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The Best Barn Find in the West: Bruce Ricks’ ’57 Fiesta Wagon

 

Take one Oldsmobile aficionado and a rare car stashed away in a barn for decades. Stir in some great timing and a team of envelope-pushing enthusiasts. Add a few years of hard work and a clear vision, and you get the 2007 Rod & Custom Magazine’s Custom Car of the Year—Bruce Ricks’ 1957 Oldsmobile Fiesta wagon.

In its first life, the Fiesta was used as an oil field pump maintenance vehicle. After nine years of dedicated work, it donated its motor and transmission to a pickup truck and was rolled into a barn in Clovis, N. M. There the Olds sat for 38 years until a car hunter found out about it. The owner told the guy he could have it if he dug it out himself. After hours of digging and a good tug from a winch, the Fiesta was back in the sunshine. Amazingly, the car didn’t have a single dent and all of the trim was still intact. Even the production plate was still on the doorsill.

Darrell and Tim Cimbanin of Cimtex Rods spotted the Olds on their way to the 2004 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. The brothers knew the perfect owner for the car: fellow enthusiast Bruce Ricks. Without batting an eyelash, Bruce asked the Cimbanins to take on the project of turning the barn find into a show-stopping daily driver.

To say Bruce is a huge fan of ’56 and ’57 Oldsmobiles would be putting it mildly.

“I’ve always loved these cars,” Bruce said. “There’s nothing more beautiful than the dash in a ’57 Olds and the airplanes on the fenders are like pieces of art. It was really important (to me) that we didn’t lose the original look of the car. Too many people over-style them by adding digital gauges and removing the trim and many emblems to make the lines clean, but that really takes away from the original look of the car.”

That being said, Bruce had no compunctions about modifying the Fiesta to suit his sense of style. These mods include shaved door handles, chrome plated trim, a custom leather interior, a 10-mile-deep paint job (with colors chosen by Bruce’s wife, Judy), and some new shoes in the form of 18- and 20-inch Boyd Coddington wheels.

Then there are the updates that are so subtle it takes a die-hard Oldsmobile enthusiast to spot them. The steering wheel was shrunk two inches in diameter, with the inner ring left stock for a cleaner, more eye-pleasing look. The dash retains its stock appearance, but the levers and buttons now control Vintage Air A/C and Kicker stereo systems. The Classic Instruments main gauge pod was designed to look like the original instruments.

“I wanted the technology (of modern gauges), but I didn’t want to change the look of the interior,” Bruce said. “Tim and Darrell figured out how to make that happen.”

In keeping with the Fiesta’s theme, the chassis, driveline, and fuel system are a blend of stock and modern upgrades. The frame was modified to fit a new two-piece driveshaft. The rear axle was narrowed two inches to fit bigger rubber; it’s hung from an Air Ride Technologies four-link with Shockwave coil-overs. Up front is an Art Morrison Mustang II clip with Air Ride Shockwaves. Big 12 ½-inch discs from Stainless Steel Brakes give the car incredible stopping power. The stock fuel tank was moved to clear the dual exhaust, but it still fills through the driver side taillight just like the factory intended.

One of the fabled Oldsmobile V8s is the J2 Golden Rocket, a 371 cubic-inch brute with tri-power induction that pumped out 300 horsepower and 415 foot-pounds of grunt. The J2 was offered for just two years (1957 and 1958); Bruce was able to hunt down a 1957 model and had it rebuilt. Cimtex Rods tucked the J2 into the engine bay so it sits lower than stock. The engine is hooked to a rebuilt “Jetaway” Hydra-Matic three-speed automatic transmission.

While the Fiesta looks like a trailer queen, it’s far from it—the wagon was built to be a daily driver. To prove its worth, Bruce wrung out the Olds at the 2007 Rod & Custom Americruise. He ran the autocross course, the acceleration test, and the braking test—and won Rod & Custom’s Custom of the Year Award in the process.

Not a bad deal for an old barn find, is it?

 

1957 Oldsmobile Fiesta Wagon 1
1957 Oldsmobile Fiesta Wagon 2
1957 Oldsmobile Fiesta Wagon J2 Rocket engine 3
1957 Oldsmobile Fiesta Wagon 4
1957 Oldsmobile Fiesta Wagon 5

With less than 9,000 Olds Super 88 Fiesta hardtop wagons built in 1957—and lots less still in existence—stumbling upon a tired but complete wagon was a minor coup for Bruce Ricks. The Fiesta was a working car, seeing hard use in the oil fields of New Mexico until its owner stripped the drivetrain and transplanted it into a 1959 Ford pickup. After 38 years of sitting in a barn, brothers Darrell and Tim Cimbanin of Cimtex Rods rescued the Olds and built it into the hot rod you see here. Even an unfortunate accident right after it was finished (think trailer, high winds, and a guardrail) didn’t stop Bruce from debuting the Fiesta at the 2007 Detroit AutoRama and winning a bunch of awards.

