1951 Oldsmobile 88 (Deluxe) by 1951Olds88

By diyauto
( 1 )

1951 Oldsmobile 88 (Deluxe) 

Compliments of 1951Olds88 @ aaca.org


As an immigrant, with no history of American cars in my youth I never thought I would get bitten by the bug.... We had just moved back to north of Atlanta, after 14 years in Central Florida. On a road near our house, someone was selling a red late 40's car. turned out to be a resto-mod Dodge 48 or 49.

Looked at it but it was noisy (hot rod) and pricey. But then something was itching. Started looking on-line at ATClassics & ClassicCars.com. Found a '50 Plymouth(?) south of Atlanta, but it was more a street rod too (no chrome trim, black bumper and modern engine).

Sales guy said easier to maintain modern engines, and have power steering and power brakes. But it did not bite me. The sales guy suggested, if I was looking for something more stock to look for Oldsmobiles as they were still slightly cheaper than the premium marques, (Chevy, Ford, Cadillac). By now I was beginning to get a sense of my "ideal" car, in running condition but not perfect 1) to keep the price down 2) would like to accomplish something myself on the car; would prefer a stock car but not original, restored to stock is OK and finally the icing on the cake would be a car dated the same year that I am (1951). Just after receiving the 'Olds advice', I found one about 4 hours away so I could take a look myself and not buy blind. Two days later drove up and yes, this one bit me ... and hard!

In running condition (and what a sound that Rocket 8 makes), little rust showing, restored interior, just some issues with the (original) paint job. So I put down a deposit, went home and started arranging final payment, transportation and insurance.

Finally the big day came and the 88 was delivered.

Off the truck and a quick spin around the sub-division, what fun. Didn't want to go further as no license plate yet (awaiting title which was sent separately for safety). Although the transport driver said most cops would not worry about a plate, might just pull me over to look at the car!

Found some hidden treasure in the glove compartment, documents from the first owner.

Transfer was easy, GA does not title cars over 25 years anymore so all I needed was a GA plate and an affidavit that allows me to display a YOM plate that I had purchased as soon as I had taken the decision to go ahead. Started driving around and yes the classic car fun starts. After one 15 minute drive noticed wisps of smoke coming out of the oil breather. Asked the year advisor of OCA and he recommended a compression test in case it was due to blow by. Found a small local garage with old guys working there that said they could look at it. Good news was that there were no compression issues, everything within specs. At the same time they noticed that the choke was sticking, which explained some reluctance to start now and then, and fixed it for me. 

A neighbor told me about the monthly Caffeine and Octane Car Show nearby, so took the car there, what a blast!

Next was a trip to the North Georgia mountains. Great fun driving around, but it was a hot day and I noticed some issues with the starter acting up. Did manage to get home without a problem and next day everything seemed OK.


The day after our Saturday drive in the country, started up the car to fill up at the local ethanol free pump (luckily have two between 4 and 8 miles from home). No problems with starting, either at home or at the gas station. However, while filling, the nozzle got caught on the lip of the filling pipe on the gas tank (actually it was the spring on the nozzle that got caught). Couldn't leave with a gas pipe hanging out of fuel door, and I don't think that the gas station would have liked it either. So tried twisting and turning the nozzle but to no avail. Finally took my tire iron, pushed the filling tube to one side and managed to extract the gas hose. All well and good I thought.

As we had another weekend planned in the mountains with friends, Friday morning I pushed the car out of the garage to give it a good wash. My garage floor is pretty much level, but there is a 1" small step down from the garage to the drive way and my driveway slopes noticeably to one side, away from the garage. Now the car is not level anymore and I notice liquid spreading at the back of the car. I think, funny, this car does not have airco, so where is the water coming from? Not water, gas! Running off the gas tank and dripping right next to the exhaust pipe. Am I glad that I did not start the engine and drive the car out for its wash, who knows what might of happened.

Could not see why this was happening, was it a break in the filler that I had manhandled, a break in the fuel line to the engine because it go pushed up against something when I was wrestling with the nozzle or something else? As I did not want to drive the car I called my garage and had them pick it up so they could put it up on a lift and find out what was going on. They ended up dropping the fuel tank and discovering that sometime in the past the tank had rusted through around the opening for the sending unit. It had been repaired with what looked like epoxy, and the epoxy had deteriorated. The garage said I ought to be able to drive with less than 1/2 tank, but I decided to get Fusick to send me a new tank. The car was flatbedded back home to await the tank. A few days I returned to the garage with tank and we were ready to roll again.

