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My First Car

By Bob Schmeichel

Depending on what time or era you grew up in, many factors could have heavily influenced your first car choice. Myself growing up in the 1960s, the car culture and magazines had made more of an impression on me than I realized that I have gravitated towards all my life. Along with the newfound independence of learning to drive with my dad at age 14, I saw most all of the new muscle cars come into the picture then that projected power and speed being the new number one want. Everyone then wanted to go faster than the next guy more for bragging rights than anything else. I was no exception either with the growing excitement that was in the air then.


Knowing realistically I couldn’t afford a new car to have fun with at 16 years of age, I bought a 1950 Oldsmobile fastback from Keith Sabers in Salem, South Dakota in 1966. Keith had built the car to be a mild custom cruiser by painting it red and adding Olds Fiesta hubcaps and white wall tires. It really looked nice for the time frame, but the thing that caught my interest in the car was that he had installed a 394” Olds engine and transmission out of a 1962 Olds full sized car. The car moved effortlessly and quite often with tires squealing. I was sold. After having it for a while, I wanted to make it my own with adding racing stripes over the top. Since I was an early fan of drag racing, I wanted to look trendy with the sport, so beside adding a hood scoop, I raised the car as high as I could, for weight transfer, pulled the Olds hub caps off and painted the wheels white. Even though I could turn right going out on the east of the Barrell Drive Inn and smoke the tires going south for a half block, I still wanted to go faster. Because of that I found myself hanging around older guys in Sioux Falls who were drag racing. Doing that I really acquired an understanding of what was needed with what I had. I took the easy ways at first to try to gain power with a new AFB carb and an electric fuel pump. Then I got some header flanges and had some pipe bent to make headers. I screwed them together with sheet metal screws as a temporary fit, and then drove up to Teal’s Body Shop on North Cliff Avenue and had John Holland weld my headers together one day when he wasn’t working on his Taboo Gasser.


With my constant driving and playing around, I kept breaking rear axles. To solve that issue, I bought a two-ton truck rear-end with floating axles from Ron Downs. It was bulletproof proven coming out of a ‘40 Willys coupe he had been drag racing with 5.13 gears. I also hung out a bit with an upper classman at Washington High whose name was Dave Johnson. He had an orange ‘57 Chevy that he put on the street that was previously a lettered-up race car called Cotton Chevrolet. I loved the attention the car got while riding in it, so I decided to give my car a name (Stump Puller) and race appearance while installing the bigger rear end that I had to radius the rear fender openings to clear the rear tires. Since I was doing this race theme with my car, I decided to push it a bit further with speed parts to make it come together. I had Mark Lovro at his 41st and Western Phillips 66 Station, since he was the fast Oldsmobile guy in Sioux Falls, order me a Crower solid lifter race cam with adjustable pushrods for my engine and some A-1 cheater slicks. I then found a new 4-speed B&M Hydro trans at Corbette’s backyard garage store for a reasonable price.

After I got the rear end installed, I took the car and new parts back to Salem and had Bob Ollinger pull the engine out, rebuild and balance it with adding the new trans. The rebuild took three months, but the first time I drove it I was surprised how it all came together. The loud rough idle was cool enough, but after I had some miles on to break it in, the 5.13 gears allowed it to accelerate fast like I was revving the car up in neutral and finding its limit at 7200rpm at 100 mph. The car was extremely fun to cruise around town in after it was all together with its new noisy engine and the way everything worked.


Then in the summer of 1967 I decided to see how my car ran at Thunder Valley. I was serious about doing this so I stripped the interior out, installed one bucket seat and a roll bar. After a few weekends there of racing I felt pretty disappointed with the car running only 95mph and right at 14 seconds flat. It was bad enough that all I got was about 2 mpg on the highway at 60mph, but even totally gutted out it still weighed 3,900 pounds and was really too heavy to go any faster. Eventually I put a newer Olds rear end to gear it up a bit so I could drive the car to college and get better mileage. During the first year of college I reinstalled the interior and had the car painted “Sierra Fawn,” a 1967 Chevy gold color. I sold the car in the spring of 1968 to a guy from Chicago attending college in Yankton. That was 51 years ago, then a couple years ago I got a call from an old high school car buddy living in Chicago saying my old Olds was for sale online there. It was painted red again and still being raced. After calling and checking it out with the owner in regards to previous owners, it was established that it originated out of Sioux Falls in the late ‘60s. What do you suppose the odds could be? I’d love to have my first car back because of the fun memories it gave me, if I had more space. But I already have my ‘40 Chevy that I have been driving for 30 years, and have been building my last car (a totally one-off hand built body and frame) for 10 years already that I really want to get finished to enjoy with my wife. After all you can only drive one at a time!


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