Nearly born an Oldsmobile aficionado, East Bangor, PA, resident Mark Thatcher’s love of the now-defunct brand is likely second-to-none. Okay, so he wasn’t born with the keys to a Rocket-powered ’50 Olds coupe in his hand, but he did grow up in and around an Oldsmobile dealership, which he attributes to helping fuel his interest in the brand as well as continuing the growth of his vintage Olds collection.
Having become well known around his eastern Pennsylvania town for his passion for the brand, Thatcher is usually the first person the local enthusiasts call when looking to unload a stale project or some other Olds that has worn out its welcome in their garage. Such was the case with this 1955 Oldsmobile 88. "I bought the car from our local judge who lost interest in it a few years after having it shipped to Pennsylvania from Washington." Thatcher continued, "I had the car sitting around for a few years and was going to build it stock, but then I ran into Jerry Csontos." That’s when the plan changed.
"Jerry had a ’55 Chevy that he built with a straight axle underneath it," Mark explained. "He did the body and the rest of the car so well that I asked him to build my ’55 Olds for me. I figured, if he could make a car as homely as a ’55 Chevy look good, I knew my Olds would look great." Not wasting any time, Mark gave Csontos his soon-to-be Olds Gasser and let him build it however he wanted, short of selecting the paint scheme.
To turn Thatcher’s ’55 Olds 88 two-door sedan into a period-correct Gasser, Csontos started by tossing aside the original front suspension and preparing the stock frame to accept a straight axle and leaf springs. The solid axle in the rear is the original unit stuffed with 3.42:1 gears. At the end of each axle are the original Olds drum brakes, which required some machining to get the drums to fit on the truck axle up front.
While the body of Mark’s Olds looks essentially all-original, Jerry performed a few mods to the steel exterior in order for it to work with the modified front suspension and to help solidify the Gasser look and feel. First, and likely the most obvious modification, is the lack of a front grille. Jerry removed the stock grille as well as the remaining chrome trim from the front of the 88 before extending the hood and shaping it to meet the fenders. As the founder of ColorRite, a company specializing in OEM motorcycle, ATV, and automotive paint finishes, Mark naturally handled the color selection. The Olds wears a two-tone combo of ColorRite automotive gloss black and motorcycle flat black. Jerry’s son Jason Csontos handled the painting responsibilities.
Beneath the lengthened steel hood is a ’62 Oldsmobile 394ci V-8 topped with an Offenhauser intake manifold featuring two four-barrel Holley carburetors. Belfast Machine in Belfast, PA, over-bored the block .030-inch and Thatcher performed the final assembly using a number of components from Egge Machine, as well as a Chet Herbert reground cam, originally from a ’61 Starfire. Further adding to the look is a custom-built set of fender well headers constructed by Csontos.
The inside of Mark’s period-correct Gasser is simple though well done, much like the exterior. Upon entering the Olds, passengers are greeted by a pair of seats from an Easton, PA, city bus that Csontos covered in red leather. Csontos also built and upholstered the custom door panels and constructed the four-point steel roll cage, a drag racing staple. The dashboard remains mostly stock, short of a trio of Moon auxiliary gauges.
Finally, Jerry selected a pair of unpainted 15x5 American Racing Torq-Thrust wheels to bookend the solid axle up front and a set of red stock steel wheels measuring 15x7 for the rear. Teamed with vintage wide whitewall Firestone rubber front and rear, the combo helps solidify Thatcher’s ’55 Olds as a vintage-styled Gasser.
Since finishing the 10-month long build in 2006, Thatcher has enjoyed his Olds to the tune of nearly 13,000 miles on his way to a number of car shows and cruises. Despite having a garage full of rare and otherwise unique Oldsmobiles representing a variety of eras and styles, the simplicity and undeniably cool style of his straight axle Gasser keeps Thatcher behind the wheel, grinning from ear to ear.
1955 Oldsmobile 88
Mark Thatcher, East Bangor, PA
Modifications by: Jerry Csontos, Seemsville, PA
Suspension (front, rear): GMC truck straight axle and leaf springs, stock
Rear Axle, Ratio: Oldsmobile, 3.42:1
Brakes: Stock, Drums
Wheels (front, rear): American Racing, "Torq-Thrust" 15x5, Stock steel, 15x7
Tires (front, rear): Firestone, 6.40x15, 8.20x15
Engine: 1962 Oldsmobile OHV V-8, 394ci
Machining by: Belfast Machine, Belfast, PA
Assembly by: Mark Thatcher (owner)
Induction: Offenhauser, 2x4
Camshaft: Chet Herbert, ’61 Olds Starfire, reground
Headers: Custom, by Jerry Csontos
Body Modifications: Removed grille and nose trim, lengthened and reshaped stock hood
Bodywork by: Jerry Csontos, Seemsville, PA
Paint Type, Color: ColorRite, gloss black, flat black
Paintwork by: Jason Csontos, Seemsville, PA
Seats: City Bus, Easton, PA
Upholstery (material, color): Leather, Red
Upholstery by: Jerry Csontos, Seemsville, PA