So now that the tank was done, I was ready for my next road trip. The local chapter of the Oldsmobile Club of America (Dixie Olds Club) was showing some cars at a nearby show, so I decided to join them. Set of Saturday morning excited to meet other enthusiasts. I was about hallway through the 40 minute drive when the car stalled at a light. Although I was able to turn the engine over a few times, slowly the battery was dying. So I called my wife and asked her to bring the new Optima Red-top that I had just bought and charged, but not installed or even put in the trunk.

Half an hour she arrived with booster cables and the battery, but now even the starter would not turn over. Time to call Hagerty's and have their road service take me home, not quite as excited as when I left a few hours earlier.

BTW. Once home, I did jump in my daily driver so I could meet the fellow car ethusiasts and see what a local show is all about.

The following week, called my garage again and asked them to take out the starter so I could drop it off at a nearby company for an overhaul. (I seemed to have chosen a good place to live because there plenty of classic car friendly services very close. The only thing that seems to be missing is a well stocked salvage yard. But I am sure there must be one somewhere in the Atlanta area.)

I am also mentioning the local garage that is helping me out quite a bit. After taking the car there for the compression test, I decided they were probably a good place to continue to patronize because I noticed an antique car in a state for major disassembly in one of their bays. It turned out to be a 1940 Ford something, owned by one of the mechanics. But that gave me confidence that they knew about classic cars and were not just wet-behind-the-ears grease jockeys. Although I was hoping to do work on the car myself, a reoccurrence of a back problem meant it was useful to have somewhere that could attend to urgent maintenance.

A day later the start was ready, looking very spiffy with what looks like a new solenoid. The garage replaced the starter but when I picked it up mentioned that instead of the earlier heat soak problems, it seemed to be starting intermittently even when cold. They suggested taking the car to the rebuilders and having the starter tested in place. As I had requested, they had checked the cable gauges and everything was as it should, albeit that the cables looked a little old. I soon found out that we still had a problem.


After the starter had been replaced , but it was not working 100%, it was time to take the car to the starter rebuilder for an on-car evaluation. Stalled the car getting out of the garage, and click, click, click.... The ammeter was pegging out but no turns on the engine. Called the shop and the flat-bed to the car in. The starter was out quite quickly, but before it was removed they did some testing. The comment was that my new Optima was getting drained very quickly, quicker than normal. So either the battery was defective or there was something wrong with the starter. SO off to the rebuilder with the starter only. At the rebuilders the owner took the starter into his shop for 20 minutes. I could hear the starter being tested , over and over and over. Finally he came out with his diagnosis. The good news was that the starter was working within specs and not drawing more amps than expected. In his opinion it meant either that the engine was more difficult to turn over (but that fact that it ran normally belied that) or that the cabling had an issue.

However, the shop had confirmed that the cables seemed to have the correct gauge, so now what?

Back to the shop, sat down with the owner and the mechanic to discuss. The big question why had this suddenly appeared after the starter had been rebuilt, whereas before the issue had been heat soak. I asked whether the cables looked original, or whether they had been replaced in earlier restorations, like the radiator and other hoses. I was told no, the cables looked original. So I suggested that perhaps the old cable might be brittle inside and the strands might have broken during the disconnecting and connecting, increasing the resistance which would also raise the amps drawn. That would explain the fast drain on the battery. We all agreed that this was a likely scenario and that it could be resolved by replacing the relevant cables (battery to starter and neutral safety switch to solenoid).

Next morning everything was done, and yes, it does seem that the starter issue is resolved. Now to address another problem, the stumble, hesitation or worst, stall, when accelerating from idle. According to the mechanic while not super bad the carburetor probably needs a rebuild too. So that is my next project. I have found a couple of places that have the right kits for the carb in my car - a Carter WGD 851S, as well as one that carries out rebuilds. I would love to have a try at rebuilding the carb myself, but at the moment with some home projects and a back problem, I might not be able to devote the time necessary.


