1949 Oldsmobile 98 Convertible Coupe

February 1, 2020 | By John Gunnell

It Started Life as a Parade Car at the Indy 500. An All-Out Restoration Has It Looking Like the Day It Was at the Famous Track.

As you look at the car featured in this article, you’ll no doubt appreciate the way it sparkles with its beautiful looks, attractive and faultless body and paint work, and outstanding mechanical condition. But it’s not surprising that this Olds should automatically catch your eye as this car underwent a spare-no-expense body-off frame restoration before it was given to The Automobile Gallery (www.theautomobilegallery.org) of Green Bay, Wisconsin, to display in their art gallerylike collector-car setting.

We’ll venture a guess that this is the finest-quality restoration of a 1949 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Convertible Coupe that you’ll ever have the opportunity to see and appreciate. William “Red” Lewis—the founder of The Automobile Gallery—literally fell in love with this car and rebuilt it from the frame up. While it was being restored between September 2015 and the summer of 2017, it was sometimes displayed in The Automobile Gallery to show visitors the steps involved in a restoration and to keep people coming back to watch the progress of the restoration project as it unfolded.

An Indy 500 Celebrity

In 1949 this particular Nankeen Cream Oldsmobile Futuramic 98 Convertible chauffeured Miss Patti Grubbs—the 1948 Miss Indiana—to official functions held in conjunction with the Indianapolis 500- Mile Race. She also rode in the car during the parade lap on the day of the race. An Oldsmobile Futuramic 88 Convertible was the Indy 500 Pace Car that year. Olds was chosen because of its new overhead-valve V-8.

Meanwhile, Evert Johnson’s daughter Virginia had seen the car at many of the Indy 500 functions and told her father how wonderful it would be to have it. Evert purchased the car as a surprise gift for Virginia and it was given to her at a surprise party on her 17th birthday.

Virginia loved this car and drove it until 2009, when she passed away. At that point, the 42,000-mile car was willed to her son Evert Hauser. He kept the Oldsmobile convertible until 2015, at which point it was sold to a dealer in Tennessee.

Red Lewis of the Automobile Gallery acquired the car in September 2015, understood its potential, and immediately began a total body-off-frame restoration.

Now, About the Car Itself

A
A period photo of the car with its first owner, Virginia Johnson.

The
The chassis was on display at The Automobile Gallery on April 2, 2016.

Showing
Showing the incomplete car at the museum was done to illustrate what a restoration involves. The historic Olds Rocket overhead valve V-8 was introduced in 1949.

This top-of-the-line Oldsmobile came equipped with the new “Rocket 88” overhead-valve V-8 engine (which inspired the first rock ‘n’ roll song, “Rocket 88” recorded by Ike Turner in 1951) and a four-speed Hydra-Matic transmission.

Included in its long list of standard equipment were a solenoid starter, fender skirts, an E-Z-I rearview mirror, foam rubber seat cushions, front and rear bumper guards, a vacuum booster pump, a plastic radiator ornament, dual horns, dual sun visors and a cigarette lighter. An optional deluxe equipment package added front and rear floor mats, a deluxe steering wheel, wheel trim rings, rear seat armrests, hydraulic power windows, a hydraulic power seat and a hydraulic power convertible top.

At First, Parts Were Displayed

During the restoration of this car, The Automobile Gallery displayed the Oldsmobile’s frame and drive train, while the rest of the restoration work was carried out at a restoration shop.

Research for the project showed hat the Fisher Body Style No. for a 98 convertible was 49-3867X. This car sold for $2810 when it was new (a little more than $30,000 in today’s dollars) and weighed in at 4200 lbs. Total production of this model was 12,602 units.

The Olds Rocket V-8 had a cast iron block and cast-iron cylinder heads. With a 3-17⁄32 x 3-7 ⁄16 bore and stroke it measured in at 303 cubic inches. A 7.25:1 compression ratio was used, and brake horsepower was 135 at 3600 rpm with 263 lbs.-ft. of torque. Hydraulic valve lifters were used as was a Carter WGD 714-S dual downdraft carburetor with a built-in choke.

Oldsmobile was so proud of the engine that the Indy 500 Pace Car had a seethrough hood, which was then made available as a rare option for dealers.

Auto Restorer first saw this car displayed as a work-in-progress at The Automobile Gallery on April 2, 2016. At that point, Red Lewis’ team had restored the frame, rebuilt the front and rear suspensions, rebuilt the engine, rebuilt the Hydra-Matic Drive unit, rebuilt all of the drive train parts, blasted and refinished the original-type wire wheels, redid the brakes and installed a new exhaust system and new whitewall tires.

All of the component sub-assemblies had also been refinished as close as possible to factory specification. The frame was black, the engine was green, the valve covers were silver with new “Oldsmobile Rocket” decals; spark plugs had been installed and so on. The engine had been completely assembled. The transmission casing was finished in satin silver with a brass tag. There were some small variations from OEM finish, but not many.

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The
The transmission housing was painted satin silver with a yellow nomenclature plate. Note that the ’49 Olds exhaust system “hops up” over the rear axle.

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NOS
NOS upper A-frames are black, so we’re guessing OEM should be black, too.

By
By August of 2016 the Oldsmobile’s main body unit was back on the frame with many parts still to come.

The
The steering wheel also received the restorer’s touch.

By
By August 4, 2016 the doors, rear fenders and other parts were not yet installed.

The
The front suspension was completely rebuilt.

On Aug. 4, 2016, we visited Red Lewis on business and got a peek at the Oldsmobile, which was back in the restoration shop. The body was now mounted on the frame. The wire wheels were replaced with steel disc wheels that were painted Nankeen Cream to match the body color. Only the main body unit was installed on the frame. There were no doors, no front or rear fenders, no hood, no bright metal parts, no trunk lid and no interior trim. The engine and the Hydra-Matic transmission were still in place.

Visiting the Finished Product

The
The Olds Hydra-Matic transmission has an Automatic Transmission Fluid filler under the hood instead of under the floor.

By
By July 20, 2017 the car was completed and ready to be appraised and appreciated.

Raising
Raising the Olds on a lift made it easier to see the extent of the mechanical restoration.

The
The underside of car looks clean enough to “eat off of it.” Here we see the flowing style of the trunk lid.

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On July 20, 2017 we saw the car again. By this time, it was totally assembled and on exhibit at The Automobile Gallery. In fact, it was sitting on one of The Gallery’s single-post lifts so it could be raised in the air. This gave us the opportunity to inspect the chassis under the car, in addition to getting a good, close-up look at the exterior, interior and engine compartment. The wire wheels were back on the Olds, but they now had blue emblems at the center, instead of the red ones we had seen 15 months earlier. The blue ones matched the blue horn button on the creamcolored restored steering wheel.

At this point, the car was an absolute knockout. The flawless cream body looked great, as did the dark tan leather interior and the crackers-and-cream two-tone interior. A tan convertible top set off the overall color scheme perfectly. The cream steering wheel, bright metal trim and front and rear bumpers sparkled like jewels. The semicircular instrument panel was fully and expertly restored to like-new condition. Bright metal knobs, stacked up on either side, look like “precious metal.”

Editor’s note: Now, if only we could take it for a drive on a warm summer evening…