Latest out of the shop is Ray Castor’s 1957 Oldsmobile. Ray brought us this car last year just before we got really deep into the 51 Chevy PU For Metro AA. It initially came in for some front suspension work. As we are to understand this car was purchased from Desert Valley Auto, same guys with the TV Show. It had already been sand blasted, painted and subframed with an early 80’s GM full-size clip. Most likely an Oldsmobile because ray told us it had an Olds 455 in it. He found a 1958 Olds 371 J2 engine and trans, had it rebuilt and installed by yet another shop. The problem came when he went to put his tires on it, they didn’t fit under the fenderwell very well at all. The tires actually stuck outside the fenders by a half inch or so and the front crossmember was less than 2″ off the ground.
So the first thing to determine was what condition the car was in and what we could do to fix the botched front clip installation. On tear down things became very evident that the persons installing the clip made more than a few mistakes besides choosing the wrong clip for the car.
The entire clip besides being mounted very low on the chassis, was off center a bit and the right side spindle was a full inch behind where it should be as well as being a few degrees off, lower on the Left side. You can see just how high the engine was placed in the chassis. So high in fact that the installer trimmed the upper webbing out of the center X member for transmission clearance. The wobbly engine mounts were pretty comical too. It was about at this point we realized just how hard of a hit this car had taken at some point. There was evidence of a fairly severe diagonal in the whole car.
Next move was to get it on the chassis table and square it up, then start the decision making on what to repair this car with. Of all the choices available, one stood out as something new for me to try. The late 70’s to mid 80’s Jaguar XJ sedan. My friend Scott Zekanis did a similar installation on his 1957 Buick sedan a few years back and has had good success with it. I did my research and found that the Oldsmobile is less than 100 pounds heavier than the Jaguar and had very similar weight distribution. Plus the track width was in the range we were looking for. The stock Olds front had to be close to 59″ wide. The rear axle was right on the money at 59″ so it stands to reason at this point in automotive history that the track widths matched, that and a bit of careful tape measuring and internet sleuthing.
A few phone calls and internet searches, I had myself a line on a 1985 Jaguar XJ6 Vanden Plas. Nice enough car and the price was more than good. Time to strip both cars down, Ray made the decision to use both the front and rear suspensions from the Jaguar (good choice!) as the rear axle in this car was also an unknown. It was stock but if the car was wrecked pretty bad, there might be issues with bent axles or what not. Besides, it just made perfect sense to do a fully independent suspension. Brian and Dr Marvelus AirArced the front clip off after locking the car to the table and Brian and I also disassembled the front and rear subframes from the Jag.
Pressure washed clean and time to start figuring out how to make this all work. This was more work that any of us figured. Still not sure if dropping the engine out the bottom was a good choice or not. Regardless, it came apart and the suspension was pretty decent.
Old clip off, Jaguar front mocked into place, I made my measurements and drew up new frame rails in my 3D software. Made the decision to use as much of the stock Jaguar suspension components as possible. This meant also rubber mounting the front and rear suspensions to give the old Olds the best ride quality possible.
One of the things that was going to make this a difficult build was the owners insisting on keeping the Factory AC and heaters in place. If you will notice the large black box where we would normally hang a power booster from, that is the AC Evaporator case. This didn’t cause us problems for the frame and engine placement.
Front end finished to a stopping point, we turned our attention to the rear suspension. It really surprised us how well the whole Jaguar IRS fit while still in it’s cage. I determined that to rubber mount the stock Jaguar rear cage, a section of frame rail would need to be replaced and a bit of the trunk floor coped in for the new bit of frame rail.
The stock Jaguar trailing arms are critical if you intend on rubber mounting the cage like we did here. If you leave them out you will get some serious tire shake or worse. We also installed this rear axle with 3º of pinion up which goes against all the internet experts out there. I am not willing to just follow trends, so actual investigation went into doing this. The three degrees up not only allowed for a better driveline angle for our universal joints, it also gave us a tiny bit of anti-squat! Yeah, traction is cool!
The wrap up was fairly boring stuff, rush to finish meant the camera phone was in my office out of harms way for the most part. We had a custom made radiator done, rebuilt the core support, ran brake lines, installed a hydroboost system with the stock Jaguar master cylinder under the floor, built an exhaust system that snaked it’s way through everything and made engine brackets to hold the air compressor and alternator properly. Didn’t get any final pictures before it left, but if you attend the Goodguys shows, you are likely to run into this car.
The little bit I got to drive the car was pretty darned cool. Very smooth, very controlled. I think once Ray gets the engine and transmission sorted out, he is going to have one hell of a daily driver on his hands. You can say I am a believer in the Jag conversions. Not an easy job compared to other popular choices out there, but for an ambitious home installer or a customer that wants pretty much the best of comfort and good handling this is a solid choice.