The 1990s was a transition period for domestic automobile manufacturers. They began to embrace more modern, aerodynamic designs that were arguably better looking than the relatively stuffy designs of the late 1970s and early 1980s, but the problem was they were wrong-wheel drive. Fortunately, Pro Stock racers were using rear-drive versions of cars, such as GM's W-body (Chevrolet's Lumina/Buick Regal/Oldsmobile Cutlass Pontiac Grand Prix), and those cars looked awesome. We had this discussion with Josh Lester, owner and builder of this 1993 Cutlass as we were photographing his car. It sounded something like this:
CC: I always liked the look of these cars, but I didn't want to own a front-drive car.
JL: Me too. That's why I built mine rear drive.
Josh grew up watching Warren Johnson win championships and set records in the 1990s driving a car like this. In fact, W.J. won the Pro Stock Championship in 1993 driving the GM Performance Parts Cutlass. Combine that with a Midwest upbringing steeped in the Pro Street movement, and it was almost inevitable that Josh would someday own a car like this.
He bought the Cutlass for $400 from a friend of his who was getting rid of it due to a collapsed lifter in the engine. It was still an intact, front-wheel-drive car with a 3.1L V6. Josh instantly removed the drivetrain, cut the floor out, and dropped the car off at Metalcrafters in Monmouth, Illinois, a shop known for building Pro Street cars. He told owner Kim Gough to make it RWD and add a cage, which Kim and his team of fabricators accomplished without a problem. Josh, an autobody/restoration shop owner, did the bodywork and painted the car. He also installed the running gear, which includes a stout Oldsmobile 455 engine to make the purists happy.
Not long after our photo shoot, Josh got the opportunity to meet and hang out with Warren Johnson. The two were competing at the same event, the World Series of Drag Racing in Cordova, Illinois. "After W.J. loaded his car, they let me pull into his pit. Warren and I got to talk for a good 25 minutes, too. It was a real honor," Josh says.
He's also made some changes to the car since the shoot, switching to Holley's Dominator EFI system so he can run more boost. In its previous configuration, the carburetor and fuel system physically couldn't deliver enough fuel to run the supercharger at full boost, so he was limited to 13 psi. In spite of this, his best pass so far was an 8.97 at 152 mph. With fuel injection, he'll be able to run close to 20 psi and is expecting mid-8s this summer. Look for Josh's Cutlass at this year's Street Machine Nationals in Du Quoin, Illinois, and the Car Craft Summer Nationals in St. Paul, Minnesota. Assuming nothing goes south, Josh says he'll be at both shows this year.
Who: Josh Lester
What: 1993 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme
Where: Alexis, IL. It's in the Midwest.
Engine: An Olds 455 resides underneath all the intake plumbing. Because 455 cranks were nodular iron, Josh found a forged crank from an earlier 425 Olds engine, had it offset ground for more stroke, and had the rod journals machined to big-block Chevy size. To that, he fitted a set of Eagle connecting rods and Diamond pistons with Total Seal rings. The final displacement is 461 ci, and the compression ratio is 10.5:1, which is perfect for a boosted engine running on E85 fuel. To strengthen the bottom end, Josh filled the engine with Hard Blok and added a main stud girdle. "The Olds engines have a reputation of being a ticking time bomb," he says. Stealy's Performance in East Moline, IL, did the machining and ported the Edelbrock Performer RPM cylinder heads. The cam is from Comp and has 268/280 degrees duration and 0.649/0.640 lift. Comp 1.6:1 roller rocker arms actuate the 2.072-/1.68-inch valves. ARP fasteners and Cometic gaskets keep the engine sealed tight.
Induction: At the time of our shoot, Josh was using a 900-cfm Holley prepped by C&S Specialties, fed E85 by a Magna Fuel 500 pump. The supercharger is a ProCharger F2, which pumps the intake charge through an air-to-water Frozen Boost intercooler mounted where the passenger seat used to be. The intake manifold is Edelbrock's Super Victor. As mentioned earlier, Josh is currently in the middle of switching to Holley's Dominator EFI system.
Exhaust: The headers were custom-made by the guys at Metalcrafters with 2-inch primary tubes leading into 3-inch collectors. An engineering marvel, this car manages to fit a full 3-inch dual-exhaust system under the car, which is almost scraping the ground with the stock rocker panels. The system exits out the back where the license plate used to be.
Transmission/Rearend: After blowing up three previous transmissions, Josh ponied up for a Rossler-built TH400. The torque converter is a 3,000-stall unit from PTC. Power is fed to a Chris Alston's Chassisworks FAB9 housing with Richmond gears and Strange axles.
Suspension: Josh assembled the Heidt's upper and lower A-arm front suspension and installed a four-link out back. QA1 coilovers are installed on all four corners.
Brakes/Wheels/Tires: Aerospace lightweight disc brakes peek through the cool-looking Champion Black Cap5 wheels. The tires are from Mickey Thompson, with a pair of 29.5x10.5-15 ET Drag slicks mounted on the rear.
Body/Paint: Josh is a bodyman by trade and owns Rocket Restorations, so he managed fixing the assortment of dings and road rash associated with several years as a commuter car. He painted it the OE color, Sand, using DuPont's ChromaPremier line of paint. He also wired the car and installed the interior. We noticed the Oldsmobile-branded tachometer and remembered seeing those things in the GM Performance Parts catalogs more than a decade ago. Josh said he was pleased to be able to find one, since they've long been discontinued.
Thanks: Josh wished to thank Kim Gough and Robert Carrasca from Metalcrafters, and Jerry Lester for their help with the Cutlass.