I’ve admired these cars from afar for the last three quarters of my life. Finally, in the summer of 2009, I consummated my three-decade, long-distance love affair with the big Bs when I bought this 1972 Olds Delta 88 Royale convertible.
The seeds for my B body worship were planted quite early in my life. From the time I was in elementary school to his death in 1989, my paternal grandfather owned a 1972 Chevrolet Caprice Classic four-door hardtop, charcoal gray with a black pebble-grain vinyl top, black velour interior, and the 400 cubic inch, two barrel small block under the hood. It was my grandfather’s “third child” (after my dad and aunt) and despite always being parked outside (it was way too big to fit in the tiny garage of my grandparents’ early 1900s-era house), Gramps kept it in immaculate condition.
I was in love with that car and would behind the wheel, daydreaming of the day that an older, more worldly and sophisticated me would pilot it to some fancy restaurant with some hot babe snuggling up to me on the big bench seat. After he passed away, I was determined to purchase it from my grandmother, but sadly that idea never panned out. Deeply disappointed and slightly bitter, I vowed that I would have some sort of B body sitting in my driveway before I was old enough to qualify for AARP benefits.
The droptop lust didn’t come until later, and was more due to the influence of television rather than any personal experience. As a young teenager, I remember watching reruns of the 1970s paranormal drama series The Sixth Sense starring Gary Collins and his ice blue Chevy Caprice Classic convertible. A few years later, glimpses of Philip Michael Thomas cruising his blue-green ’63 Cadillac convertible in Miami Vice, and the gleaming white ’57 Cadillac Eldorado in the video for OMD’s hit single “So In Love” made a big impression on me. A ’72 Olds isn’t a ’57 or ’63 Cadillac, but you get the idea. Any big, old American convertible was enough to capture the imagination of an adolescent car nut like me.
Out of all the big Bs, I’ve always liked the Oldsmobiles the best. To me, the Oldses just have a certain something about them that their corporate cousins don’t. Those eerily smooth, torque monster Oldsmobile V8s with their distinctive exhaust sound only reinforce that impression.
The story behind the acquisition of my convertible is both interesting and slightly sad. I spotted the ad for this car in the winter of 2008 in a free local paper titled “Autos And Parts,” with an asking price of only $2300. The seller was a very nice man named Dale who, at 84 years of age, owned a machine shop and still worked 5-6 days a week. Dale was/is a diehard Oldsmobile guy. His daily drivers were an Intrigue ( I think ) and a late ’80s Delta 88 sedan. He also owned four other classics including a ’41 Packard and a ’47 Studebaker stored elsewhere.
I met him at his machine shop and he drove me to the rundown trailer park where he lived and where the ’72 was kept. It sat under a makeshift carport and was covered with several canvas tarps. Despite being kept outside, the interior was remarkably well-preserved. The body was completely straight and absolutely rot-free. He started it up and it purred like a kitten: no misfires, no smoke, no funny noises. The numbers-matching, factory-installed 455 Rocket engine still sported its original, crusty Quadrajet carb. The only things that weren’t original were the dried-out Mallory plug wires and the haphazardly spliced fuel line.
I liked the car and really wanted it, and the price was a bargain. However, with several other cars in my collection already, I decided not to buy it. I drove home and soon forgot about it.
About six months later I got a surprise phone call from Dale. Sadly, his wife of 50+ years had recently passed away. He was selling his mobile home and moving in with his daughter and son-in-law. Their place only had room for a few of his cars, so something had to go. The ’72 convertible was one of those. He told me I could have it for $1600 if I came and got it soon. He didn’t have to tell me twice. The next day I was up there with a flatbed tow truck and sixteen $100 bills in a white envelope. Once it was carted home, I immediately began working on it.
By the end of the second week of my ownership, I had 8 brand new AC Delco plugs, a Pertronix electronic ignition update, a new thermostat and coolant, all new belts and hoses, a rebuilt performance carburetor from Sean Murphy Induction, and five fresh quarts of Royal Purple 15W40 synthetic with a bottle of zinc additive in the crankcase.
I had a rather funny and embarrassing incident occur upon taking the car on its maiden voyage under my ownership. Carefully easing onto a dark, deserted side street behind my apartment complex, I pointed the front wheels straight and floored it. After doing a block-long peg leg burnout, the car picked up speed rapidly. Wind drag grabbed ahold of a loose section of the badly rotted factory vinyl ragtop, tore it loose, and sent it flapping. After that, I never again drove the car with the top up.
For the next three years I drove the hell out of this car. Every weekend and evening that the temperature was at least 70 degrees, my 95 Lexus LS400 would be parked and the Olds would come out. On one occasion, myself and three friends all piled in it on a cool April night and headed to Chicago Ribs in Westchester / Marina Del Rey, Ca. People in the small parking lot gawked and chuckled as I maneuvered that beached whale into a space just barely wide enough for it to fit. And the ass end still stuck out a good three feet compared to the small SUVs and compact sedans that surrounded it.
A few weeks later, we celebrated my purchase of four new whitewalls by heading out to the historic Barney’s Beanery restaurant in Hollywood. As we drove past the Beverly Center shopping mall, we got a honk and a thumbs-up from two guys in a ’63 Impala, and later two girls in a red ’65/’66 Mustang convertible. As luck would have it, we found a spot right out front, dead center, when we arrived. People looked on in amusement as my friend hopped out and guided me backwards into the space to keep the Delta’s massive chrome-bumpered rump from creaming the Mercedes E-Class behind us. As we were leaving, some white-haired guy who was clearly drunk loudly stated that I had a “great fucking car” and asked if I wanted to sell it (the answer was obviously no).
As long as I’m able to drive, I will never sell this car unless some guy from one of those classic car reality shows gives me an incredible offer I can’t refuse. And even then, I won’t make it easy. To me, this Olds is the quintessential classic American car: a full-size luxury convertible with power everything, and a living room-like interior, packing serious muscle under its mile-long hood. They’ll never build cars quite like this again.
These pictures were taken just days after my initial purchase, which explains its dirty presentation. Since then, I’ve replaced the carpet and insulation, permanently eliminated the worn and faded carpet inserts from the interior door panels, run all the wires and cables for my updated sound system, and installed KYB shocks with heavy duty police/taxi spec OEM replacement springs.
Underhood, all I’ve done lately is installed a set of chrome valve covers, a heavy-duty alternator, and retrofitted an old factory dual-snorkel air cleaner off another GM performance vehicle, which I hooked to a homemade cold-air setup. Eventually I’ll have the car repainted in its original metallic root beer brown hue (called “Nutmeg” by Oldsmobile), and will replace the cheap, ugly, and rotten chocolate brown vinyl convertible top with a high-quality canvas one. Later on, I’ll have the faded and worn upholstery redone in heavy duty marine grade vinyl, in the same shade of tan as the top. I also have a classy-looking lacquered wood/brushed aluminum spoke Grant GT steering wheel ready to install, to replace the cracked and broken factory wheel.
The car isn’t currently running due to a slipped timing chain. A quick call to Jegs or Summit will fix that :). It’s currently sitting in a boat/RV storage yard under a party tent, two 11×19 foot heavy duty canvas tarps, and an old canvas car cover on top of them, weighted down with old wheels and tires at all four corners. I’ve gone to great lengths to keep this Olds protected until it can rise again. With only 3900 built during the 1972 model year, this is one CC that definitely deserves the Royale treatment.