1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass' fast times revealed
Two lifelong gear heads, Bob and Frank D'Antonio, began a discussion in 2012 about starting a new project together. Both had something specific in mind.
"We wanted to build a car for drag racing," Frank said. "Something we could have fun with, but also an interesting piece."
The Deer Park father and son got that and much, much more with what they found.
Their four-wheeled discovery stemmed from Bob, the elder family member, who has long been a die-hard Oldsmobile guy. As a teenager, Bob purchased a new 1968 Cutlass.
"I loved the styling, the plainness of it and absence of trim," he said. "It was a budget muscle car that was all business."
Still smitten with the brand, in 2011 he restored a 1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass. "The same owner who sold me the '69 told us he owned an old Olds race car named El Malo," Bob said. "We decided to seize the moment and purchase it."
The black and now quite dusty and battered auto had been stored in a Minnesota barn for more than 20 years. The D'Antonios are the vehicle's fifth owners. It had been sold new in Atlanta, bought by Gene Collins of Cartersville, Georgia.
"He had been racing a '68 442," Bob said. "It was destroyed in a towing accident and this was the replacement."
Collins wasn't alone in the venture; his good friend Gene Evans was the driver. "The car changed hands a couple more times and by the late '70s it had become less competitive," Frank said.
Today, a peek at the odometer reveals a scant 72 miles, most likely accumulated solely in quarter-mile increments. Those miles were put on an engine or engines that are long gone.
El Malo still wears a "W-31" badge on its fenders, indicating the factory would have installed a small-block V-8 engine, heavily worked over to make power. Given the nature of racing where engines are swapped in and out frequently, the exact details of the coupe's original powerplant remain a mystery.
"We've heard stories that it was either blown up during racing or pulled out to go into a Chevy Vega," Bob said. Since getting it home, the D'Antonios have been gathering more information about their ride and have been aided by some surprising sources.
After the two posted some pictures online in August, the driver's wife, Jen Evans, reached out to the Olds-loving boys. "She couldn't believe the car still existed," Bob said. "She was elated."
Word traveled fast and a few weeks later they were in touch with Donna Gallman, the daughter of Gene Collins. Both family members provided historical pictures of the car racing during the '69-71 race seasons and shared fond memories. For Donna, the trip down memory lane even motivated her to book a trip to the Chicago area. The D'Antonios showed El Malo at the 2014 Muscle and Corvette Nationals, which took place Friday and Saturday in Rosemont. Gallman flew in to see it in person.
While it's far from road- or track-worthy now, the D'Antonios are working to change that. Their goal is get it cleaned up, leaving the original character and patina of the bodywork alone, and install a drivetrain. From there, the team will put El Malo back in its element -- on some area drag strips for some serious family fun.
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