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Rare Find: 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass S W-31

Hid in original owner’s garage for 34 Years

An 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass S Holiday Coupe W-31 is not the same as a big-block W-30, but it's still a real W-Machine with a fiberglass hood with functional ram air feeding a 325hp 350 purposely built by Oldsmobile for enthusiasts. These cars are very rare and attract owners with erudite knowledge of Oldsmobile muscle. Dabblers or flippers in the muscle car hobby would likely mistake the unique W-31 350 as a common GM V-8 fitted with a four-barrel.

"I was shocked when I saw it," Jimmy McKeague said.

Jimmy is a mile deep in knowledge and an inch wide in focus. That's why, in 2013, he noticed a post on the classicoldsmobile.com forum from Andy Wenz of Cleveland. Andy was asking for information about how to fix the harmonic balancer on the 350 in his 1970 Cutlass, a detail Jimmy recognized as "a rare part that only came on the W-31 cars."

Jimmy, already a W-31 owner, informed Andy that his 1970 Oldsmobile was a W-31. At first Andy considered selling. Later he decided to hold on to the car, which his father ordered new in 1970.

The two kept in contact, and in January 2018, Jimmy made an appointment to look at the Oldsmobile. His intentions were not focused on a purchase, as the car was still not for sale. Jimmy wanted to finally see the rare Oldsmobile in person, at which time he could "help educate Andy on what he had."

When Jimmy arrived at Andy's garage, instead of walking directly to look under the sheet covering the car, he made a beeline for a washing machine covered with car parts and paperwork.

"Unless you have a paper trail, it's next to impossible to say this is a true W-31 factory car," he says.

That's when he found himself immersed in a W-31 time capsule in this rural Ohio garage. Andy's father, John, bought this W-31 brand new, then parked it in his house—this house—in 1984. When John sold the house to Andy, the Oldsmobile went with the deal. But what, exactly, was this car other than a Cutlass S two-door hardtop with a 350 under the striped hood?

Jimmy was astounded to find an old color print that John's mother had taken at the dealership where she picked up the car brand new. It was in a pile of paperwork that included the original title, Protect-O-Plate, broadcast card, dealer invoice, and receipts from the 1970s when the motor was rebuilt.

As the Olds' story started to unfold, it became more about the family's history than just a car collector's dream W-Machine. "History really makes these cars become that much more interesting," Jimmy says.

Oldsmobile built the W-31 as "somewhat of an insurance-beater," or a "junior supercar" with engine parts "hand-picked" for a "blueprinted" build, he says.

"A lot of people will tell you back in the day this car, with the 3.91 stock rearend, would keep up with the W-30 at the track. It's no slouch, and a W-31 has run 12.80 quarter-miles at the Pure Stock Drags with a ridiculously low gear of 4.66. It is a small-block screamer. That's part of how they advertised it."

Andy's father was in the military in Rhode Island when this car arrived, and thus his mom picked it up new. John had a tri-power 1966 Olds 4-4-2 stolen, so he got this W-31 in a less flashy package.

Pulling off the sheet revealed a Twilight Blue W-31 that Jimmy marveled was "original and hadn't been touched in years," right down to the original Goodyear Polyglas tires on stock rims. He couldn't resist asking if Andy was interested in selling, and was surprised when Andy said yes.

The W-31 was filled with day-two parts, such as a vintage MSD box, an ACCEL Super Coil, headers, a high-stall converter, red airbags in the springs, a Sun Tach, and gauge pod. The one major detraction from the car was a missing carburetor that Jimmy says is "probably the hardest W-31 part to find." The Rochester Quadrajet, PN 7040255 and specific to the W-31 automatic and manual transmission cars, is very valuable. As a longtime collector, though, Jimmy had a spare "255" carburetor.

Realizing that Jimmy was the right person to restore and save its history, Andy sold the W-31 to him.