Took the car out for a drive, stalled just outside the garage and needed another 4 or 5 pushes of the starter button to restart. So the new cables did not help. But not all the cables associated with the starter were changed. In this case from the battery to starter and from the neutral safety switch to the solenoid were replaced. So now I guess I have to replace from the ignition switch to the starter button and from the button to the other side of the neutral safety. Bleach (and thanks for your advice again) also suggested the solenoid but it looked like a brand new one when I picked up the starter from the rebuilder. I will check with the rebuilder but I suspect it must be the cables or even the ignition switch or starter button not allowing enough amperage to the solenoid. I don't think the battery is the issue because once you get over the initial click-click-click, the starter turns over quite normally and the car starts well too.

At the same time I also confirmed what the mechanic has warned me about, that some of the wires were losing their insulation, for example on the backup light cables (also run from the neutral safety switch). Uninsulated wires - shorts = sparks can = fire, so have put a new wiring harness on the top of the list for my major work to be done after the S.E. Oldsmobile Gathering in a few weeks. 

Starter reliability, wiring and carburetor rebuild, my toy will be stripped down and not running for a couple of months at least. Because there is so much, I have decided that I will have to outsource the carb rebuild, thanks to the members of the AACA forums who helped with advice in that matter too, as well as some other questions.

Next update probably after The Gathering.


Some slightly good news today after all. I had to start the car and drive it out of the garage, left it for a couple of hours and then started it again. And there were no problems whatsoever, this time around. This was a very short run of the engine, not enough to do a generator charge, and I included some testing of the headlights (and that pegs the ammeter too). The other good news is that the back-up lights do not come on with the headlights any more. Actually they don't come on in R either, but that is better than before and getting them to work in R is probably just a small adjustment. Something that I can do later.

Anyway I decided to recharge the battery, but in less than an hour it was back in 'maintainer' status. I suspect that battery is OK, and that my intermittent starter problems are indeed probably cable and/or switch and/or button related. Nice way to end the weekend, as I head out for a business trip tomorrow afternoon.

The reason that I had the short drive out of and back into the garage was because I replaced the 'normal' garage light with a much brighter set of shop lights (4x4' fluorescents). Nothing but the best for my toy! Now I will be able to work on the car much easier when the days are shorter during the winter.


After a couple of quiet weeks, this week I got the car ready for the Dixie Olds (chapter of OCA) annual show, The Gathering. Before heading over to Cartersville, about 50 minutes away, I did a quick tour around the neighborhood, visiting the starter rebuilder for some advice about replacement cables, the local shop to arrange an oil change for my daily driver and getting gassed up with ethanol free gas. The good news was no stalls and no problem with the starter. Just to be safe I decided to disconnect the backup light cable. This was the most damaged of the cables in the engine compartment and I suspected responsible for other issues. In addition I had used touch up paint to cover all the scratches and bubbles in the paint, it was not pretty but I wanted to prevent any rust developing. I started wet sanding and polishing one scratch. Unfortunately I had not filled it in enough with paint so after polishing the paint looked good but the scratch was still visible. I added more touch but in resanding I noticed that some of the paint around the scratch had been sanded down to the primer . So I decided not do any more sanding. I had read the Meguiars #7 is good for old lacquer paint and I took my 110V2 and applied #7 section by section, wiping it off quickly as per the instructions. It seemed to give a good shine, but that was inside the garage (remember, don't apply surface coating in bright sunlight). Of course when I did get it into sunlight I noticed how many spots I had missed. I also was not ready for waxing yet, which would have also helped (the reasons for that should be the subject of a separate post).

The smooth running continued on the Friday afternoon run to Cartersville for the Cruise-in, with my youngest daughter. Once there I was introduced to Jerry Wilson, who my daughter had met through Jerry's son. After an interesting evening talking cars and other topics we headed back home. While the car again performed beautifully, with no stalls or starting problems, here was small challenge in that the dashboard lighting is not working, but I was pleased that the turn signals were flashing, even when the headlights were on. This was probably due to the disconnecting of the backup light cable to the backup switch. I had the same uneventful trip back to Cartersville Saturday morning for the show and judging. Although I did not see my car as a show car I thought it would be useful to have it judged and find out what might be needed to turn it into a show car. Yes, the bug was biting badly.

So here is the car next to a beautiful (late) 1951 Super 88, as part of the 40+ cars that had arrived for the show. just for bragging rights I was able to find out the my car was the oldest car in the how (just).