The Fiesta was remarkably intact and rust-free when it was pulled out of that New Mexico barn. It still had its ultra-rare trim bits too, including the back window and frame—a big deal since nobody makes this stuff as repo items. The emblem on the tailgate was handmade by Steve Cook Creations. Yes, those exhaust tips exiting from the bumper are factory.

This was the pinnacle of Oldsmobile performance in 1957. The 371 cubic inch J2 Golden Rocket is a 300 horsepower brute with three deuces, one of the first Detroit engines to have such an induction system. Bruce scored a complete J2 for the Fiesta, and had it rebuilt to stock specs. The engine is a mix of old and new—the carburetors still have the original tags on them, while Cimtex Rods cooked up the custom air cleaner assemblies and accessory bracket. The J2 is attached to a rebuilt Jetaway 3-speed automatic and the Fiesta’s original 12-bolt rear axle.

Chris Ito came up with the interior design for the Fiesta. Paul Atkins Interiors did up the custom grained leather seats and door panels. The seats themselves are the originals; they were changed from spring-style to foam-type cushions. The majority of the interior trim was custom-made and chrome-plated.

The interior updates are so seamless, it takes a keen eye—or a conversation with Bruce—to figure out what’s been modified. Take the dash, for example. It looks stock, but the levers and buttons now control state-of-the-art Vintage Air A/C and Kicker stereo systems. The gauge pod is actually from Classic Instruments and designed to look like the original. “I wanted the technology (of modern gauges), but I didn’t want to change the look of the interior” Bruce explained. Even the steering wheel is modified—Bruce had it shrunk 2 inches in diameter and retained the factory inner ring for a custom look.

 

FAST SPECS
Chassis
Frame: Stock ground and smoothed, center X-member modified for two-piece driveshaft
Rear End: Stock 12-bolt, narrowed two inches
Front Suspension: Art Morrison Enterprises Mustang II-type mini-clip with Air Ride Technologies Shockwaves
Rear Suspension: Air Ride Technologies triangulated four bar with ShockWaves
Brakes: Stainless Steel Brakes 4-wheel disc, 12 ½-inch diameter
Wheels and Tires: Boyd Coddington Crown Jewel wheels (18-inch front/20-inch rear), BFGoodrich tires (245/45ZR18 front/295/40ZR20 rear)

Engine and Transmission
Engine Type: 1957 J2, 371 cubic inches
Induction: Stock cast iron J2 intake, ground and smoothed, stock Rochester carburetors, CNC-machined air cleaners
Exhaust: Custom headers and 2 1/4-inch exhaust system with Flowmaster 50 Series mufflers, built by Steve Cook Creations
Transmission: Stock Jetaway 3-speed automatic, case ground and smoothed
Other Items: Crossflow radiator by Air Mobile, custom accessory brackets by Cimtex Rods, all stainless steel fasteners and lines

Body and Paint
Modifications: Shaved door handles, chrome plated trim, smoothed firewall, custom inner fenders
Paint Color: PPG Custom Blue and Champagne
Body and Paint By: Cimtex Rods
Chrome By: Jon Wright’s CustomChrome Plating

Interior
Upholstery: Custom leather, original seats converted from spring to foam cushion
Dash: Modified stock—custom Vintage Air A/C system activated by stock levers
Gauges: Classic Instruments gauge pod
Audio System: Kicker sound system that works through stock pushbutton radio
Other: Chevy Nomad headliner bows, handmade interior trim; steering wheel reduced two inches in diameter; Dynamat noise control
Interior Design: Chris Ito
Upholstery and Trim: Paul Atkins Interiors

Awards
2007 Rod & Custom Magazine Custom Car of the Year
Fab 5 Pick, 2007 Goodguys 3M Car Care Nationals
Boyd Coddington Pro Pick, 2007 Goodguys PPG Nationals
Custom Station Wagon Class Winner, 2007 Detroit Autorama
Best Interior, 2007 Detroit Autorama
GM Performance Parts “Award of Excellence,” 2007 Detroit Autorama
Street Machine Grand Champion, 2007 Fall Street Machine Nationals

Special Thanks to: Air Ride Technologies, BFGoodrich, Dynamat, Kicker,
Vintage Air, John Wright’s CustomChrome Plating, Art Morrison Enterprises

Photography by Maguire Photographics

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3 Comments

  1. Bill Thompson says:

    Very, very nice fiesta, I have one, but will never have the time or money to do it up right, it is for sale, if any one is interested, Bill, lukesmama@q.com

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