Keeping the 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass Dream Alive

Dec. 17, 2009
’71 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 convertible stuns after 17 years of on-and-off restoration.

Dave Finke recalls the experience of restoring his 1971 442 convertible as “keeping the dream alive.” Though the body shop manager of Woodhouse Collision Center in Omaha, Neb., purchased the rusted and faded car 17 years ago in an old crop dusting shed, he only recently completed the restoration.

Right after he bought the convertible, Finke drove it for a year, contemplating his ideas for restoration. Once he had a solid game plan, he spent the next three years diligently working on the car. Unfortunately, a move forced Finke to put the car in storage, and the restoration came to a halt. For nine years, the car sat in his father-in-law’s shed. Finke considered selling the car, but something prompted him to keep it. Eventually, his father-in-law decided to knock down the shed and gave him a choice: either come pick up the car, or store it outside. “That triggered me to think someone was telling me to finish the car,” Finke says, “so I spent another three years saving and scrimping.” His efforts paid off. In August, the restored-at-last 442 convertible made its debut—and has been a stunner ever since.

KEEPING THE DREAM ALIVE

The long restoration process took its toll at times. “My wife was really frustrated, because I was either spending time in the garage [on the car] and not spending time with her and the kids, or I was spending money on the car,” Finke says. He invested $10,000 in the project ($3,500 in sheet metal alone) and easily surpassed the 1,000-hour mark for time spent restoring the vehicle. “Every time you turn around, there’s something else to do,” he says.

He was tempted to scratch the project at times, but Finke remained steadfast. “The biggest thing I kept thinking was, ‘Well, it’s worth nothing now. If I can finish it, is it something I want to keep or sell?’ If you sell as is, you get nothing in return.” His renewed dedication spurred him on to continue.

Finke worked hard to transform the car. “I bought new quarter panels and inner quarter panels and floor plans,” he says. “It took a long time to make sure all the rust was cut out and gone, [but now] it has all new sheet metal. The only things that are original and did not get replaced are the doors, hood and trunk.” He also installed new fenders, a new transmission, factory air-conditioning and custom stereo, and rebuilt the motor.

He hit a snag with an electrical problem, but otherwise the restoration was relatively issue-free. “The biggest struggle was some electrical trouble at the end and getting the electrical system back up and running,” he explains. “The fuse blocks didn’t match up and had to come apart and go into different slots.”

The best part of the whole process? “Putting the paint on!” Finke says. “When I repainted it, I loved the pearl white. I wanted it to look like a Hurst [a special edition Oldsmobile]; I didn’t want it to look stock.”

FINISHED AT LAST

Finally getting the convertible on the road was exciting but nerve-wracking. “I was white-knuckled, because I was driving a car that hadn’t been driven in forever,” Finke says. “I even programmed the tow truck company’s number in my phone! I was totally panicking. You just never know, because it’s been apart for so long.”

When his wife saw the finished product, she was shocked. “[We] met for an afternoon drink, and I rolled up in the car. Her eyes were popping out of her head,” Finke says. “We went in [the restaurant] and sat down, and I parked it where we could see it, and everyone stopped to look at it on their way in.”

Finke’s neighbors love the car, too—though sometimes they’re less than thrilled with his enthusiasm for speed. “My neighbors have said I can no longer burn the tires off in the cul-de-sac!” he laughs. “It’s a fun area to light the thing up.”

Despite the convertible’s nearly 20-year restoration, Finke already has set his sights on another. “I’m looking for a ’63 to ’69 Corvette,” he says. “Now that that’s done, I’m thinking, ‘Well, that wasn’t so bad. I should do another!’”

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