It was a really interesting day, where I met a bunch of friendly people, many with lots of useful advice around the car. I was also surprised how many people came up to compliment me about the car. Finally the end of the show came and the results of the judging were to be announced. Of course, I was not expecting anything, have entered a work in progress car, except a judging result with pointers for future shows. So I was not really listening to what was happening, but suddenly I heardmy name being called. It turns out I was awarded the special NAOC President's award. Wow, I was flabbergasted, and even more so when a few minutes later my name is called again. This time for second place in Class 1 (Stone age to 1953). But to top this unexpectedly good day, I discovered that the owner of the Supper 88 next to me might have a spare 'M' hood letter for me, the final missing letter to complete the Oldsmobile name on the hood. I was a very happy camper on the drive back and of course the car performed flawlessly again, as if it was proud of itself too.

I had been waiting for The Gathering before starting any serious work on the car, so my next posts are going to be about the carburetor rebuild, installing a new wiring harness and any other major maintenance that might be necessary. Working on the paint job is at the bottom of the priority list but who knows.


Now that the Dixie Olds Gathering is behind us, I am preparing to carry out some serious repairs (carb rebuild, installing a new wiring harness, replacing the ground strap and replacing the new battery cable with a cloth covered period correct one). I thought it might be a good idea to have a mechanic look it over and tell me what else might be necessary. That happened today, so in addition to the two items mentioned above, I have the following to do in the next few months (weeks?):

  1. Replace the oil pan gasket
  2. Replace the exhaust system (the shop says they can make what is needed rather than buying one made for an 88 - about 1/3 the price too)
  3. Replace the steering gear box (leaking oil, but I was told easier to replace than to re-gasket- but relatively expensive)
  4. Replace the steering idler arm

For a 63 year old car, not a bad list, in fact the mechanics complimented me because they had expected to find much more. However, it looks like the car will be in dry dock for quite a while. One more cruise-in this weekend (Dawsonville) before I start taking it apart. And by the way, anyone with advice on the above repairs, please do reply in this thread or PM me, if you prefer.


Yesterday was like Christmas, my birthday and all other party days rolled into one.

While at the Oldsmobile Gathering this last weekend I had been hoped to find my missing hood letters at the swap meet part of the show. Unfortunately, none of the vendors had my missing items. I had also received an email from someone who had seen my Oldsified in Journeys with Olds. Although what he had to offer were letters with only one or no pins, I was prepared to try to make my own pins on them. So he promised to send them to me. Thank you John for your kind and generous offer. (Actually the letters just arrived and he sent me an I with 2 pins!!! as well as the M with a pin and a half)

However, the beautiful Super 88 that was parked next to me had its letter replaced by a full set of Fusick letters, so I asked the owner if he had any of the originals left. He promised to look for me and send me what I needed, if he had them. In the mail yesterday was a letter with an M, an S and an I with two pins and another couple of letters with one pin. So essentially my search is over and my car will be complete. Thank you David for your generous gift, you cannot imagine how happy I am.


After a relatively quiet time, I have taken the next step, crossed the Rubicon so to speak, that is 'dry-docked' the car. I started with removal of the Carter carburetor which was shipped off for rebuild. I also sent of my dash clock, to get it running again. 

In the meanwhile I managed to find an idler arm on Ebay at slightly less than in the restorer parts catalogs, as well as picking up a Fisher body catalog, which should help with some of the work on the body that is not covered in the shop manual. I also have some nice looking dog dish hubcaps to replace the smooth (1950?) hubcaps currently on it. 

Baby steps at the moment, but the next thing will be starting on the wiring harness when the new one arrives.


After a few quite weeks, I have started working seriously on the car again. Part of the delay was due to surgery and an unexpected two week stay in the hospital, followed by the necessary convalescence. But I had also been waiting for the parts required for the main job on the car, firstly the rebuilt carburetor and secondly the new wiring harness. Both have arrived, all the little extras like grommets, etc., have arrived from Fusick and other suppliers. I started on an easy bit, replacing the wiring for headlights, parking and turn lights. This looked easy as the wires were not part of the main harness but joined at two connectors under the hood. The headlights were relatively easy, especially after removing the large sheet metal plate in front of the radiator. However, the spring in one of the holders for the parking/turn light bulbs had completely disintegrated. I could not find a replacement holder in my restoration catalogs, so I ending up rebuilding the old one using a spring from a more modern bulb holder.

