn’t available until 1971, not to mention it’s a strange option for a small-block car? And then there’s the spoiler, which wasn’t available on the convertible (although many people retro-fit them). Lastly, why does it have Cutlass grilles instead of those from a Cutlass Supreme? Certainly inspection of the GM of Canada documentation would clear things up, right?

This Pace Car has the correct black trim running along the bottom edges. Image: Park Place LTD

As Olds fans discussed the car on Internet forums, a Canadian collector claimed to have copies of the GM of Canada docs plus the letter that claimed it was one of three Canadian Cutlass Supreme Pace Cars. He posted them on RealOldsPower.com for all to see:

These are the documents from GM of Canada that show this Pace Car to have some special options. Images: RealOldsPower.com

As you can see, this Pace Car is equipped with W35 spoiler and W37 heavy-duty clutch, plus the accompanying letter states, “According to our records, there were only 3 Indy Pace Cars built that were shipped to Canada and your is apparently the only one built with a manual 4-speed transmission. Also, your particular car came equipped with a VERY HIGH PERFORMANCE ENGINE (C.O.P.O.) that was only available to factory sponsored racers.” So now we have proof that this Olds is pretty special. Or do we?

An enterprising enthusiast sprung for the information from GM of Canada to compare notes. Here is what was posted:

These are the actual documentation as ordered from GM of Canada. Images: RealOldsPower.com

As you can see, the W35 spoiler and W37 transmission are missing. Additionally, the transmission is not some extra-heavy duty item as was initially suggested. So it’s obvious that the first set of GM of Canada documentation has been altered somewhere along the line, and the COPO letter reeks of forgery.

This is a shame because a Cutlass Supreme Pace Car with a four-speed has to be extremely rare, as I personally haven’t heard of one in all my years of keeping track of Oldsmobiles (and, according to the GM Heritage Center, a little over 200 Cutlass Supremes of all body styles had the M21 transmission plus an additional 700 with the M20 wide-ratio four-speed). Why does someone have to play with the pedigree of such an interesting and rare car? The lesson here is that it always pays to be an educated buyer, and it is always in your favor to purchase the documentation yourself (when possible) even when the seller provides it.

About the author

Diego Rosenberg

Diego is an automotive historian with experience working in Detroit as well as the classic car hobby. He is a published automotive writer in print and online and has a network of like-minded aficionados to depend on for information that's not in the public domain.
Read My Articles

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