Musician Harry Chapin once wrote a song called "Circle" that spoke of how we always seem to end up back at the beginning in life. The message is strong because it's so true, even for car crafters. Way back in 1969, Paul McKee's first car was a '64 F-85 hardtop, purchased after his father would not allow him to buy the '57 Chevy Paul really wanted. Paul drove the Olds until he graduated from high school in 1970, when he bought a brand-new '70 Chevelle. Press the fast-forward button and Paul now lives in Mesa, Arizona, but has decided that his first car was the one with more than a few good memories and deserved to be re-created.
A search ensued until one of Paul's employees showed up at work one day wheeling a borrowed '65 Olds F-85 hardtop in factory blue with a white bucket seat interior. It was at this moment that the circle became complete. Paul bought it that day for $3,000 and began planning out all sorts of scenarios for the car. Somehow another four years slipped by before any serious work began on the Olds, but the plan had been to upgrade the existing 350 engine and 350 trans in favor of something much more aggressive.
Suddenly, Paul and son Phillip decided the Hot Rod Power Tour would be a great trip with the Rocket, but there were barely 100 days standing between that decision and the start of the tour. That deadline was like a line in the sand--and the thrash was on. "I really didn't want to paint the car, so we didn't," Paul says. This simple acknowledgement made the rest of the buildup possible, yet the patina'd cruiser still needed an edge to set it apart. That came by way of a complete Air Ride Technologies Street Challenge system that would use air pressure and sensors to place the F-85 at the desired ride height. The selection of an air-assisted suspension also bled over into the decision around rolling stock. Paul contacted his local tire distributor, which worked with Rushforth Wheels to construct four custom-offset front 19s and rear 20s for the F-85 that would mount a set of aggressive Falken tires.
Any good Olds virtually demands a 455 motor, and this effort was no exception. After locating and rebuilding a suitable candidate with a hydraulic camshaft, mild compression, and a set of aluminum Edelbrock heads and intake, Paul called Supercars Unlimited in Beaverton, Oregon, and found a complete repro dual-snorkel air cleaner assembly and then drilled holes in the core support to pull air in from just behind the headlights.
The next big question was which transmission to employ. Most Olds cruisers are followed up by some type of automatic transmission, but Paul broke with tradition, contacting Tyler Beauregard at American Touring Specialties (ATS) for help in stuffing in a T56 six-speed gearbox. Paul and Phillip had previous experience with ATS in using a T56 in an early Camaro, so this seemed like a logical next step. The work turned out to be much more effort than a Camaro swap, since the entire Olds transmission and driveshaft tunnel had to be removed and raised roughly 3 inches to clear the trans and the driveshaft at the car's lower ride height. With the floorpan surgery completed, Paul hung the A-body pedal assembly and then installed the ATS adapter plate that mounts the hydraulic clutch master cylinder. This manages the hydraulic throwout bearing for the ATS-supplied Viper T56 six-speed with its 0.50:1 Sixth gear, which drops that 4.11:1 gear down to a more effective 2.05:1 for highway cruising.