Driving a 1936 Oldsmobile Convertible

This past weekend I had the opportunity to spend a day with my good friend “Pete”, the fellow who sold me my Alfa Romeo after his 45-year stint with it. Pete has always had an eclectic collection of older and newer special-interest cars, and one of the oldest in his ever-changing fleet is his 1936 Oldsmobile L-36 convertible, with an inline eight-cylinder engine. During this most recent visit, I finally got the chance to drive it.

First, a history lesson: in the 1930s, General Motors’ car marques consisted of more than just the five that may come to mind. Besides Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, and Cadillac, there were Marquette, Oakland, and LaSalle. Marquette, Buick’s junior division, was dead and gone after 1930, and Oakland survived only one year longer than that. LaSalle, Cadillac’s sister division, produced its last car in 1940. Even in the 1930s, GM priced its cars in a very careful step-by-step fashion.

Omitting the low and high outliers Chevrolet and Cadillac, if you were shopping for a mid-priced GM convertible in 1936, you had no fewer than these 8 different models from which to choose:

1936 Pontiac Master Silver Streak cabriolet 112″ inline-6, 80 hp $760
1936 Oldsmobile F-36 convertible 115″ inline-6, 90 hp $805
1936 Pontiac DeLuxe Silver Streak cabriolet 112″ inline-6, 80 hp $810
1936 Pontiac DeLuxe 8 Silver Streak cabriolet 116″ inline-8, 87 hp $855
1936 Buick Series 40 Special convertible 118″ inline-8, 93 hp $905
1936 Oldsmobile L-36 convertible 121″ inline-8, 100 hp $935
1936 Buick Series 60 Century convertible 122″ inline-8, 120 hp $1,135
1936 LaSalle Series 50 convertible 120″ inline-8, 105 hp $1,255


The chart is arranged in price order, low to high. First note, not surprisingly, that the six-cylinder models all fall to the bottom of the range. The least-expensive 8-cylinder is the most expensive of the three Pontiacs. Don’t downplay the inclusion of “wheelbase” in this data: a vehicle’s wheelbase, and hence overall length, contributed mightily to its visual statement as a luxury item. The 4 straight-eight GM convertibles pricier than the Pontiac 8 have wheelbases 2-to-6 inches longer than Pontiac’s 116”, and engine output figures which are 5-to-33 horsepower above Pontiac’s meager 87.

The savvy buyer who might have compared the two Buicks, the Olds, and the LaSalle eights may have realized that for just $30 more than the “junior Buick”, s/he could get an Olds with a 3-inch longer wheelbase, and 7 more ponies to pull that extra length. The next choice in this price hierarchy, the “senior” Buick (admittedly with a big power jump) cost over 20% more. In this light, the Olds L-36 appears to be a smart choice.

Actual sales figures bear this out. According to my copy of the “Encyclopedia of American Cars”, Buick sold only 766 Series 60 Century convertibles, while Oldsmobile sold 931 L-36 convertibles. What does this prove? Only that the original purchaser of Pete’s ’36 did their homework, and would likely be shocked to know that the car was still around 83 years later.

The owner takes the wheel first during our drive

Regarding my time behind the wheel, the driving experience was sublime. That straight-8 has torque to spare, so shifting the 3-speed gearbox (with lever on the floor) could be conducted at a leisurely pace. First gear is almost a granny gear. At one stop sign, facing downhill, I started in 2nd, with no complaints from engine or clutch. I found that I could comfortably put it into top gear by the time I reached 20 mph, and acceleration was always smooth and velvety, if a bit unhurried compared to modern metal.

Typical ’30s dash with painted woodgrain effect

But when you’re cruising in a ’36 Olds convertible, what’s the rush? The heavy steering requires that you take your time in turns anyway. Actually, after a few lefts and rights, I got the hang of it. Just think about the turn 100 feet or so before reaching it, begin to dial in some lock, and point that long nose in the general direction you’d like to head. It’s easy, really.

The view down the LONG hood

All the pedals, extending through the floor just like the Alfa, had good feel. The brakes brought the car to stop without drama, at least from 30 mph (my max speed for the day). The clutch exhibited no signs of chatter or slipping, and shifting was smooth on the all-synchromesh box. (Pete caught me double-clutching my first shift and said “you don’t need to do that!”) Visibility out the front was very good, but out the rear was inhibited by the small opera window in the erect cloth top.

The odometer on this car reads 60,000 miles, which is nothing for a car this age, but perhaps a significant number for a car of this configuration. And back to that production total of 931: how many have survived? First, these are convertibles, which reduces their lifespan (theft, water damage, rust). Second, by the time this car was 20 years old, the modern V-8 engined car, with its attendant power steering, brakes, windows, etc., would have made this ’36 look like the dinosaur it was. And last, as sad as it is to acknowledge this, those in the collector car hobby have been eyeing Fords, Chevrolets, and “true luxury” nameplates like Packard and Auburn. Oldsmobiles were not on most hobbyists’ radar. Taken together, all of these factors make this one rare bird. I’d guesstimate that there might be a few dozen 1936 L-36 convertibles out there, and many fewer that look and drive as good as this one.

