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.
With the highway calling, the two McKees and Paul's brother-in-law, Clarence Evans (C.E.), put long hours into the Olds to get it ready, as their deadline approached. "C.E. has the patience of Job when it comes to the interior work," Paul says. That work included a complete Vintage Air conversion, but for the rest of the interior, all Paul had to do was add a set of door panels and front seat covers. The rest of the Rust Belt can hate him for how the car was virtually rust-free and complete, right down to the patina paint and original exterior emblems.
A last-minute change to increase the backspacing on the front wheels to ensure adequate tire clearance placed the entire Power Tour deadline in jeopardy. But with a red label effort from the people at Rushforth (perhaps there is significance in the company name), Paul's front wheels arrived the day before they were scheduled to depart. The engine did suffer some detonation problems from a poorly designed PCV system that pulled oil into the intake manifold, but overall, Paul reports the F-85 performed flawlessly, achieving an impressive 18-mpg overall highway mileage effort on its cross-country jaunt.
Paul's early Olds A-Body effort might now be termed a fixation, as he has lately acquired a pristine '64 Olds sedan that is in the midst of an LS2 and six-speed conversion and another '64 330ci, four-barrel V-8 car sporting an original four-speed. But even though it appears that the circle has indeed been completed, there might be room for a few more Oldsmobiles if the opportunity presents itself.
Who: Paul McKee
What: '65 Oldsmobile F-85
Where: Mesa, Arizona
The original drivetrain in the '65 was a 330ci V-8, but that's been superseded by a rebuilt 455 Olds with a stock crank and rods, 9:1 compression forged pistons, and a mild hydraulic flat-tappet Cam Motion custom grind. In addition, Paul added a set of aluminum Edelbrock heads and the matching Performer dual-plane intake with a 750-cfm Q-jet he obtained from Summit Racing. The cast Olds valve covers are straight out of the GM Performance Parts catalog and have been modified for a PCV valve pickup tube that plumbs into the dual-snorkel air cleaner from Supercars Unlimited. What looks like a decal on the air cleaner is actually a laser-etched piece of acrylic created by Paul's son, Phillip, who works at Universal Laser Systems. Phillip also did the custom-laser etching on the steering wheel horn button.
Since the Olds isn't a high-revving engine, they decided to stick with a set of stock exhaust manifolds, also from Supercars Unlimited. Paul and Phillip then laid out the 3-inch cross-pipe exhaust system, plumbing it back to the DynoMax Super Turbo mufflers.
ATS supplied the Viper-spec T56 trans, as well as the McLeod modular bellhousing that adapts the 455 to the trans. The clutch is a Centerforce II system relying on an ATS-supplied hydraulic master and throwout bearing system. The off-white cup mounted on the firewall is the reservoir for the clutch master cylinder. Paul and Phillip also constructed their own custom trans crossmember to complete the installation using a Hurst shifter.
The stock Olds 10-bolt was deemed unworthy, so Paul opted for the durability of a complete Moser 12-bolt housing spinning a set of 4.11:1 gears with an Eaton posi.
This was one of the first orders of business with the Olds. Paul elected to establish an aggressively low stance using a complete Air Ride Street Challenge system that integrates tubular upper and lower control arms for the front and rear suspensions that also includes adjustable shocks and large sway bar diameters.
If you're gonna run 19- and 20-inch wheels, then the Pro Touring fashion police insist that impressive discs be present to back 'em up. Paul understands this necessity and chose a Baer track system up front with 13-inch drilled rotors followed up with a 12-inch Touring version in the rear, both with twin-piston calipers.
While some muscle cars look cartoonish with tall 20-inch wheels, Paul makes the rotating package visually strong on the Olds mainly due to its low stance. The Olds also has a very narrow rear wheelwell, but Paul still managed to stuff a 20x8.5-inch Rushforth wheel with 4.25-inch backspacing to mount the 275/35R20 Falken FK 452 tires while opting for a slightly smaller 245/35R19-inch tire in front with a matching Rush-forth 19x8-inch wheel with a 6-inch backspacing.
This is where Paul saved a ton of time because the decades-old paint has survived surprisingly well in the Arizona desert heat--as has all of the brightwork.
Paul says the interior was in such good shape, all he had to do was add new door panels and front bucket seat covers. The detail work included fixing the vent system, adding the Alpine stereo, and damping the outside noises with Dynamat. An ididit tilt column allowed for a cruise control module, which makes those long highway miles a little easier to take.