1954 Oldsmobile 88 Custom

For nearly as long as there have been automobiles, there have been people customizing them to suit their own personal style. From basic accessories to make motoring more enjoyable and safe, to today’s sophisticated tuning and restyling firms, the automobile has long been a canvas for self-expression. Customizing cars is a universal language, and people around the world are always working to make their machine faster, stronger or a unique expression of their taste. America’s obsessive car culture has spawned a vast array of styles and trends, the most distinctive and influential were the hot rod set that began building cheap Ford roadsters in the 1940s and 50s.

The hot rod has taken on countless forms over the years, ranging from the early days of dry-lakes roadsters and drag cars, to the wild, boundary pushing “Kustoms” of the 1960s. From the late 50’s onward, car builders experimented with radical restyling of existing cars. Starting mostly with 2-door 1940s and 1950s American coupes, the suspension would be lowered, body lines smoothed, roof chopped, bodies dropped over the frame and any variety of different head and tail lights grafted onto the body. As the 1960s wore on, custom car builders were driven by creativity, competition, and quite possibly nitrocellulose lacquer paint fumes.

One such example of the height of the Kustom movement is “Joanne’s Dream”. This remarkable automobile started life as a 1954 Oldsmobile Super 88 coupe and was completely transformed in period. Before its radical transformation, this Olds was used as a daily driver in the early 1960s while in the possession of Tom and Joanne Archer. It was Joanne’s dream to build a custom show car and the Olds served as the perfect staring point. Rather than simply applying a lick of paint and some pin stripes, Tom went completely nuts and transformed the 54 Olds into a totally unique and truly individual kustom car. Barely recognizable as the donor Super 88, the now-fully restored machine features a unique roof line and a handmade El Camino-style pickup bed. Starting at the front end, the modified 55 DeSoto grille is the first thing you notice, along with the quad headlights which were lifted from a 1957 Plymouth and grafted into the Olds fenders. The original hood was stamped with louvers and smoothed to be free of trim and badges. Corvette-inspired coves behind the front and rear wheel arches were custom made and fitted to the body and 1959 Plymouth Belvedere trim graces the body sides. The roof line was of course heavily chopped and 1961 Corvair air ducts were integrated into it.

In the rear, the wild looking custom bed features red oak planks in the floor, 1958 Corvette taillights in the top of the fenders, and 1963 Impala tail lights below. Six (count ‘em!) exhausts exit from the rear, through side mounted lake pipes, and through stacks cut in the bed just behind the cab. The detailing is simply astounding and everywhere you look you find bits and pieces that were lifted from other cars and seamlessly integrated into this incredible piece.

Under the louvered hood is the original 371 Rocket 88 Olds engine, which was dressed with a number of speed parts. A Weiland dual-quad intake, Offenhauser finned alloy valve covers adorn the engine, and accessories such as the power steering reservoir, generator, pulleys and heater motor have been chrome plated.

Joanne’s Dream was discovered in 2008 as a hulk sitting behind a Fort Worth, TX hot rod shop. Alan Lewenthal had never seen anything like it, and soon began to discover this was a rare survivor from the golden age of the Kustom car scene. Following extensive research, a painstaking restoration was handled by Marquis Auto Restorations of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Restoring a custom car of this type required specialized skills and knowledge, and the countless bits of trim and detailing that were sourced from other cars had to be identified. Traditional methods such as lead filler were used to restore the body to its former glory and it now presents in truly stunning condition, finished in its original lurid purple over white paint scheme, and period correct reverse chrome wheels. 1962 Impala bucket seats are trimmed in white upholstery as is the Impala center console (with unique shift lever) and custom rolled dash pad. Even the bed sides are trimmed in matching white vinyl. The entire restoration carefully returned this car to the show quality standard it enjoyed when it was a star on the auto-show circuit in the mid-1960s.

National Geographic produced a documentary for their program Dream Car Archaeology which followed the restoration process, and in January 2009 at the Chicago World of Wheels show, the car was awarded a prestigious George Barris Elegance Award, a Best In Class and a named Most Outstanding Radical Custom Hardtop. We can’t imagine what Joanne’s reaction was when she first saw her Olds Super 88 fully transformed. But we’d like to believe it was a dream come true.

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