This particular jewel of the motor car deserves to be kept in the loving condition it’s in, with occasional maintenance use to keep it fresh. I’ve already volunteered to be available for future test drives in order to accomplish just that.







The ’03 T-Bird and ’79 Volvo 265 peek out above the Olds’ top



This particular vehicle is for sale by its owner. Please contact me directly if you are interested, or might know of someone who is.


All photographs copyright © 2019 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.




Removing the Oil Pump on a 1936 Oldsmobile

Yesterday, visited my friend Pete (from whom I bought the Alfa). Pete’s a family friend, and an all-around great guy. He had invited me out to give him some assistance with working on one (or more) of his cars.

A few weeks ago, Pete told me he could use my help with his ’79 Volvo 265, which was exhibiting an intermittent no-crank symptom. He had checked two of the more obvious things: battery health and battery terminal condition. I asked him if he had thoroughly checked the battery ground cable, as I had experienced instances with that cable hiding extensive corrosion under its sheathing.

When I arrived yesterday, he proudly told me that several days ago, he had removed the negative cable, found extensive corrosion at the engine block, cleaned all that up, and has not had a lick of a problem since. So on to the Olds….

One of his prized possessions is his ’36 Oldsmobile L-36 convertible. Here is some background, provided by my copy of The Encyclopedia of American Cars, by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide:

In 1936, there were two series of Oldsmobiles: the 6-cylinder F-36, riding a 115 inch wheelbase, and the L-36, with an inline-8 on a 121 inch wheelbase. The I-8 displaced 240 cubic inches, and put out 100 horsepower. Pete’s convertible coupe was the most expensive Olds in ’36, at $935. (The base Olds business coupe was $665.) Production numbers for the convertible totaled 931 (compare that to their volume leader 6-cylinder 4-door touring sedan, of which 66,714 were built). Survival rate of the convertibles is unknown, but certainly, Pete’s drop-top is one rare car.


A shot taken a few years ago of the ’36 Olds


Topside of engine. Restoration was done in ’90s, still looks great

When I visited last year, Pete was very concerned about the Olds exhibiting low oil pressure at idle. Yesterday, he reiterated those concerns, informing me that the most recent readings he’s seen showed 20-25 psi at cold start up with high idle, then descending to figures below 10 psi at warm idle. (These numbers are from a quality aftermarket oil pressure gauge screwed directly into a passage in the block.) There was straight-30 weight in the crankcase.

Pete had been conversing online with a self-designated pre-war Olds expert, who opined that the straight-8’s oil pan was NOT coming off until one first dropped the steering linkages. Pete wanted to try it without disconnecting the tie rods. I said that the worst that happens is, we bolt the pan back up and attack the linkages.

The oil was already drained, and drop light, creeper, and tools were waiting for me to get under the car and get to work.

There must have been 30 bolts along the perimeter of the pan. None of them were very tight, and most could be accessed with a ratchet and socket on a short extension. But six at the front were under the steering linkage, and required a box-end wrench, turning each about 1/6 of a turn at a time. It wasn’t difficult, just time-consuming.

I left one bolt in the front and one in the rear, both finger-tight, to prevent the oil pan from crashing down onto my chest. With a putty knife and a hammer, I gently tapped at the two back corners of the pan. At this point, my fight was with the copious amount of orange Permatex all along the edge.

A few taps later, the pan was free of the crankcase. By now, Pete was on the ground under the car with me. We removed the final two bolts. The pan wouldn’t drop further. At the front, the steering linkage was in the way, which we knew. At the rear, the clutch housing stopped us from sliding the pan rearward. We also had to get the pan low enough to clear the oil pump.

Pete suggested rotating it 90 degrees toward the passenger side. With two sets of hands on the pan, we did that. Success! In a matter of moments, the pan was on the garage floor.

The pan is where we want it: on the floor

The oil pump, now out in the open, was held in place by 2 nuts, needing only a 9/16” wrench to remove. The concern here was the possibility of loosening the studs onto which the nuts threaded. But as soon as I broke each nut free, I could see that studs remained stationary. The oil pump was in my hands.

Inline-8 Olds oil pump. Pump is driven by shaft (right) which extends up to camshaft

We both agreed that things looked very clean in there. There was the slightest bit of sludge on the pump’s pick-up screen, but it didn’t make us concerned. Pete’s next challenge is to find a reputable shop to check the pump, and if needed, rebuild it. However, after months of wondering what to do, he was both relieved and thrilled to have the oil pump out, ready to move onto the next steps.

Straight-8 crankshaft. Oil pump mounting boss at lower left. Permatex is not from 1936.

As a parting gift (!), Pete asked me to help him clean out his garage by giving me this front bucket seat from one of his Fiats. Does anyone need a black vinyl seat for a Fiat 124 sedan or wagon?


For sale: one Fiat seat


All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.