Whats In Ross H’s Barn: 1988 Olds Custom Cruiser Wagon

While at the Concours d’Lemons 2019, we got to meet a number of BF Readers, including Matt and Ross. Well, we already featured Matt’s Omega, which you can read about here. Today, we are taking a look at Ross’s survivor, his 1988 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser Wagon. He brought it to the LeMons show, so we were able to see this beauty in person! She sure is a sweet ride, so be sure to take a look. Our thanks to Ross for sharing Ruthie’s story with us in his own words!

From Ross H – I’ve always loved Oldsmobile. I was brought home from the hospital in a silver 1972 Olds 98 Regency with a black vinyl top. Not 100% sure why the full size GM series of the ’70s and ’80s have always been so ingrained in my DNA, but like many of us, they just are “there” in my life’s periphery and always will be. I notice them in movies, parking lots, and even old photos of parking lots. One of my earliest memories of a wagon like mine was watching 1982’s Poltergeist, where the upwardly mobile Freeling family had a brand spankin’ new fully loaded cream over woodgrain Custom Cruiser wagon. Right then and there, my 8-year-old mind decided that that car represented class, luxury, safety, and a family that cared about each other, and it was definitely a car that at the end of the movie left no one behind! Watching the cinematic approach of that car with the ominous rolling thunderheads in the distance, seeing patriarch Steve Freeling effortlessly spin the Oldsmobile steering wheel to the left, the car executing the turn up and into the exquisitely banked Southern California driveway, the obligatory “scoommp” of the tailpipe lightly dragging as the car easily surmounted the steep incline to park at the head of the family garage. I was so impressed with the clean lines and sleek presentation of what was otherwise strictly a family mover. For those who haven’t seen the 1982 version of this movie, there is another key scene at the climactic finale where this same wagon delivers the family to safety amidst complete neighborhood chaos; another reflexive heartstring moment that ties my mind to a time in my own childhood life when a getaway in the safety of a stationwagon like this one would have been preferable to the real life childhood ride many of us had.

For years in my ensuing adult life, I toyed with the idea of buying one as far back as 2005, but never too seriously. I moved from casual looker to serious searcher and finally, in late 2010, I found it. An eBay listing for a white over a claret color Baron-weave velour 1988 Olds Custom Cruiser Wagon. The price seemed better than right, so I was thrilled to take the train from Santa Barbara to San Jose to evaluate it with my good buddy Jack riding shotgun. With the exception of some slow window controls and a driveshaft vibration, the car was absolutely good to go. We agreed on a price, and I was out the door happy as can be. She was christened “Ruthie” and it was love at first sight.

The Olds 307 V8 starts great. Acceleration is lazy, but you get the feeling the torque on hand is sufficient for light duty towing (I admit, I still scoff at the advertised 5,000 pound tow rating… but then again we’re taking a 30+-year-old engine. Perhaps when new…). My MPG hovers around 16 highway and 12 mixed, which is more than respectable. The big surprise is handling. I had new shocks and balljoints done and the road feel is a complete surprise. As is the turning radius, which is shockingly good for a car of this size. I think people forget that when cars of this size were the word of the day, people were more used to, well, you know, handling them. Sure, get out of a new Lexus and into this time capsule, and there’s lots to be desired… We’ve come a long way! But after some time behind the wheel of the Oldsmobile, your admiration grows for what the engineers were able to accomplish back when size was the order of the day. With each passing mile, the driver’s comfort and confidence level with piloting all that extra sheet metal grows by leaps and bounds, and it’s easy to see that, while never a track athlete, this car could hold it’s own with a fresh engine, suspension, and that amazing new car smell.

The Olds has just about every options available for the year, with the exception of the manual air shocks (which appear on the build sheet but for which no manual nozzle can be found). The sticker ticked just over $19,220 which would be about $41,600 or so in today’s dollars. The former owner had done quiet a bit of work, including replacing the headliner and changing out the Olds radio head unit for a fancier DeVille version that aesthetically matched but gives new sound tuning freedom courtesy of the “symphony sound” equalizer. I made a personal change just for preference: I swapped the original soft-vinyl 1988 steering wheel rim for a burgundy smooth plastic rim wheel of a previous design (1986) that I found as NOS. I just prefer the feel of the smooth plastic under my fingertips and the faux wood trim. I’ve always found the other vinyl wheels to be a dirt magnet, and the switch to the smooth plastic rim was a personal choice-switch that makes me happy each time I tilt or turn the wheel. There are some of the options that have succumbed to the ravage of time (the power antenna gave its’ last salute in 2014, and the temp, volt, gauge cluster at the base of the steering wheel has been ominously quiet since purchase). That said, there has not been a single other item that has failed. You read that right (and I’m knocking on wood) the car has started up every single time since I have owned it, and she has never, not once, faltered or failed me. Built on a Wednesday, blessed with good owners in the past, or my loving attention for her now, she has rewarded me tenfold by bucking the trend and starting up the first time, every time.

There are a few items on the repair list (including that antenna), but with careful regular maintenance there does not seem to be any stopping her. It was great to hear the positive comments at the Concours d’Lemons car show (Best Back Seat!) and I was so glad she seemed to spark so many childhood memories for so many passers-by. I lovingly appreciate her willingness to get me from point a to b with lots of smiles and thumb’s up along the way and appreciate your interest in reading more about her here. – Ross Harris, Oakland CA –

I just want to personally thank Ross for sharing his Olds with us! It’s always fun to connect with our readers and to see what is currently taking up space in your garages, sheds, and barns. If you have something cool parked in your barn, we sure would love to see photos of it and to hear the story!

Have a find you’d love to see featured here on Barn Finds, send us an email about it at mail@barnfinds.com!

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Comments

  1. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    Great car! And that trophy Ross, is killer!

    6
  2. Chunk

    THAT, my friends, is what perfection looks like.

    4
  3. Matthew Harris

    Ah, another steering wheel freak! My eyes always go straight to the “steerer” and those eyes are usually rolling when I spy a lame cover.
    One of the things I love most about my ’73 88 is the wheel!

    1
  4. Mark

    I purchased one 1987 from South Carolina
    In 2005. With 79.000 original miles.
    In present time 120.000 – perfect car for long distance trips. No single issue, drive perfect , quiet and average 18 mpg on Hwy easy. This week I’m taking trip to Orlando florida. Clean free rust car.

    4
  5. Mike

    Being born in 68, and, a child of the 70s, I have many memories of family road trips in station wagons. Back when parents would wake us at 3 a.m. to make the 5hr or so trip on 2 lane highways to family reunions in Michigan or Indiana. My little sis n I would throw blankets and pillows in the back of our parents wagon and fall back asleep as the miles rolled away. I recently found and bought a 1972 Chevy Brookwood that’s identical to the one we rode in as kids. I have 2 other projects to finish before starting on the wagon, but, she’ll get done in due time. Others can have their fancy SUVs, or, whatever they’re calling them now. I’ll take a piece of REAL iron any day! Wagons rule!

    3
    • Mark

      Yes U R 110% correct.
      I love my 1987 Olds Station Wagon – very roomie, no any problems and still driving around USA during summer time. I don’t use in winters because can’t replaced for a better vehicle

      2

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