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The Colour Purple

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Originated in America, bodied in Victoria, restored and improved in Queensland. This Alchemy purple 1936 Oldsmobile “Sloper” has had quite a journey.

It’s the colour that gets you first. Alchemy purple it’s called. And it’s hard to think of any other hue that would work quite so well over the glorious curves of this 1936 Oldsmobile Sloper. It’s not a colour you’d have found on one of these Coupes 85 years ago, but as owner and restorer Noel St. John Wood explained, Olds’ original colours were just too boring.

“About 99 per cent of the time it’s the first comment I get about the car,” Noel said. “People just love it, and it really adds to the subtle street machine look I was going for.” The purple paint adds to the Australian story behind this car, bodied as it was by Holden in Fishermans Bend, Melbourne, back in ’36.

In 2005 Holden produced a retro-styled show car called Efijy, resplendent with its giant, streamlined bonnet, wheel arches and rear end. It was coated in Soprano purple (and looked incredible), which in turn inspired the Alchemy purple on the 2012 Holden VE Commodore and WM Caprice range. Noel picked this late-model colour for his classic, and it successfully manages to look period correct as well as classily modern.

Noel’s no stranger to creating such mobile works of art. This magazine has featured his work in the past, while in his ever-busy shed right now is an equallystrikingly restored 1927 Oldsmobile and anear-complete 1926 Model T hot rod. The retired mechanic – who served nearly 35 years on the tools – is renowned for his high quality, attention to detail and adding fun little touches to his cars to make personal statements. The ’36 Sloper is basically as original, just with a few hints of street machine style to add appeal.

Oldsmobiles were sold in Australia from 1901 according to the Oldsmobile Club of Australia. GM stopped exporting them here during the 1930s depression, but by 1934 four models were offered: Sedan; Coupe, Roadster and Tourer. The “Sloper” Coupes were built here between 1935 and 1940, coming with the elegant Holden body seen on Noel’s example.

“I believe 284 were made in total, and I only know of a handful to survive in Australia,” he said. “You see lots of Chevs of the same era that look very similar, but they’re not the same.” Its imposing body is breathtaking. “Holden were very good at the time at making timber bodies,” Noel said. “They would stamp the outside shell and then strengthen it up with timber. Allsteel frames had been around a while, but Holden was still using techniques from its horse and buggy days.”

Powering the Olds is a 213 cu in sixcylinder overhead valve motor with a three-speed manual gearbox. It’s a mighty chunk of iron that could serve as an anchor for a battleship, but like everything else on Noel’s builds, it’s beautifully presented. Unlike the car’s original engine. It is being stored in the 66-year-old’s workshop, despite it being in place when he bought the incomplete Olds a few years ago.

“I saw it advertised on eBay, sitting in the garage of a house in Brisbane alongside a 1935 Sloper,” Noel said. “Looking back, I wish I’d have bought that one too to restore. It was in bits really; a lot of the car had been pulled down. If it had been together I’d have left it that way as it was very original, but it was a non-running roller with bits in boxes.”

He’d paid $7000 for the Sloper, but managed to get it running once it was transported back to his workshop. It ran poorly however, and Noel discovered it had burnt valves so committed to an overhaul. “Just at that time another exact same Oldsmobile motor came up for sale,” he said. “It was already reconditioned so I thought it worth my while buying that rather than spending twice as much reconditioning the original.”

As all restorers of cars of this age know, not every part is easy to find. Noel did his usual job of going through all the car’s mechanicals, found some parts quickly enough in America, including new old stock, but rare parts such as badges he sourced through the Oldsmobile Club here. The rear bumperettes – those wrap-around little things at each side of the rear end – took 12 months to find. “They were in South Australia and rusty as anything, but they’ve come up so well after re-chroming,” Noelsaid. The rest? Well, he’d just have to make those himself or employ what local expertise he could.

He decided not to take the main body off the chassis while he was stripping it down. “Once you disturb the original mounts position you’ve upset the whole thing,” he explained. “We still sandblasted and repainted the chassis, and the body itself was actually very good with only a little rust. The panels had never lined up properly from when it had been first made, so a friend of mine did the body and paint and I’m really happy with the result.”

This Olds may look near enough original, but there’s a reason it was accepted into Brisbane’s Hot Rod show. Along with the paint, Noel’s street machine fingerprints have been subtly applied. Originally these cars had very skinny rims, but he’s widened and reversed them, giving a deeper dish without an untidy step in them. These have been dressed in whitewall tyres – radials to improve the handling and make it a dash safer.

It’s also been lowered for a better stance. These Slopers came with coil sprung independent front suspension, so Noel gave their measurements to King Springs, explained how much lower he’d like it, and a set was duly made for him. The rear leaf springs were re-tempered and re-set locally too, again dropping the rear end down.

The cabin’s a bit of a luxe treat too. The car’s original upholstery was still there but incredibly worn, so Noel unstitched it and had a professional upholsterer replicate it. The metal dash originally came with a rolled-on woodgrain finish, something very difficult and expensive to recreate today.

“I experimented to mimic this woodgraining myself using a jagged-shaped paintbrush,” Noel said. “I then coated it with clear, rubbed it back a few times to get that sheen, and I’m really happy with it.” He’s fitted a smallerdiameter steering wheel rimmed with the same woodgrain effect, and it oozes class. The dials, handles, switchgear and metal framing are all picture perfect, while the soft seats are sink-in comfy. There are few cars better looking or better finished for a take-your-time cruise.

Spot this thing coming and there are few grilles quite so in-your-face. It’s a giant shield so reminiscent of the 1930s era, but Noel said it had been built with a poorquality alloy material. He was tempted to just spray it silver, but instead parted with $1500 to have it re-chromed. “It just hits you – the grille had to be right,” he said. Parked beside his other Oldsmobile built a decade before, the contrast is extreme.

“Sure the brakes and steering are better,and it rides better with front coils rather the leaf springs,” said Noel, “but it’s the design that’s the stark difference. It’s so flowing and appealing, and you can relate it to the sloping style of Falcon hardtops and Monaros. Back in the 1930s the cars stylists must have had a ball with those rounder, beautiful flowing guards.”

Noel said maintenance was easy enough, including dealing with a points system instead of an electronic ignition. He drives it sensibly – mainly locally for his and others’ enjoyment – so there’s very little regular upkeep needed beyond the usuals. He plans to keep it this way now it’s complete, but has also entertained fitting the original motor, a V6 GM, a brand new crate engine or even – believe it or not – converting it to an electric car. One thing’s for certain – that incredible body will stay just like it is.

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