I also needed to replace the door check link on the drivers side. This proved to be a bit more of an adventure as the bolt holding the old, broken link had rusted solid. No amount of penetrating oil would loosen it and I finally had to use a Dremel reciprocating saw to remove the head and then use a Speedout (which worked very well) to remove the rest of the offending bolt. Ended up taking almost a whole day for this job, instead of the expected hour, but it is done.

Another thing that I wanted to do was replace my hub caps. While the car is a 51, it was built very early in January and the factory was probably using up 1950 parts. So the car came with 1950 style hubcaps. While probably original (but I don't know for sure), I knew that in shows a knowledgeable judge might notice the difference, and even though I could explain it, it could be a hassle. And as I prefer the dog dish hubcaps anyway, especially when teamed with the trim rings, the car has been 're-shoed'.


Finally, progress; last weekend I managed to complete the rewiring. In the end I actually connected, disconnected then reconnected the under-dash wiring more than once, due to not routing the overall harness correctly. My own fault too, as I had taken pictures of the old wiring, but forgot to look at them when placing the new harness. To simplify the job, I did cheat a little on the harness for the rear wiring. After ordering and receiving the rear wiring harness, I found that it runs underneath the headliner to the trunk area. What I could see at the dashboard and in the trunk seemed in pretty good condition. It was just where some of the wires went through a grommet, out of the trunk that the wiring deteriorated. Coincidentally, all but one of these 'exterior' wires had connectors in trunk. So I ordered a set of pigtails only, as well as some spare wire and only replaced what was in poor condition. this means I have a full rear wiring harness available for a 1950/1951 88 4 door sedan, with backup lights. This will appear shortly in the AACA Oldsmobile buy/sell forum, along with other pieces surplus to the restoration.


One of the surplus pieces will be the non-functioning radio, which has been replaced by a functioning one that I found on Ebay. The EBay one was actually for an S88, based on the faceplate, but everything else is the same. So after switching faceplates it installed easily.


meanwhile I did find another full set of hood/trunk letters, which I decided to purchase as insurance. I did earlier indicate that I had found replacements for all my missing letters, but I also had a couple of damaged ones. As the pins on the back seem to snap off easily I decide having an insurance set is probably a good idea, especially if I capitulate and have the car repainted. Removing the letters for the repainting definitely runs the risk of damaging the existing letters. And otherwise, these too may appear on the Buy/Sell forum at some time in the future.


While I was doing the rewiring, I also tackled a couple of other mini projects. One concerned removing the back bumper, so I could reach the license plate lights. After the removal I discovered that the rubber splash guard inside had hardened and crumbled to the touch. After searching the Internet, I found a company called Zoro, who have strips of rubber 2" wide in different thicknesses. The thinnest, 1/8", was just right and I ordered a fair bit there. One thing I discovered, the strip are not just available in different thicknesses, but also different stiffness too. For those doing the same kind of restoration, let me suggest that in most cases the least stiff version is probably the most suitable.


This Memorial Day weekend I will be getting the car ready for the heavy work, that I cannot do myself. I will first return the front bench seat to its place in the car. Its removal was absolutely required to do the under dash wiring. I am also going to clean the engine compartment and suspension area, in preparation for the removal and refurbishment of the steering gear box and other underbody parts. I am going to use a method suggested, I believe somewhere in the AACA forums, using Purple Power, hot water and an aircraft high pressure air cleaning tool. I also hope to do more work on the paint, firstly wet sanding the places where I touched up the worst of the paint scars. I will then carefully polish up the sanded areas and then the whole body. For this I am using a suggestion at Autogeek.com for old cars. This recommendation was to use Meguiars #7, putting a generous layer on the car and then leaving it for 24 hours before removing. Apparently the formula for this product is older than my car and very suitable for the paint type used at the time of my car. This should be done three times, and then followed by the usual Carnuba wax top layer. I have already done one #7 treatment, so that the paint would be protected slightly before the sanding. Hopefully I can use the long weekend to complete the sanding and two remaining treatments before I send the car to the shop. Then when it returns in driveable condition, I will put on the wax layer, which should last most of the summer.


Can't wait to be back on the road!!


I was hoping to be close to driving my baby again very soon, but ran into a major problem. There seems to be an issue with the rebuild or re-installation of my steering gear box and shaft. Can anyone help, PLEASE? Brief description below, more details in the Oldsmobile - Technical forum