Super Rod CoverSuper Rod Magazine

August, 2002

Righteous Ragtop: A '70 Cutlass With Power To Spare.

By Bob Carpenter.

It all started out innocently enough. Ted Greene just wanted a '70 Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible powered by a 455 Big Block. That isn't too much to ask for a retired Bio-Tech Entrepreneur, now is it? Greene asked around at car shows, put the word out among his buddies, searched the classifieds, and even cruised the Internet looking for the right car.

Eventually, of course, he found a suitable vehicle. After a mild restoration, complete with hubcaps and whitewall tires, Greene thought he was stylin'. There was just one problem, and a recurring one at that. The 455 engine gave up the ghost no less than three times. The third time, the pistons disintegrated. That was enough for Greene. He was on a search for a new engine. It just so happens that during Greene's search, Chevrolet released the ZZ502 crate engine.

1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass

Greene's enough of a car guy to that it's awfully hard to ignore cubic inches and thumping exhaust. It was impossible to resist. As Greene says, "That engine just dragged me in kicking and screaming." Greene brought the car to Escondido, California's Hot Rods & Custom Stuff, where Randy Clark proceeded to educate Greene on the other parts he was going to need to go along with the new power - such as a beefier transmission, stronger rearend, better brakes, tauter suspension and more. Every change made sense, and in an ad hoc sort of way, Greene embarked on a car-building odyssey with HR&CS. "I was like a kid in a candy store," Greene said. He'd have to have this part, and then he'd have to have that part. Clark didn't help matters any with his creative suggestions. After a year of decisions and directions, the car was ready for the around-town driving Greene originally wanted.

Perfect examples are the '97 Ford Thunderbird bucket seats. Greene owned a '97 Thunderbird and thought the seats were extremely comfortable. Why not just take the vinyl bench seat out and replace it T-Bird bucket seats? Of course, that requires setting the car up for a center-console shift. Just another detail that was handled by the able crew at Hot Rods & Custom Stuff, more proof that you can do anything with time and money. The seats were upholstered by Ron "The Stitcher" Mangus at Custom Auto Interiors in Bloomington, California, in white and black leather. Mangus customized the rest of the interior, too. The door panels are a perfect example of blending the old style with a new twist. The manual crank windows were ditched in favor of electric actuators.

The frame was stripped with plastic-media blast and then primed and painted a semi-gloss black. Hotchkis Performance springs, sway bar, control arms and bushings, plus KYB shocks, completely transformed the ride. Huge 12-inch Wilwood disc brakes with four piston calipers and a Corvette master cylinder with 11-inch booster made it possible to control the surging horsepower.

The GM crate engine was outfitted with polished aluminum from Bill's Hot Rod. A Powermaster alternator feeds juice to the Optima battery. The air/fuel mixture is handled with a Holley 950cfm carburetor, and exhaust gases are expelled through thermal-coated Hooker headers and Flowmaster mufflers. The power is sent through a 4L80E transmission set up by Messler. A Currie Enterprises Nodular 9-inch Ford rearend with Wilwood disc brakes (including a parking brake) is beefy enough to handle the massive cubes.

The bottom line is that Greene gets to cruise town in the coolest car around.

And what an "around town" experience it is. The ZZ502 shakes the whole car at stoplights. "It's a hell of a lot of fun," Greene said. With the top down and the engine rumbling, there's not doubt that this is one righteous ragtop. SR.

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Hot Rods & Custom Stuff, 2324 Auto Park Way, Escondido, CA., 1-800-HOT-ROD-5.

Hot Rods & Custom Stuff - builds, restores, paints, services and sells parts for classic autos, cars, trucks and street rods.