Whether it’s monster trucks, hot rods, lowriders or classics that get your motor racing, the O’Reilly Auto Parts AutoRama has the horsepower to educate, inspire and even amaze.
Knocking on the doors of its sixth decade in Houston, the AutoRama returns to the George R. Brown next week with more than 500 vehicles for its usual four-day run starting Thanksgiving afternoon. Because attendance tends to be a bit lighter, Turkey Day is often a great opportunity to scope out the show, walk off some calories, chat with car exhibitors and builders and take photos for fun or reference. (Bring those polarizing filters!)
If you’re looking for hard-to-find parts or accessories for a pet project, you’ll want to check out the automotive swap meet. It’s a great source for items like assembly manuals, auto advertisements and brochures from back in the day. There are also plenty of wheeled toys for sale.
To see and hear some vintage or custom machines, venture outside to catch the AutoRama’s cruise-ins on Friday and Saturday between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Michael O’Connell will have his 1971 Oldsmobile 442 on display this year. The Matador Red convertible is one of only about 110 1971 442s produced with the factory’s W-30 performance package, making it not only rare but deserving of a footnote in the legacy of Oldsmobile, which was founded in 1897 by Ransom E. Olds but shuttered by General Motors in 2004 due to dismal sales.
“It makes me feel good to see people enjoy the car,” said O’Connell, who is well aware of the impact that gleaming paint jobs and chrome can have on spectators. As a youngster, O’Connell began attending the AutoRama in the early 1970s when the yearly car extravaganzas were at the Astrodome.
He acquired the convertible — also interchangeably referred to as “4-4-2” — in the mid-1990s but it wasn’t until 2011 that the finishing touches of a full, frame-off restoration of the Cutlass-based 442 were completed with the help of Muscle Cars of Texas in Alvin.
In 1971, Oldsmobile’s W-30 option included a fiberglass hood with functional hood scoops and ducting, red inner fenders, a four-barrel carburetor atop an aluminum intake manifold, low-restriction dual exhaust, and a 455 cu. in. factory-blueprinted V8. With slightly lower compression ratio than the 1970 version, Oldsmobile rated the motor at 350 horsepower at 4,700 rpm and 460 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,700 rpm.
(Take a trip down memory lane with vintage 1971 442 road test: goo.gl/VbB1Zu)
O’Connell’s 442 has its original engine block, cylinder heads and three-speed Turbo Hydra-matic 400 automatic transmission with Hurst dual-gate shifter. The engines in W-30 442s with four-speed manual gearboxes came with a more aggressive camshaft.
If the $369 charged back in 1971 for the W-30 setup seems reasonable considering the added content, consider this: according to the September-December 2018 Hagerty Price Guide, a convertible like O’Connell’s in top condition is valued at $192,000, while a standard 1971 442 drop-top, without W-30, is valued at “just” $93,600. Who could have predicted that an upgrade of less than $400 could offer such a return on investment?
“It’s buyer beware, prices have gotten so crazy,” O’Connell warns. “People will fake ’em, just like a forged Babe Ruth baseball. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Whatever the money amount (and at any given auction, prices can go higher than Hagerty’s figures), the Sugar Land resident isn’t concerned. He has the 442 he always wanted and it’s a convertible that he never thought he’d be able to afford.
“After taking 16 years to complete the restoration, and all the time, energy, grief and frustration involved in the project, I plan on keeping it the rest of my life — however long God plans that to be,” said the Sugar Land resident. “Jay Leno says we are not the owners of rare vehicles like this, just the caretakers until the next generation takes over. This vehicle should be around long after I am gone and hopefully be around for many generations in the future to care for and enjoy.”
Of course, enthusiasts needn’t remain on the sidelines. Those itching to get in on the action and score a deal on a unique or collectible “toy” should know that Dan Kruse Classics will auction off dozens of special-interest vehicles on Saturday, including a factory fuel injected Chevrolet 210 selling at no reserve and one of only 10 four-door hardtops produced with that desirable 250-horse V8. Kruse will also have what it calls a barn find 1932 Ford Model T hot rod roadster built by Houstonian, Allen “Bing” Crobsy in the late 1950s.
At Kruse’s AutoRama auction last year, a modified 1956 Chevrolet Nomad went for $36,720, a 1993 GMC Typhoon sold for $13,500 and a 1966 Ford Mustang hammered at $8,500. There was even a 1987 Nissan President, an executive sedan originally sold in Japan, that brought $11,000.
The Nov. 24 Kruse auction starts at 11 a.m. Auction admission is $18 for adults and $5 for children. The fee to enter a vehicle in the auction ranges from $150 to $350.
The stars at the 2018 Houston AutoRama aren’t just the cars. This year’s celebrity lineup includes custom car builder Dave Kindig from Velocity TV’s “Bitchin’ Rides” on Friday from noon to 4 p.m., followed by WWE superstar Al Styles from 5 to 7 p.m.
On Saturday, Tony Stewart, legendary open-wheel, stock, and midget car racer and three-time NASCAR Cup champion, will appear from noon to 2 p.m. John Schneider, who portrayed Bo Duke from the classic “Dukes of Hazzard” TV series, will be on hand from 1 to 4 p.m.
The music lineup includes the Paul Ramirez Band on Friday at 1, 3 and 5 p.m.; Hard Luck Revival plays Saturday at 1, 3 and 5 p.m. On Sunday the Nick Galtan Band performs at 1 and 3 p.m.